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Using MIT ArchivesSpace: Understanding MIT ArchivesSpace

A Web interface for MIT ArchivesSpace, the archives collections management system used by the Libraries' Distinctive Collections and the Aga Khan Documentation Center.

What is a finding aid?

finding aid is a resource that contains contextual and structural information about a collection of records within an archive.

Finding aids place archival resources in context by including information about the collection, such as:

  • acquisition and processing
  • provenance, including administrative history or biographical note
  • scope of the collection, including size, subjects, media
  • organization and arrangement, often with an inventory of the series and the folders.

Source: SAA Dictionary of Archives Terminology

Organization of materials

Typically, archival collections are described from general to specific, starting with the whole (collection), then proceeding to the components (series, subseries, folders, and items).


A place where things can be stored and maintained, including any type of organization that holds documents, including business, institutional, government archives, and manuscript collections. Current Repositories in MIT ArchivesSpace are:

  • Aga Khan Documentation Center
  • Department of Distinctive Collections

A set of archival or manuscript materials that share the same provenance or were created in the same administrative unit.


A group of similar records that are arranged according to a filing system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity.


A body of documents within a series readily distinguished from the whole by filing arrangement, type, form, or content.


A group of documents related by use or topic, typically housed in a folder (or a group of folders for a large file).

Source: SAA Dictionary of Archives Terminology

ArchivesSpace terminology

Here are a few terms that you will encounter while browsing in ArchivesSpace:

Resource Record

Where a user can access the bulk of information about the intellectual and physical characteristics of archival materials, as well as information about creators and topics.

Archival Object

The components of a Resource Record that correspond to various levels of archival description, such as the "Series", "File", or "Item" levels. Archival objects can be intellectual entities, such as "Series" and "Sub-Series", or the archival materials, themselves, described at the "File" or "Item" level.

Digital Object Record

Used for both born-digital and digitized materials and includes the metadata record, content file(s), and a link or digital wrapper.


An Identification number assigned to resource, accession, and digital object records that uniquely identifies the object within the repository. This is also known as the Collection Number.

Source: ArchivesSpace Help Center Glossary

Elements of an ArchivesSpace finding aid

Finding aids in MIT ArchivesSpace are divided into three sections: 

Collection Overview
This page displays the primary elements of the finding aid, including the scope and contents note, date(s) associated with the collection, creator information, conditions governing access and use, biographical and historical notes, and additional descriptive information.
Collection Organization
This page contains an expanded view of the objects that comprise the collection and the manner in which they are organized in containers, including boxes and folders.
Container Inventory
This page displays the top-level containers in a collection and allows users to navigate by clicking on the container to view the records contained within.


Questions? Comments?

Please contact Ask Distinctive Collections! for help finding collection material and to make appointments to access material.

To suggest corrections or report errors, email us at

We respond to questions Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm.