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Archival Processing: Description

A guide to processing archival collections


Archival collections are described at the collection, series, subseries, folder (folder titles only), and/or item levels, with increasingly detailed information provided at each subordinate level. Different collections and/or different processing scenarios, however, warrant different levels of description. In minimal processing, collection level description, consisting of an abstract, biographical/historical note, and a scope and contents note that includes a list of series and/or subseries is usually sufficient. Descriptions for each series and/or subseries and a container inventory or list of folder titles should normally be added for a more fully described collection. In either case, though researchers encounter collection description in the above listed order, processors compose the collection description in the reverse order, creating folder titles first, then the scope and contents note, then the biographical/historical note and, finally, the abstract.

DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) description rules are followed in the creation of finding aids. Refer to Describing Archives: A Content Standard, Second Edition (2013) for additional information on describing archives.

Folder Titles

Creating good folder titles is important in archival processing – this is often how researchers decide if a collection contains information that makes research worth their time and, sometimes, travel.

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You may not deal with EAD mark-up, but if you do, or if you're interested, here are some helpful links:

  • EAD tag library (Library of Congress)
  • EADiva ("less official but highly readable and helpful")
  • EAD3 (not in use yet at UF)


Finding Aid Notes

Finding aids typically contain notes that contextualize the collection, detailing its importance and uniqueness. Notes are also used by researchers to determine a collection’s usefulness to their research.

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