Levels of Control

Today I would like to begin sharing the process for creating a finding aid. A finding aid is an index or description of a collection’s arrangement and contents created for researchers so they can determine whether or not a collection is worth their time. Before I describe the process of writing a finding aid, it is necessary to first explain the collection’s arrangement, which is usually described in a finding aid.

The contents of a collection have various levels of control, meaning there are various ways a collection can be grouped. The broadest grouping is the collection level, which for my collection was the Michael Davis Papers. The second broadest classification is the series level. At this level, records are organized based on their similarities in topics, functions, or document types. This is often used to divide larger collections with many boxes into manageable segments. Since the Michael Davis Papers fit into a single box, there was only one series level. A narrower grouping is the file unit or folder level which can be organized alphabetically, chronologically, topically, or by document type. For the Michael Davis Papers, the folders were separated primarily by organization. For instance, materials from the American Medical Association were in a different folder than materials from the Committee for the Nation’s Health. The narrowest level of description and arrangement is the item level, which can be arranged chronologically or alphabetically. This level consists of the individual materials in the folders. Many finding aids don’t describe on this level of detail because of a lack of time, resources, and practicality.

My finding aid described the Michael Davis Papers on each of these levels except for the item level. The descriptions varied in detail and content, depending on whether I was writing about the collection, series, or folder levels. Next time, I will go into the writing process and explain some of the content I was fortunate enough to work with.

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