What to see at the Archives Portal Europe - presentation of archival content
Archival fonds and collections are ordered according to the provenance principle: they are kept in one place and their arrangement is organised by the (archival) institution or individual that produced the documents (unlike the thematic organisation often to be found in libraries). The papers and files etc reflect the way an administration functions and are ordered in different collections, fonds, series or subseries. The finding aids, holdings guides and source guides are the tools produced to help the user understand this original ordering and to enable her/him to find and understand what s/he is looking for in the archival material.
The finding aids
Although archival institutions produce specific finding aids to suit their own collections and users and although the content of a finding aid may differ depending on the type of material it is describing, the finding aids to be found in most archival institutions follow common and general rules to facilitate access to the archival material itself. Usually, a finding aid places the documents in the context of their origin and their initial and current use by giving information such as:
provenance, including historical, administrative or biographical information;
acquisition and processing;
organisation and arrangement, including interrelationships with other fonds or records;
inventory of the series, subseries etc;
scope and content, including extent and physical description;
possible restrictions on use of or access to the documents due to archival law or data protection.
The finding aid thereby provides detailed, hierarchically-structured descriptions of the archival material itself and all the information required to order an archival document of special interest to you to consult it on-site. A certain number of finding aids furthermore includes digitisations of the archival material so that you can virtually browse through them directly from the Archives Portal Europe.
At the Archives Portal Europe, digitised material can – depending on the type of analogue material – be recognised within the finding aids and in the search results display by small icons symbolising textual material, images, sounds or videos. The complete view of the finding aid may also contain thumbnails ie smaller representations of the digital object. Clicking an image type icon or a thumbnail will lead you to the full resolution of the digital object as displayed on the content provider's own website.
The holdings guides
Whereas the finding aid contains detailed information about one specific fonds or (sub)series, a holdings guide gives an overview of all archival collections kept by an institution. The holdings guide provides only high level descriptions for each fonds or collection such as title, summary, dates and extent, and refers the user to the more detailed finding aids where they exist.
Within the Archives Portal Europe, links to online finding aids accessible at the portal as well are indicated in the display of the holdings guide by an active link "View Finding Aid". Depending on the workflow of the constituent archival institutions, the holdings guides can be simple lists of the different fonds and collections, as well as a more elaborate, hierarchically-structured document. The latter can be following a chronological order (ie by era) or an administrative one (ie by provenance) or they can be a mix of both.
The source guides
The source guide is a particular form of finding aid. The objective is to track archival fonds and collections related to a specific topic either kept within one repository or dispersed between several institutions in one country or even in different countries and to gather their descriptions in order to facilitate research and access to the archives. The source guide presents the fonds, collections or items, and describes them by generally following the same rules as in a finding aid. It usually contains a short presentation of the particular institution(s) in addition to detailed administrative and historical presentations of the topic.