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A guide to how to use an archival finding aid

How to use a Finding Aid

Here at the College Archives we use finding aids to organize and summarize our collections to make them accessible to you.  These documents can seem confusing at first but here's a walk through on how to use them and get the most of your research here.

What is a Finding Aid?

Finding aids, sometimes called research guides or inventories, are tools created by archivists to help people navigate archival holdings.  These documents describe and give context to contents in a collection, making it easier for a person to find materials relevant to their research. 

A finding aid provides:

  • Biographical and/or historical context to a collection
  • A description of the scope and contents of the collection
  • Details on how the collection is arranged
  • A list of boxes and folders that make up the collection
The cover page gives the research some quick basic information on the collection.  Our finding aids give the title, range of dates the collection covers and that it "lives" at LaGuardia Community College

The Summary Note contains all the descriptive and administrative information about the collection.  Here you'll find how big the collection is, who created and donated the materials, how copyright applies to materials within the collection, subject terms, and how to cite materials found in the collection.

This Historical/Biographical Note gives some background and context on the person, organization or event the collection encompasses.  Historical notes are used for materials from organizations while Biographical Note are used for materials from an individual or family.

The Scope and Contents Note gives an overview on the types of materials found within the collection.  Usually this is uses terms like correspondences, memos, photographs, newsletters, etc.

The Arrangement Note outlines how the materials are organized.  These are almost always broken down into Series and Subseries and are usually based on specific themes or topics found in the collection, other times they can be arranged chronologically or alphabetically. 

The series and container list is a full listing of the materials in the collection. The detail varies between collection, but every collection at the College Archives goes down to the folder level.  This part of the finding aid will help you if you just want to look at a very specific part of the collection. The series will provide a brief description about what is in that section, while the box/folder list will give you an idea on what to expect in each folder. If you are interested in only a small section of the collection, You can just ask the archivist which box number and folder numbers you would like to see, saving you time from reading through the entire collection.

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