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Ball State University Archives and Special Collections: What is a Finding Aid?

Finding Aid

A finding aid is a descriptive guide or outline of an archival collection to assist researchers in understanding the content of the collection. This descriptive guide also provides contextual information that helps explain the collection’s significance. 

An archival collection is a group of archival materials that originate from the same creator or donor.  Archival collections can vary in size and content. 

What is a Finding Aid?

Ball State University Collections Database

The Ball State University Collections Database is a web-based database that contains the finding aids for all processed collections in the Ball State University Archives and Special Collections. 


Locating the Collections Database

Our collections database is located on the Ball State University Archives and Special Collections webpage.

  • Open the Collections tab
  • Find Access Our Collections
  • Select Search Finding Aids


You can also type in the URL

Searching the Collections Database

To search the database, you can use the search bar on the main page to type in your keywords.  Once you run your initial search, you can select filters to narrow down the results.


You can also search the contents of the database using the categories located in the gray bar at the top of the main page. Items have been organized into the following categories: 

  • Repository - alphabetical listing of our 5 collecting areas


  • Collection - alphabetical listing of all collections in database


  • Subject - alphabetical listing of subject terms


Reading a Finding Aid

Collection Overview

  • Collection Name
    • All finding aids begin with a collection title.  
  • Collection ID
    • Just beneath the collection name is the collection number.  The collection ID is similar to a call number for a library book.  It allows us to quickly located the collection in our archive. 
  • Collecting Area
    • Underneath the Collection ID is the name of the collecting area to which this collection has been assigned.  
  • Content Description
    • Content Description, sometimes referred to as a scope and contents note, is a summary of the material in the collection.  This includes the types of materials, the date range, and the subject matter of the collection.
  • Dates
    • The date information can be a single date or a span of dates depending on the collection. These dates express the time period of the materials. 
  • Conditions Governing Access  
    • Conditions Governing Access will let you know if the collection is available to be reviewed by researchers in our reading room.  Some archival collections may have restrictions or conditions of use. 
  • Conditions Governing Use
    • Conditions Governing Use provides information regarding copyright and material use for commercial publication.
  • Biographical/Administrative/Historical Note
    • A Biographical/Administrative/Historical Note is a brief biography or history of the person, organization, or business whose records are being described.  This information provides the researcher with important contextual information. 
  • Extent 
    • Extent is the size of the collection.  One cubic foot is approximately the size of one bankers box.  This is very helpful when thinking about the amount of material in the collection and the time needed to go through it for your research.
  • Language
    • Language information is important to note because the collection may contain items in languages other than English.
  • Expand All
    • Under the Expand All button, you will find additional information about the collection, including: custodial history, processing information, accruals, related collections, and subject terms. 
  • Citation
    • The Citation button on the top right of the page will provide you with a general citation that you can copy for use in reference lists and bibliographies.  Please see our citation page for examples of MLA, APA, and Chicago Style citation formats for archival collection items.


Collection Organization

The Collection Organization is located two ways.   

  • The Collection Organization tab located next to the Collection Overview tab allows you to scroll through the entire collection.
  • The Collection Organization box on the right side of the screen will allow you to search the collection by keyword or date. You can also expand the inventory to see the entirety of the collection.

A collection is ideally organized in a way that will most effectively allow a researcher to understand and utilize the materials.  Therefore, a collection is sometimes divided into categories known as series.  Series are groupings of materials arranged systematically or maintained as a unit because they relate to a particular function or subject.  In some instances, a series will also contain groups of related material that can be arranged as sub-series to further organize the collection.

If a collection has been digitized, the finding aid may also contain links to the digital items in the Digital Media Repository.


Container Inventory

The Container Inventory will provide a list of the boxes in the collection.  Clicking on a box will reveal the files associated with that box number.