About Finding Aids

Finding aids are descriptive inventories, indexes, or guides that repositories create to describe and to provide access to the contents of manuscript collections or archival records. Manuscript material created or assembled by individuals or families are referred to as "Papers" e.g., the Walter Drew Papers. The archival records of organizations are referred to as a "Record Group" or simply as "Records," e.g., The University of Michigan Dept. of Chemistry Records.

The finding aid provides information about the origin of the collection or record group; a brief biography or historical sketch of the individual or organization that created the collection; a statement of the intellectual and physical organization of the collections; a narrative "scope and content note" describing the intellectual content of the collection as a whole and of its major subdivisions; and a detailed "contents list" providing a hierarchical listing of the collections from the series down to the file, or possibly the item, level.

The format of Bentley finding aids has changed over the years. The web display of the Bentley's EAD finding aids divides into eight sections.Sumary Information, Access and Use, Biography/History, Arrangement of the Collection, Collection Scope and Content Note, Controlled Access Terms, Contents List, and Additional Descriptive Information.

Summary Information

This section includes the name of the creator of the collection and the title of the collection - both formatted according to standardized cataloging rules; the inclusive date span of the collection; the bulk date span of the collection if appropriate; the MIRLYN (University of Michigan) catalog number for the collection; and contact information for the library.

Use and Access

This section provides information on conditions of access, use and reproduction for the collection, as well as information on the acquisition, provenance, appraisal and processing of the collection; and a preferred format for citation of the collection.


Finding aids for personal and family papers will include a short biographical sketch of the creator of the papers. Finding aids for organizational or institutional records will have a short historical sketch. These will normally be narrative text but may include chronological lists of event, officers, or administrators.

Organizaton of the Collection

This section provides summary a description of the intellectual arrangement of the collection. It may be a narrative statement or a hierarchical list of the subgroups (if any), series, and subseries into which the collection is organized. The inclusive dates and physical extent (expressed in linear feet or range of boxes) will normally be given for each series and subseries.

Scope and Content Note

Scope and Content Notes provide a summary statement of the intellectual content of the collection. It may also include comments on the arrangement of the collection/record group, kinds of materials to be found, discussion of strengths and weaknesses, peculiarities of arrangement, and strategy for best use of collection/record group.

In Bentley Library EAD finding aids there are two types of scope and content notes: a Collection Scope and Content Note which provides on overview of the entire collection and Series Scope and Content Notes which describe individual series or subseries. In the underlying XML encoded document the series scope and content notes are physically located in the Contents List (the "dsc" element of EAD) portion of the finding aid at the beginning of their respective series listings. In the HTML display of the finding aids, the Collection Scope and Content Note section displays the collection level note and compiles the series scope and content notes so that all scope notes can be read as a single narrative.

Contents List

The Contents List provides a folder (or in some cases an item) listing of the contents of a collection or record group. In Bentley Library finding aids the hierarchical structure of the contents list moves from the highest level of organization, subgroup or series, to files/folders. The lowest level of the hierarchy indicates a folder of material or possibly a volume or individual item.

Additional Descriptive Data

In EAD finding aids this section contains information that is not part of the "finding aid proper." This may include a variety of indexes to correspondents, maps or other items; references to related archival collections; bibliographic citations; or descriptions of material removed from the collection.