Librarians and archivists create a finding aid to provide information about the arrangement, content and context of an archival collection. These collections consist of materials formed by a person, family, or organisation and may contain a wide variety of items such as correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, speeches, newspaper cuttings, photographs, cassette tapes, computer files, pamphlets and memorabilia. Finding aids help researchers locate materials in large and diverse collections that are relevant to their research.
Finding aids often consist of numerous hierarchies. These are used to illustrate the relationships of items or files to higher levels of organisation.
At the highest level, finding aids provide an overview of the collection. The overview may include information on the scope, content and size of the collection, and how the collection was acquired. A biographical or organisational history may also be provided, as well as information on related collections.
Lower down the ladder are progressively detailed descriptions of the parts or components of the collection. Many finding aids are organised into series or subseries dividing the records according to physical form or activities for which they were created or assembled. Series may reflect the groupings or file systems used by the creator when the files were in active use, or may have been imposed later by Library staff. A series description may be provided to summarise the contents of a series.
Below the series level may be inventories of files or items comprising the
series. Some finding aids include indexes to correspondence identifying the
authors and recipients of correspondence within a collection.