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Syracuse University Libraries

Special Collections Research Strategies: Searching the Finding Aids

The purpose of this guide is to assist students, faculty, and the general public in conducting research at the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at Syracuse University Library.

Searching the Finding Aids

When you do a manuscript search from SCRC's website and select a collection you would like to view, you will be directed to a Finding Aid created specifically for that collection.

So, what is a finding aid? A finding aid is a description of an archival collection, usually containing a history of the person or organization that produced the collection and an inventory of its contents. Finding aids are created to help you navigate the contents of the manuscript collections at SCRC and are available via the SCRC website. It is helpful to go over them before scheduling your visit so you can request the specific materials you would like to view. An example of one of our finding aids can be seen below.

Sample image of an online finding aid

As can be seen from the image above, there is a Table of Contents on the lefthand side of each individual finding aid with links to the different sections. You can view these sections by selecting the links in the Table of Contents or simply by scrolling down the page. 

The sections at the top of the finding aid include important background information on the collection, such as the biographical history of the creator, the scope and contents of the collection, and the collection arrangement and restrictions. A good place to start is at the top of the page in the section titled Overview of the Collection (shown in the image above). Here you will find information such as the time period covered by the collection, the collection size, and language of the collection.

Searching the Inventory List

Sample image of the inventory section of an online finding aid.

The Inventory section near the end of the finding aid is where you will find descriptive information on the contents of the collection. While rare books are organized by call number, most manuscript collections are organized by Box Number. Manuscript collections are often divided into sections such as Correspondence, Writings, Biographical Information, and Memorabilia. Some of these sections can be further subdivided (for instance, Correspondence might be subdivided into Personal or Family Correspondence and Business Correspondence). 

As you can see from the image at right, box numbers are listed along the left side of the finding aid inventory and the contents are listed directly across from the box number.

Remember, while you can access the finding aids, including inventory lists, for all the manuscript collections online from the SCRC website, you can also view printed versions of the finding aids in the SCRC Reading Room.


Ask a Question

Useful tip: If you select the Ask a Question link under the Table of Contents section of any of the SCRC finding aids, you will be directed to a screen which allows you write an email to the SCRC Reference Librarian specifically regarding the collection of that finding aid. 

You can also always use the general Reference Assistance link on the main SCRC website to ask the Reference Librarian a question about any of the Special Collections at SCRC.

Other Useful Tips

  • Some of our manuscript collection finding aids are very long, so make sure you scroll down all the way when looking at the finding aids to ensure you see the entire inventory of the collection.
  • Additionally, some collections are still being processed, which means they have not been completely organized into searchable folders and boxes by the processing librarians. The finding aid will usually note these collections as "unprocessed." These collections require special permission to access, so please contact us in advance.