Skip to Main Content

Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives: Collection Guides

A guide to conducting archival research and exploring special collections at Connecticut College

What is a finding aid?

Guides to collections are referred to as "finding aids."  These guides are a roadmap to any given archival collection that provides researchers with a description of the collection and its contents. Most finding aids include a descriptive overview of the collection as well as a list of its contents by series, box, folder, or item. This document is an essential research tool that assists researchers in determining if a collection will fit their research needs and helps researchers pinpoint the exact materials in a collection that they will need to access.

How do I read a finding aid?

A finding aid is organized into section to help define various components of the collection.  Below is a list of sections and elements commonly found in finding aids. It is important to note that finding aids may have different components at other repositories. These are the basic elements that you will see on finding aids at Connecticut College

  • Collection Summary: The collection summary section commonly includes the collection title, number, originating dates, creator, physical description (how large the collection is), language and the preferred citation.
  • Administrative Section: This section covers the conditions governing access and use, and publication statement. 
  • Biographical/Historical Note: A summary detailing biographical information or organizational history relating to the collection. Generally, collections that were created by a person or family will contain a Biographical Note, while collections that were created by a group or organization will contain a Historical Note.
  • Scope and Content: An overview of what types of materials make up a collection.
  • System of Arrangement: A description of how the collection has been organized and may include information on the various sections of a collection (i.e., series and subseries) and the specific system chosen for arrangement (e.g., by material type, subject, date, or another filing system).
  • Subject(s): A list of terms, themes, or topic covered within a collection.
  • Container List: This portion of the finding aid lists the range of materials included in every container associated with the collection. This list often includes box numbers, folder numbers, and a brief description of the contents of any given folder. Sometimes materials are also described at the item level.

How can I access finding aids?

Many of our finding aids may be found in our information management system, ArchivesSpace, and some can also be accessed through the Lear Center website.  If you have trouble locating a finding aid for any collection, please reach out to the Special Collections Department at