Description is the process of organizing and recording the information about a collection that was gathered during the sorting and arranging stages.  For extensive collections, finding aids may be compiled to provide researchers with a level of detail well beyond that available through the bibliographic record.

For collections with a small number of works, the entire description of a collection may be accomplished within the framework of a bibliographic record.  In many cases, finding aids are appropriate to extensive collections with large numbers of works.

C3.1.  Finding aids

Finding aids may be defined as any descriptive media, electronic or manual, which provide intellectual or administrative control over elements within collections.  They vary widely in format, style, and complexity.

Commonly, they consist of two parts.  The first is a narrative introduction which contains:  (a) biographical sketches or agency histories, etc.; (b) collection descriptions highlighting strengths, gaps, weaknesses, and characterizing its extent and depth; and (c) information concerning restrictions on viewing and use.  The second part, which lists the works or groups of works contained in the collection, occupies the major portion of finding aids.  For collections arranged hierarchically, the lists may stop at a more generalized level, e.g., series, or may extend down to the container or item-level.

More detailed information about preparing finding aids may be found in such works as Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts by Fredric M. Miller, and in Archives & Manuscripts: Administration of Photographic Collections by Mary L. Ritzenthaler, Gerald J. Munoff, and Margery S. Long.

Currently work is underway at a national level to prepare standards for accessing and sharing finding aids online, for example, through the Internet, using an SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), document-type definition called Encoded Archival Description (EAD).

If a finding aid is available, a note to that effect should appear either in a finding aids note, or, if preferred, in a general note.  See C4.5.4 and C6.2.

See also:

Appendix C:  Collection-Level Cataloging