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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Introductions to finding aids

Sometimes the visitors to our library are new to research, and it's not unusual for a visitor to arrive who has never used a library before. Some aspect of maritime history has intrigued them, and they want to learn more--usually about a ship or an ancestor.

We introduce them to the concept of our library catalog--that it's a listing of materials they can have paged to use here, but that are not for sale, and that they can not take home, and although there are links in the catalog to online materials, most of the items represented in the catalog are hardcopy books that are not available online. This part of the reference interview goes quickly.

Less easy to convey is the concept of an archival finding aid, that is designed to help the researcher decide if all or part of a potentially vast amount of material would be worth paging. Barbara Aikens, at the Smithsonian, has something that might help--"What Are Finding Aids?" on their Smithsonian Collections Blog. It's one of the best introductions I've seen to what exactly a finding aid is, with links for further exploration.

Keep this post in mind for research newbies, and even for experienced researchers--if you're considering research in the vast Smithsonian Archives, give it a read.

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