Archives retrieval refers to locating a particular document, file or record and delivering it for use. Or it refers to locating an archival material and delivering it for use by archival users. Finding aids: They are also referred to as quick reference tools. Finding aids refers to a descriptive form that provides information about the content and nature of documentary material e.g. Catalogues, Guides, Inventories, Class list, Descriptive list, Transfer list.

Types/ categories of findings aids

Generally archival repository has three categories/ types of finding aids namely:

  1. Internal control
  2. In-house reference aid
  3. External reference aid

 Internal control tools

These are initial control tools prepared immediately archives are received. They are intended solely for the repository staff. They provide initial access points to the archives collection and Researchers have no access to these finding aids.

Examples are:

Accession worksheet

Location register

Check list

In-house tools

These are more detailed finding aids. They are prepared as arrangement and description proceeds and staff becomes familiar with collections. They are not intended to be published and distributed to the research community. Researchers are able to use them as reference aids in the repository. Examples are:

Containers list

These are called different things in different repositories – Shelf list, Box list, Folder lists. Whatever the finding aids the list takes the form of the columnar listing and box numbers and folder tittles. During arrangement stage archivist takes detailed notes on the final order of the collection. Once these notes are typed they become container lists used by both staff and researchers. Since they are tools used by non-archivist archival jargon and abbreviations must be avoided.


They are commonly used finding aids that points researchers to relevant collections that are fully described in an inventory and they provides description and nature of documents as index and inventories have control documents and files by providing an access point.


These are alphabetical listing of the contents of a box and containers. Modern indexes can take a number of forms e.g can take the form of database that can be searched by key words.

 External reference aids

These are reference tools that are building upon the in-house control tools. They are intended for publishing and distribution to the research community e.g





They are very detailed aids. They are usually item level description, are quite time and effort consuming to prepare. Though researchers would really be excited to have them, calendars are not prepared often. Archival collection are too large to describe at an item level. If archivist would be involved in these type of description, other archival work would be unattended e.g another collection remaining unattended fragile records not preserved, response to reference request is delayed. Hence such is only justified only when the classes of records are of great historical significant. This is more less the same as a guides that contains brief description of the contents with specific time of event and activity.


There are different forms of guides which give information about the content and nature of archives. They are basic finding aids which can either be general or repository guide. A subject guide describes the holdings of one or more repositories relating to subjects, time periods or geographical areas. A repository guide briefly describes and indicates the relationship among holdings of the archives. It includes a brief level group or collection listed in alphabetical order by tittle

Inventories (summary inventories)

This is a list of all records in the archives holdings (repository) they are also called registers. Its an archival finding one collection or records subgroup. They provide both context and content of the records. Descriptive inventory is a complete and detailed description of archival fonds (records group) and inventory begins with the fonds level description that they expands include description of each series and if necessary the file level description. inventory should answer the following questions:- What were the circumstances for their creation? – Where did the record come from? –How do the records relate to others? –What is there significance now and in future?

Characteristics of a good finding aid

  • It should be clear and concise and it should avoid jargon-(a language used for a particular activity) and terms that make the finding aid inaccessible to the researchers.
  • The finding aid should be aware of needs of the wide variety of researchers, therefore the archivist should prepare one that is useful to many because he knows the interest of the current and potential researchers. The finding aid is intended for the research and it should focus on use by the researcher and must help him or her find the materials.

Role of finding aids

  • Finding aids provide a comprehensive overview of collection scope and contents
  • They define the conditions under which a collection may be accessed or copied
  • It explains its provenance and contains histories of individuals and organizations connected with the collection.

Access and access rights to archives

Access refers to a terms and conditions of availing records or information maintained by archives for examination and consultation by researchers. Or Access is the granting of permission to use reference facilities in an archives institution, examining and studying individual or extracting information from the archives and records for research or publication. The administration of archives establishing procedures which will ensure that legislative requirements and donors agreement upheld. It also helps to protect records and archives from theft, damage alterations re-arrangement etc. The word reference in this context refers to the range of activities involved in providing information about or from records and archives. It is to refer to the process of making archives and records available for archives and records for access and use. It also touches on the need for providing record copies.

Access to information

A Library has open shelves (open access) and items are loaned or given out on short loans.

Registries are closed access system, confined to the registry staff.

Record centre and Archives are closed access.

Access Areas

Library: it has reading areas or cubicles

Record centre: Has a reading area

Archives: Search room

Registry: Counter or dispatch table

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