Have you ever come across an item in the DPL catalog with a mysterious call number that begins with “C MSS” and a link that states, “finding aid in repository and online?”
What is an archives? Perhaps the best explanation comes from the Society of American Archivists:
An archives is a place where people go to find information. But rather than gathering information from books as you would in a library, people who do research in archives often gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources.
Now, back to the DPL catalog and that mysterious “C MSS” you’ve been noticing. When you see this call number prefix (short for “Colorado manuscript”), this means you are dealing with an archives collection—a collection of letters, reports, photos, drawings, recordings, or other primary sources available at BCAARL or WH/G. Please note that archival collections are closed stacks materials (learn what that means here) and cannot be checked out.
But what about that weird link to something called a “finding aid?”
A finding aid is a guide to an archives collection. It tells you generally five things about a collection including:
- How the collection was acquired (was it donated? purchased?) and from whom
- How the collection was organized by archives staff
- The biography or organizational history of whomever created/collected the records in the collection
- The scope of the collection, including its size, subjects, formats, and arrangement
- An inventory of items in the collection
It’s true that not all archives collections in the DPL catalog have finding aids, but many do. Clicking on the “finding aid in repository and online” link in a catalog record will take you to an electronic finding aid. Be sure to click the “Introduction” link to load the finding aid:
The finding aid will give you a better sense of who created the collection and what it contains. Perhaps the best part is that you can do a keyword search and find the exact box number and folder you need to view (saving you valuable research time!).
Are there more DPL catalog mysteries you would like solved? Please comment below.