Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

New Finding Aids Available: Part II

April 4th, 2017

Finding aids are documents created by a repository’s staff members as a point of access for an archival or manuscript collection. To understand more about how finding aids helps researchers navigate collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, letters, diaries, and photographs, check out our Finding Aids 101 blog post. Here’s a list of some of Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s newest finding aids, so see which collections interest you!

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers. African American Experience Collection, Spencer Research Library.

A photograph of members belonging to the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity at a banquet
from the Dorothy McField collection of sorority and fraternity papers.
African American Experience Collection. Call number: RH MS P944.3. Click image to enlarge.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann ["Poetry Ireland"] from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.

The first page of a listing of titles for Éigse Eireann [“Poetry Ireland”]
from the Catholic Bulletin collection. Special Collections.
Call number: MS 329 Box 2 Folder 45. Click image to enlarge.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection. Kansas Collection.

A photograph of two cowboys on horseback from the Wallace, Kansas photographs collection.
Kansas Collection. Call number: RH PH 60 Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans. Special Collections.

The title page from Eugène Farcot’s Literary Manuscript Un Voyage Aérien; Dans Cinquante Ans.
Special Collections. Call number: MS K32. Click image to enlarge.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945 or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.

May 7th and 8th from the five year Diary of Maude Egbert, note her entry on May 8, 1945
or Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day). Kansas Collection.
Call number: RH MS B77. Click image to enlarge.

Other new finding aids:

Mindy Babarskis
Reference Specialist
Public Services

Finding Aids 101

June 20th, 2014

Pillsbury Family Papers finding aid

Screenshot of the top of a Spencer finding aid for the Pillsbury Family Papers. This will be
the example finding aid used throughout this blog post. The full document
is available on the Library’s website. Click image to enlarge.

Have you ever conducted research at an archives or special collections library, come across the term “finding aid,” and wondered, “what in the world does this mean?!” If so, you’re not alone. Finding aids are a standard tool for archival materials, but most people who aren’t archivists, special collections librarians, or experienced researchers are unfamiliar with the term. On the other hand, finding aids are the gateway to archival collections – for better or worse – so understanding what they are is an important component of conducting archival research.

So, what is a finding aid?

It’s a document, on paper and/or online, created by a repository’s staff members.

It generally contains the same information found in a catalog record (an overview of the collection) plus much more detailed information that the catalog record can’t accommodate.

It describes the materials in a specific collection.

It provides contextual information about the collection.

It’s an essential tool for library staff members and researchers. Without finding aids, a library would be full of collections but have nothing written down about them. Locating and understanding collections and materials within them would be immensely difficult, if not impossible.

Who creates finding aids and why?

When a repository like Spencer acquires an archival collection, a substantial amount of work is then required to prepare the materials for use by researchers. This effort, undertaken by library staff members, is called processing. It involves going through all of the materials in the collection; organizing or arranging them in a systematic way that will facilitate use; rehousing materials in acid-free enclosures, like boxes and folders; and administering basic preservation treatments and looking out for larger problems like mold or insect damage, which is harmful to materials and users. As they work, archivists make decisions and discoveries. They record this information; combine it with details gleaned from materials in the collection, provided by the donor, or acquired through additional research; and compile everything in one place, a finding aid.

How do finding aids help researchers?

The primary goal of a finding aid is to aid, or assist, researchers (including staff members) in finding the materials they need. Hopefully, information obtained from finding aids will minimize the amount of time researchers spend examining collections or parts of collections that are irrelevant to their work.

I sometimes think of a finding aid as a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Each section of the document reveals additional details about the collection, and after reading each section the researcher asks him/herself: given what I now know about this collection, do the materials it contains still seem relevant to my project? If the answer is yes, the researcher will either continue reading the finding aid or decide to begin examining the materials in the collection. If the answer is no, the researcher can abandon the finding aid and begin the process again with a new one.

RH_MS_802_finding_aid_002

Click image to enlarge.

Look, for example, at the Collection Summary section of the example finding aid above (for Spencer’s collection of Pillsbury Family papers). It provides information to answer these important questions: How much time do I need to allot to go through this collection – is there one box or one hundred? Are the materials in the collection written in a language I can read? Are these the types of materials I need – or, for example, does this collection contain only photographs when I need correspondence? Are the people who created these documents the people I’m researching, or are they related or an entirely different group? Do the materials in the collection fall within the date range I’m studying?

RH_MS_802_finding_aid_003

Click image to enlarge.

Subsequent sections of the finding aid more thoroughly answer these questions or address new ones. Perhaps most significant is the Collection Description. This section identifies the contents of specific boxes and/or folders and also indicates how materials are arranged (e.g. by format, date, author or recipient name). Having determined that the collection may be relevant to his/her project, the researcher can use the information in this section to ascertain how much of the collection s/he will need to go through and where specific documents (or groups of documents) are located.

What are the limitations of finding aids?

Depending on factors like the size of a collection, the type of materials it contains, and when it was processed, finding aids generally provide some information about significant people, places, events, and topics represented in the collection. However, without unlimited time to process, staff members are unable to create completely comprehensive finding aids that list all names and topics that occur within all documents in a collection. Most, in fact, are not included.

RH_MS_802_finding_aid_004

Think of how many letters about Christmas (and other topics) might be “hidden” in these boxes!
Click image to enlarge.

The result is that a finding aid search may turn up few or no results, not because a repository doesn’t have archival materials on that topic, but because that topic wasn’t specifically named in a finding aid. When this happens, try different search terms or approach your topic from another angle. For example, if you’re looking for information about how Christmas was celebrated in nineteenth-century America, and a search for “Christmas” turns up limited or unhelpful results, you might instead search for collections containing family correspondence from that time period. The larger task would then be to read letters sent and received in December and January of various years.

Finding aids are exceptionally useful, but they can also be tricky documents to navigate, even for experienced researchers. If you encounter any difficulties using Spencer’s finding aids, don’t hesitate to contact me (cdonnelly@ku.edu) or another staff member for assistance.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

New Finding Aids Available

June 6th, 2013

Finding aids are inventories that help researchers navigate collections of manuscripts, organizational records, personal papers, and photographs. Please scroll down for a list of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s newest finding aids and then visit the library and explore!

Film still from The Cheat, 1915

Newly inventoried! A still from The Cheat (1915), part of a sizable collection of Movie Stills, 1895-1998, amassed by KU Professor of Film & Media Studies John C. Tibbetts. Call Number: MS 297, Box 1, Folder 72

 

 

To search across all of Spencer’s finding aids, please click here.

 

Lastest Finding Aids and Additions to Finding Aids

December 20th, 2012

Trying to decide what you would like to do over the winter holidays?  Why not get a head start on your research?  Here is a list of the newest finding aids and additions to finding aids available at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.  Please scroll down for images from three of these collections.

 

Image of "Free the KU Twelve" buttons

Image of Letter from Jennie Johnson to Will Johnson, January 26, 1886  Image of Letter from Ernest Boyd to Kenneth Reddin, October 14, 1936.

Top: “Free the KU Twelve” buttons. Gail J. Hamilton Collection. Call Number: PP 497: Box 1, Folder 26; Left: Letter from Jennie Johnson to Will Johnson, January 26, 1886. Jennie Johnson Collection. Call Number: RH MS P909: Folder 1; Right: Letter from Ernest Boyd to Kenneth Reddin, October, 14, 1936. Kenneth Reddin Collection. Call Number: MS 14: Box 3, Item C1. Click images to enlarge.