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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.

Collection inventory

Most Finding Aids will include an outline inventory of the material in the collection. Importantly, the level of detail included in a Finding Aid inventory may vary widely by collection, based on many factors, usually related to how much time we've had to properly process and describe it.

Page of finding aid, reading "Series 1: Writing files"; "Box 1, Folder 1: Book chapter materials (1 of 3)"; "Box 1, Folder 2: Book chapter materials (2 of 3)"; "Box 1, Folder 3: Book chapter materials (3 of 3)"; Box 1, Folder 4: Rocky Flats correspondence, 1991-1995" ; "Box 1, Folder 5: DOE Research, FOIA Requests, 1994-1995"


 The tiers of description in the Finding Aid outline may include: 

Series Many collections will be divided into series, or sections, according to things like material type (like correspondence, publications, and media), time period, organization division or subject. The series usually reflect the original order of the collection, as it was stored by the creator. Each series may be described with its own scope/content note, dates, quantity/extent, or other details, that further explain the content and context of the material in that series. 
Box/Folder Within each series, there may be a box and folder list. The folder list usually gives the title of the folder, but does not offer further description of the material contained in each folder. See the scope/content note of the series or the collection for an idea of what type of material you will find in the folders. 
Item Some Finding Aids may include item-level descriptions that give specific information about individual items within the collections. This is more often the case for photographs, audiovisual media items, or published materials.


Screenshot from finding aid of Walter Orr Roberts papers. Readings, "Series 1: Correspondence"; "NASA, 1976-1985 - Box 83"; "NASA, 1986-1988 - Box 97"

Keep in mind: the organization of a Finding Aid may reflect the content of the collection, and not necessarily the physical order of the material. In this example, to find Walter Orr Roberts' correspondence with NASA, you'll want to see Box 83 and Box 97: 

These two folders are stored in separate locations, but they are listed together on the Finding Aid so they are easy to search for.

Rare and Distinctive Collections


Classroom: Norlin N345

Reading Room: Norlin M350B