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Introduction to Archival Research

Get started understanding how to find and use archival collections in your school work, professional research, or family research.

What is a Finding Aid?

Image of Finding for Len Ackland Collection at CU Boulder Libraries. Includes outline of finding aid sections, as described on this page.

A Finding Aid is a document written by archivists to describe an archival collection. A Finding Aid describes the history of a collection and the arrangement of material, to help a user navigate the contents of the collection and identify material relevant to their research.

Each collection in an archive should have a dedicated Finding Aid. Though the Finding Aid may be an unfamiliar document at first, most Finding Aids followed a regular, shared structure. Once you learn to understand the parts of a Finding Aid, you should be able to navigate the collections of most archival institutions. 

Parts of a Finding Aid

Image showing finding aid for Len Ackland collection, with Front Matter sections and Inventory sections labeled, as described below.

A Finding Aid can be divided into two sections: 

Front Matter - includes summary information that describes the entire collection as a whole

Inventory - provides an outline that identifies the series, boxes, folders, and items within the collection

See the tabs above to read more about each section of the Finding Aid

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B