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Archives & Special Collections research guide

This guide provides information about doing research in the Consortium Library's Archives & Special Collections.

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a description of an archival resource that provides information about the contents of a collection and how they are organized, as well as the historical context of their creation. Sometimes we refer to our finding aids as collection descriptions or collection guides, but all of these terms are referring to the same thing. Finding aids to all of our collections are available on our website. For more information on searching or browsing our website, see "Using the archives website."

For a description of all of the elements within our finding aids, check out our blog post "So, what is a finding aid?"

Searching within finding aids

You can search within our online finding aids by using your browser's search function. If you are on a Windows computer press CTRL and F and type your search term into the search box that appears. If you are using a Mac, press COMMAND and F and type your term into the search box.

Navigating using the arrangement note

The arrangement note in the finding aid indicates how the materials in a collection are arranged. For some collections this is as simple letting users know that the collection is arranged chronologically or even that there is no discernible arrangement of the materials. Other collections are divided up based on the creator or donor of the materials, format of material, document type, or subject. These divisions are usually called series or subseries, but some collections are also divided at a higher level into parts. If the collection is divided into series, they will be listed in the arrangement note.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, the arrangement notes in most of our finding aids link to a description and container list for each series and function as kind of a table of contents.  If you are interested in a particular aspect of a person's life, a certain type of document, or particular format (papers, photographs, video, etc.), the arrangement note, may be able to link you directly to the series that has what you're looking for.


Using the container list

Many of our finding aids include Container Lists that list materials in the collection. The lists are formatted in a table with columns for the container number, a description of the contents, and the dates represented in the container. Collections with multiple series or subseries have the contents of each (sub)series listed in a separate table. Depending on the level of description, the Container List might contain:

  • Boxes only. This is usually done when there are large amounts of the same type of material spanning an entire box.
  • Boxes and folders. This is the most common type of container list. The container column is usually formatted Box/Folder, with the first number representing the box and the second number representing the number of the folder within the box. For example 5/17 would be the 17th folder in the fifth box in the collection.
  • Boxes, folder, and item. We rarely describe individual items, however some of our finding aids do contain item level description that were included an an older finding aid format. Item-level container lists usually have a Box/Folder column and a separate column for the item.
  • Folders only. This is generally used for collections consisting of a single box.

Finding aid tips

  • Before you request to use one of our collections, make sure to check the volume of the collection in the finding aid. If the volume is more than one cubic foot, it is likely that you will need to narrow down which box you want to look at.
  • If you are planning to publish, quote from, or cite an item from one of our collections, you will need to use the preferred citation found in the finding aid.
  • Another thing to consider if you are planning to publish something from our collections is who owns copyright to the materials. This information can be found in the Rights note in the finding aid.

Contact Us

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Staff Archives and Special Collections
3211 Providence Drive
Anchorage AK 99508