Finding Your Way Through Finding Aids: Archives 101

Finding a Finding Aid

Different Paths, Same Destination 

Hollis and Hollis for Archival Discovery

There are two easy ways to search for finding aids of Harvard collections. The first is through Hollis, Harvard's library catalog which contains millions of records ranging from vinyl records, to Medieval manuscripts, to today's New York Times Bestsellers. The second, and most direct, is through Hollis for Archival Discovery, Harvard's finding aid database.



Hollis is the one-search for all materials available through Harvard Libraries: archival material, course reserves, circulating books, digital databases, and much more. Hollis is great when you want to get a broad idea of all your research options, but you can still find your way to finding aids if you know how to search.

  1. Type your search term into the search bar- if you are looking for an exact phrase, put quotation marks around your search term. When you begin to type, a drop-down menu will give you three options: 1) Everything 2) Library Catalog 3) Reserves (Books & Media). To find archival materials at Harvard, you'll want to limit the search to "Library Catalog."
  2. Library Catalog results will include many types of resources, including books, audio-visual material, and archival collections. There are many options to narrow your search, but if you want to see just archival collections, you will want to go to the "Resource Type" section in the "Refine Your Results"  and select "Archives/Manuscripts."
  3. Your refined results will have archival collections with finding aids, some archival collections that haven't been processed yet and so don't have a finding aid, and some individual manuscripts. Look for records that have a little icon of a folder with "FINDING AID" written next to them. Let's select "Albert Murray Papers, circa 1939-2005."

  1. When you select from Hollis results you will be brought to a single record the represents the whole archival collection. There is a lot of information about the collection itself in the record entry. You'll want to look for two things. The first is italicized text in quotation marks at the top of the record. That quoted text is where the algorithm detected your search results in the finding aid. To get to it, you'll need to click the linked marked "FINDING AID"
  2. The link doesn't bring you to the term you searched for, but instead brings you to the top of the finding aid itself. You'll need to re-enter your search term in the search box.
  3. The search will pull up every reference to your term in the finding aid, in this case to a grouping of materials that includes a "James Weldon Johnson file"

Hollis for Archival Discovery

Hollis for Archival Discovery is your go-to spot if you know you are specifically looking for archival material. This tool searches across 31 Harvard repositories and brings you aggregated results. Here is a basic guide to searching, and on refining your search to get closer to your specific research interests.

  1. Start by typing your term into the search bar. In this case we chose "civil rights."
  2. From the pull-down menu to the right of the search bar, select what your term is: keyword, the title of a collection, the name of a person or organization who created a collection, a term you are looking for in the notes field, or the identifier for a collection. We chose "keyword" so we could get a broad set of results.
  3. From the pull-down menu directly under the search bar, you can make a selection to only see digitized material. We decided to leave that unselected to see how many results we could find.

  1. 1,944 results, and you can sort them by relevance, title, or date! You can see under "Refine My Results" that there are three different types of results: archival records, collections, and digital records. Archival records are a single item, folder, or box that match the keyword description, Collections are a grouping of materials that match the description, and digital records are a single digital object. 1,944 is a lot to sift through, so you can refine your results by repository. We selected Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institution.
  2. 1166 is still a lot! You can further refine your results by type, subject, or name. We're looking for things we can check out online, so we faceted by type: digital record.
  3. 70 is a more manageable number. All digital records are marked with red text that says "Digital," which you can also find on archival records that have a digital object, usually a digitized copy of the entire archival object, attached.
Written by Dorothy Berry

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