Richard Pearce-Moses, “Finding Aid” A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.
Over the past couple of months, I have been working to create a finding aid for the Head of School Records from the tenure of Cecil F. P. Bancroft, the seventh principal of Phillips Academy.
In the same way a record in the library catalog lets you know the “vital statistics” of the resource you are looking at (such as author, title, date of publication, and subjects), a finding aid provides researchers with analogous information about archival collections: information such as the creator (what individual or office authored or brought together the materials in the collection), extent (how many of what kind of units comprise the collection), inclusive dates (whether the collection encompasses letters written over the course of one summer, for instance, or all the letters the creator ever received), conditions on access (whether the collection contains sensitive materials that may need to be restricted), and historical note (who created the resource and why the collection is relevant in the context of the archives’ collections). Unlike in a library, where a catalog record represents a single book or resource, in an archive the unit of record typically is a collection, which can range in size from a single letter to hundreds of boxes and can encompass a range of formats and media.
In the case of Cecil F. P. Bancroft’s records, I was able to start processing the collection using an item list believed to have been compiled in the mid-20th century. This list provided a brief description of almost every letter in the 17-box collection. From here, the task was to edit the typescript list and correlate it with the box numbers to aid researchers in determining which particular box they would need to request to find a given letter. The next task was to create the finding aid front matter by looking through the collection to determine the correct information to put into each section, and others, named above; these sections are governed by national standards created by the archives community. The archives staff hopes that the processing, organization, and presentation of PA materials through online finding aids will make it easier for students, faculty, administrators, staff, and those outside PA to use our amazing collections that document the history of the Academy, its community, and its activities.
For more information about Cecil F. P. Bancroft’s Head of School Records, or to make an appointment with an archivist to view our collections, please visit our website.