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Sara Casper Government Records Archivist South Dakota State Archives. Creating Finding Aids. In this presentation…. What is an archival finding aid? Why should I create finding aids? Identifying record series Important finding aid sections/elements Tips for writing and using finding aids

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sara casper government records archivist south dakota state archives
Sara Casper

Government Records Archivist

South Dakota State Archives

Creating Finding Aids
in this presentation
In this presentation…
  • What is an archival finding aid?
  • Why should I create finding aids?
  • Identifying record series
  • Important finding aid sections/elements
  • Tips for writing and using finding aids
  • Other resources
what is a finding aid
What is a finding aid?
  • “A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records.”
  • “A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.”
why create finding aids
Why create finding aids?
  • Makes materials inside a collection more accessible to researchers and staff
  • Provides context for collection
  • Accountability
    • Keeps track of provenance, changes to the collection during processing, etc.
  • Versatile
    • Works for any size or type of collection
    • Can be published online, made available in research room, kept on desk or in file drawer, e-mailed
  • Description follows physical arrangement, or processing, of the collection
arrangement step one
Arrangement – Step One
  • What is in the collection? Look through the records and take detailed notes
    • Preservation concerns
    • Types of materials
    • Subjects/items of interest
    • Arrangement
arrangement step two
Arrangement – Step Two
  • Identify Record Series
    • Natural Groupings
    • Original Filing System
  • Do not attempt to write a finding aid without understanding the collection hierarchy
un arranged collection
Newspaper Clippings, 1940-1942

Correspondence, Jan-Mar 1935

Diary 1933

Newspaper Clippings, 1938-1939

Diary 1934

Financial Ledger, Vol. C

Correspondence, Oct-Dec 1935

Correspondence, Jan-Mar 1936

7 Photographs, May Day, 1939

Diary 1932

Newspaper Clippings, 1943-1946

Financial Ledger, Vol. B

Correspondence, Oct-Dec 1934

Correspondence, Jul-Sept 1935

Financial Ledger, Vol. A

Correspondence, Apr-Jun 1935

10 Photographs, Company Picnic, 1946

Un-arranged Collection
collection hierarchy
Collection Hierarchy
  • Series I: Correspondence, Oct. 1934-Mar 1936 (arranged chronologically)
  • Series II: Diaries, 1932-1934 (arranged chronologically)
  • Series III: Financial Ledgers (arranged alphabetically by volume)
  • Series IV: Newspaper Clippings, 1938-1946 (arranged chronologically)
  • Series V: Photographs, 1939-1946
    • Sub-series/File 1: May Day, 1939
    • Sub-series/File 2: Company Picnic, 1946
arrangement step three
Arrangement – Step Three
  • Box and folder records
    • Acid-free archival enclosures
    • Label in pencil
    • Deal with preservation concerns, keep track of activities
archival principles
Archival Principles
  • Provenance and Original Order

“The records created, assembled, accumulated, and/or maintained and used by an organization or individual must be kept together in their original order, if such order exists or has been maintained…[and] ought not be mixed or combined with the records of another individual or corporate body.”

description finding aid elements
Description – Finding Aid Elements
  • Every collection is different - not all elements will be used for every collection
  • Tailor description to suit the size, importance, and complexity of each collection
archival description nesting dolls
Archival Description = Nesting Dolls







title page
Title Page
  • Name of Collection
  • Accession/Catalog/ Collection Numbers
  • Dates
  • Name/Location of Repository
  • Name of Finding Aid Author
  • Date of Creation
copyright notice
Copyright Notice
  • Standard Notice
  • Places responsibility for determining copyright restrictions on the researcher
privacy restriction notes
Privacy/Restriction Notes
  • Are there any access or use restrictions for the collection?
administrative history biographical note
Administrative History/Biographical Note
  • Give a brief history of the individual or organization that created the collection
  • Who is the individual?
  • How do they fit in with larger historical themes or events?
  • Provide context for collection
scope and content
Scope and Content

What does the collection contain?

  • Collection-level
  • Extent
  • Dates
  • Material & Document Types
  • Arrangement - series
  • Where did the collection come from?
  • How did it get to the archives?
  • Curatorial history
processing notes
Processing Notes
  • Document all processing activities, when they happened, and why.
  • Conservation treatments?
  • Materials removed?
  • Re-housing?
  • Organizational scheme imposed?
series descriptions
Series Descriptions
  • Content description for each series and sub-series
  • Restrictions
  • Arrangement
container list
Container List
  • Box/Folder list
  • Include dates as much as possible
other elements
Other Elements
  • Preferred Citation for Materials
  • Languages
  • Related Collections/Materials
  • Library of Congress Subject Headings
rules of thumb
Rules of Thumb
  • Do not describe to the item-level unless you can count the items on your hands
  • Always document any processing or preservation actions
  • Be as brief as you can – a 1,000 page finding aid is worthless
  • Provide access to the finding aids
using finding aids
Using finding aids
  • What information are you looking for?
  • Who would have kept that information? In what formats?
  • Translate inquiry into record series
using finding aids26
Using finding aids
  • Word documents
    • Keyword searches possible within finding aid

(Ctrl F) and between finding aids (right click folder, search)

additional resources
Additional Resources
  • Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DAACS) (Society of American Archivists, 2007)
  • Kathleen D. Roe, Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts (Society of American Archivists, 2005)
additional resources28
Additional Resources
  • David W. Carmicheal, Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Method of Arrangement and Description for Small Archives (Altmira Press, 2003)
  • Make friends with an archivist
  • Example I
  • Example II
  • Example III