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Navigating NYU Archives

This guide will help you orient yourself with the tools, organization, and access policies of New York University Archives.

Finding Aids

What is a Finding Aid?

A finding aid is a tool that helps researchers browse a collection of archival materials. Finding aids help put records in context and allow a researcher to determine whether or not the collection will be useful to their research before making an appointment. Finding aids also help special collections staff to have intellectual control over materials. Intellectual control means that there is a roadmap for people to follow that describes what records are in which boxes, folders, and file directories. Without a finding aid, it is impossible to make sense of an archival collection. 

How are Finding Aids Made?

All finding aids are created by archivists. At NYU Libraries, we follow standards created by the Society of American Archivists to arrange and describe archival materials and ultimately create a finding aid. For more information, please take a look at the Archival Collections Management LibGuide.

How do I Use a Finding Aid?

Descriptive Summary

The Descriptive Summary provides the broadest overview of the collection. You can find the title and call number of the collection and a brief note about who created the materials in the collection. There's information about the archivist who processed the collection, when they processed it, and how the finding aid was created. You can also find information about the date range of the records, a brief abstract about the collection, how large the collection is (measured in linear feet and the number of boxes), and the language(s) included in the materials.


Historical/Biographical Note

The Historical/Biographical Note puts the collection in context. It helps answer questions like

  • Who was this person?
  • When did they live?
  • When did they create these records?
  • What else was going on in the world that influenced the creation of these records?

Sometimes, this page will include sources the archivist consulted to write this section, and you can consult them for your own research.


Scope and Contents/Arrangement

The Scope and Contents Note/Arrangement tab explains how the archivist organized and arranged the collection. It also tells you more about the types of materials you can find within each series. This can be helpful if you know you’re looking for a certain type of material instead of or in addition to particular content.


Access Points

The Access Points tab lists some specific search terms the archivist thought represented the main themes of the collection. These are based on the Library of Congress Subject Headings, and you can use them as keywords in searches on both the archival search portal and the library catalog to find related materials.


Administrative Information

The Administrative Information tab contains information about access restrictions, citation information, and use in publication. This tab also can include information about previous owners or caretakers for the collection in the Provenance section, other related collections in our repository, and material that may have been separated from the collection previously.


Container List

The Container List and the accompanying series will give you a list of the boxes and folders contained in this collection. Keep in mind that this is not a digitized version of the folder. Rather, it gives you a brief description of the contents of boxes and/or folders and the date the material was created to help you determine whether or not this is useful for your research. If you think it is, make sure to note down the boxes and folders so you can remember what you need to request later on.

Some collections do not have folder lists and only have an overview of each box. These collections may take University Archives Staff a little longer to review, so take that into consideration when you are getting ready to make an appointment.