A finding aid, in the context of archival science, is a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive. Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a collection is relevant to their research. The finding aid for a collection is usually compiled by an archivist or librarian during archival processing.
Finding aids are a concept dating back to ancient clay tablets. In more recent times, finding aids were usually written or, later, printed on paper. Finding aids today can be created in various electronic and print formats, including word processor document, spreadsheet, database, paper list, index card, etc. The standard machine-readable format for manuscript collection finding aids, widely used in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia and elsewhere, is Encoded Archival Description.
The content of a finding aid may differ depending on the type of material it is describing. Usually, a finding aid includes a description of the scope of the collection, biographical and historical information related to the collection, and restrictions on use of or access to the materials. Finding aids may be detailed inventories that list contents. They may also include subject headings drawn from LCSH, AAT, or other controlled vocabulary.
The data elements essential to finding aids are defined by the International Council on Archives in the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)). Various national implementations of ISAD(G) exist, such as Describing Archives: A Content Standard (2006), used in the USA.
- Finding aids in a historical society/private archive: Barron Country Probate Court Files at the Wisconsin Historical Society
- Finding aids in a public/government library: Edward and Clara Steuermann collection, 1922-1981 (Library of Congress)
- Finding aids at a university: William Langner Papers at the Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University
- "UTARMS Glossary". University of Toronto Archives and Records Management. Retrieved 2007-04-25.
- "Development of the Encoded Archival Description DTD". United States Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-04-25.
- "A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2012-09-18.
- International Council on Archives
- General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G))