Finding aids are tools that describe and facilitate access to archival and manuscript collections. They help researchers to understand and use a collection of historical records by providing contextual information about the individuals or organizations that created the records as well as information about the records themselves.
Information about the physical characteristics of the records includes the extent or quantity of the records, specific formats and genres (correspondence, photographs, diaries, etc.) that are in the collection, and possibly the physical condition of materials.
Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society Notice, 1837. Sophia Smith Collection.
A finding aid also describes the intellectual content of the records--subjects, people, organizations, and time periods that the materials document, and includes an overview of the arrangement of the collection. Most finding aids provide a container list of the collection as well.
For a more detailed description, see Anatomy of a Finding
For Five College archives and manuscript collections, once the finding aid is created, it is encoded and published on this site (Home page).