A lot of people do not know what a finding aid is, how it is structured, or how it can be used to locate original historical materials within a given archival collection. Finding aids can be defined as documents that arrange "archival resources in context by consolidating information about the collection, such as acquisition and processing; provenance; biographical or historical notes; scope of the collection, including size, subjects, media; organization and arrangement; and an inventory of the boxes, folders, and other containers in the collection [Resource 1]. It is intended to preserve information about how the collections were created, used, and originally organized, to help researchers understand the relationship of different parts of archival collections to the other parts [Resource 2].
Put simply, finding aids are documents written by archivists that describe archival manuscript collections. They are online and searchable, and searching finding aids is the way to identify archival materials that may be of interest for any given researcher. To help orient you to the document, let's look at the structure of a sample finding aid. Here is a link to the UHCL Neumann Library Digital Repository for the finding aid for the archival collection Robert Heselmeyer Papers, on which the following discussion will be based: https://uhcl-ir.tdl.org/handle/10657.1/755.
This is the finding aid for a collection of papers from the entire career of Robert Heselmeyer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) from 1966 to 2004. He worked as an engineer on the Project Apollo missions as a Lunar Module Flight Controller, specifically as the Vehicle Systems Engineer for the Telemetry, Electrical, and (EVA) Mobility Unit (or TELMU). The collection is is 4.8 linear feet in extent (or just less than 5 banker's boxes of materials). As you look/scroll down the pages of the finding aid, you will see the collection number, "HSF-56" and some basic information about this collection and the UHCL Archives. As you look/scroll further down, you will see a series of named note fields (or elements) listed in bold text that, basically, are repeated in all finding aids (sometimes with different names or location in a finding aid depending on the archives' practices). This means you will be able to rely on seeing these or similar elements in any finding aids from any repository.)
The most important of these note fields are:
Resource 1: Dictionary of Archives Terminology, Society of American Archivists, s.v. “finding aid,” accessed July 31, 2022, at https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/finding-aid.html
Resource 2: The idea for, structure of, and a lot of the content for this field was taken from Virginia Tech University Special Collections and University Archives' LibGuides page "A Basic Introduction: C. Research," viewed at https://guides.lib.vt.edu/c.php?g=345047&p=2425014
|Bayou Building 2402, 2700 Bay Area Blvd, Houston, TX 77058-1002