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Archives: Reading a Finding Aid

The College Archives is the repository for non-current Hampshire College records having permanent, historical, legal, fiscal, or administrative value. The archives also holds Div IIIs as well as professional and personal papers of some faculty and alumni.

Reading a Finding Aid


A finding aid is a guide to the archival collections an institution stewards, and is the most commonly used organizational tool in archives. Often longer than a library catalog record, a finding aid provides descriptive information about what's in a collection and how you can find material. Though finding aids may differ depending on the institution/organization there are key components of a finding aid that are universal. Standard findings aids include: 

Biographical/Historical Note: The history section of the finding aid will have a biography on either the person or family (if it a collection of personal papers) or history of the organization.This section will help you to understand the context in which these records were created and sometimes provide important background information.

Scope and Content Note: The scope and content notes in a finding aid will describe what will be found in the collection. It will tell you the type of material (example- annual reports, correspondence, blueprints, etc.). It may also tell you what not to expect to find in a collection.

Collection Inventory: Archives collections are not indexed item by item, but rather by folders. These folders may have only a few documents or contain many folders.  The folder title will describe the subject of all the documents found in that folder. At the end of the finding aid there will be a section that lists the title of each folder and the box it is found in. This information will help you identify folders within collections that you'll want to review  in the College Archives. 

An example of a finding aid for a collection held in the College Archives and Special Collections is the guide to the Lynn Miller Papers.