116 · Representative Documents: Arrangement Guidelines
Washington University in St. Louis
Modern Graphic History Library Processing Manual
The process of establishing intellectual and administrative control over holdings through the preparation
of finding aids.
Objectives of Description
• To provide administrative control for the repository staff
o Location of collections physically, so it can be located
o General contents of collections
o Provenance of collections (Why is it here? How long has it been here?)
• To establish intellectual control for the researcher
o General nature of repository's holdings
o General contents of individual collections
o Information available on a specific topic
o Specific information available within an individual collection
Levels of Description (from general to more specific)
• Repository (Online list of finding aids in University Archives for staff and patrons; shelf list for
• Collection (Finding Aid, Inventory, Box List, etc.).
• Series and subseries (located within a finding aid).
• Folder (located within a finding aid).
• Document (inventory of individual items located in folders).
o Normally used only for very small or very important collections.
Qualities of Good Finding Aids
• Clarity and conciseness
• Anticipation of researchers' needs
• Avoid archival jargon (provenance, ephemera, etc.)
• Avoid terminology that may be confusing or archaic.
• Avoid abbreviations or acronyms when possible (except for very well known, YMCA, US)