Skip to main content

Guide to the Special Collections and Archives Research Center

How to Use a Collection Guide

A collection guide, also known as a finding aid, is a descriptive tool that helps you navigate an archival collection. The collection guide consolidates information about the collection, and frequently lists the contents of the collection as well. Let's take a look at this collection guide in more detail. 

At the beginning of the guide just after the title, you'll see two sets of dates. The dates in the title show the date of the very earliest item in the collection and the latest item in the collection. The predominant dates section tells you what date span is covered by the majority of the materials in the collection. These can be important when you are looking for material within a certain span, and can help you decide if a collection is relevant to your research. 

The Abstract gives a general overview of the contents and focus of the collection, as well as a brief note about the creator, whether that is an individual or organization. 

Under Creators, you can see a linked list of all creators associated with the collection. 

The ID is akin to the collection's call number.  Under Extent, you will see how large the collection is. SCARC measures in cubic feet; other institutions may measure in linear feet. This number can give you an idea of how much time it will take to consult the full collection - larger collections will take more time to consult thoroughly. You can get more details about the extent of the collection under "More Extent Information."

The Scope and Content note summarizes general information about the contents of the collection. This note can include the specific types and formats of materials in the collection, as well as the most significant topics, people, or events covered by the collection materials. It can also describe the functions and activities that produced the records, or particular items or series of note.

The Biographical or Historical Note places the materials in context by describing basic information about the collection's creator or compiler. This information can include significant dates or eras, notable events, or name changes over time.

Under the Statement on Access, you can see any restrictions to access. Arrangement will give you an idea of how the collection is broadly arranged. You'll also find a Preferred Citation, and other notes on access, acquisition, and languages.

Going back up to the top and clicking on People, Places, and Topics, shows linked subject headings that have been assigned to this collection. Clicking on these will take you to a list of other collections that also have these subject headings. 

The section on Related Materials will direct you to similar collections that may have other materials of interest on the main topics of this collection.

The Container List describes the materials in the collection, usually at the folder level. Please note that the container list describes the physical materials in the collection at the aggregate level; it is not a list of what has been digitized from the collection. If portions of a collection have been digitized, those links will appear in the series note, or be directly linked from the container list. If those links are not present, the collection is in analog format only.

A folder title is usually a general description of the materials in the folder. A folder can have multiple documents within it, as well as different document types. It is important to read these critically, and broadly, with your topic in mind to identify relevant material. For example, if you were researching the history of testing accommodations for students with learning disabilities, you might find relevant material in both Series 2: Policies, Memoranda and Guidelines, and in Series 3, Academic Accomodations, Testing. Note the box, folder or item numbers for materials that you would like to consult; these will be needed to retrieve this material for you in SCARC.

Sometimes, you will see a PDF container list, rather than a linked container list. This means the collection has not yet been fully processed by our archivists; however, it is usually still open for research. These collections may be described with less detail, but the PDF container list is there to help you begin to identify relevant materials for your research. As with linked container lists, note any box, folder, or item numbers for materials you would like to consult; these will be needed to retrieve the materials for you in SCARC.