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USING THE COLLECTIONS
MANUSCRIPT EXTERNAL SITES
What is a Finding Aid?
Finding aids are sometimes called inventories or registers. They are guides created by division archivists in the course of processing a collection. They rarely describe every item individually but rather embody the archival view of a manuscript collection as groups of related documents that are arranged and analyzed collectively in an effort to preserve their context and reflect their provenance and the relationship between items (see Understanding Manuscripts: A Basic Introduction).
Although finding aids occasionally vary in format according to the nature of the collection, most division finding aids are divided into several parts:
Locating Manuscript Finding Aids
Detailed finding guides or registers exist for virtually all of the division's larger collections. More than two thousand are available for use in the reading room, and photocopies of these may be ordered for a fee. About seven hundred of the division's finding aids were reproduced on microfiche by a commercial publisher and distributed under the title National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (Teaneck, N.J.: Chadwyck-Healy, 1983; Microfiche Ref). Copies of this microfiche are available in libraries throughout the country.
In the last few years, the division has begun converting its paper finding aids to electronic form for distribution over the Internet. Only a small percentage have been converted so far, but they are freely accessible from the division's Web site, their full text searchable for now through character-string searches and later through more advanced techniques. To view a list or to search these guides, see Manuscript Division Finding Aids Available Online.
Searching the online versions allows researchers to uncover more quickly than before the names of people, places, groups, and subjects that do not appear in the abbreviated catalog records. Yet even with such enhancements, finding guides are still only aids to research. They cannot substitute for a scholar's detailed examination of the actual papers.[Top]
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