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Use an archival finding aid

A archival “finding aid” describes the contents of a manuscript collection. It is the first thing to look at before accessing a collection at the Special Collections and University Archives.

Access archival finding aids

Ask a Librarian for help. Some collections have not been processed yet or there is no finding aid online. If you don’t see a collection you are interested in, we’ll be happy to assist you.

Use archival finding aids

  1. Read the abstract, the scope and contents and the biographical or administrative history to get a sense of what is in the collection.
  2. Note any restrictions on the collection.
  3. Look at the inventory list.
  4. Write down the box numbers, folder numbers and series numbers you would like to see.
  5. Note whether the collection is at the Richard J. Daley Library in Chicago or at the Library of Health Sciences-Chicago.
  6. Ask a Librarian to make an appointment or if you have any questions about the archival finding aid or the collection it refers to.

Parts of an archival finding aid


The abstract is a brief summary of the organization or person the collection is about and what you can expect to find in the collection.

Biographical note or administrative history

These sections generally contain a biography on either the person or family (if it a collection of personal papers) or history of the organization.

Scope and contents

This section explains what types of documents and other items can be found in the collection.


This section explains any restrictions concerning who may view the collection and how to access any restricted items.

Inventory list

This section presents a detailed listing of what is in the collection. The inventory is often grouped into “series” and “subseries,” especially in large collections. The inventory usually lists the titles of folders in the collection, but sometimes it will list individual items and sometimes it will list only titles of boxes.

Our reading rooms have special hours

For the most up-to-date information on when we are open, see Daley Library (hours and dates open) and the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago (hours and days open).

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