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Introduction to Archival Research: What is a Finding Aid?

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