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Finding and Using Materials in Rare Books and Special Collections

Organization of a Fonds / Finding Aid


The word "fonds" is used to describe most archival groupings in Canada, as well as in the United States and in many European and Latin American countries. Fonds just means the documents (in any media or format) naturally created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities. For example, the "Jane Smith fonds" would refer to the records created and received by Jane Smith.


Archives also have "collections," which are materials assembled from a variety of sources or thematic groupings of otherwise unrelated archival materials. For example, the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung collection consists of materials related to three broad themes: British Columbia history, immigration and settlement and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.

Finding aid or inventory

A finding aid is a document containing detailed information about a specific group of papers or records (fonds/collection). Finding aids are used by researchers to determine whether information within a fonds/collection is relevant to their research. The finding aid is usually compiled by an archivist or librarian during archival processing and should help the researcher understand the contents of the fonds/collection, as well as the context in which they were created.

Organization of a fonds / finding aid

Like the fonds itself, the finding aid is organized from general to specific, starting with a description of the fonds overall and subdividing into descriptions of more specific groups of records within the fonds:

Finding Materials in the Archival Database

When you enter a keyword search in our archival database, it searches all levels of descriptions and will pull up not only entries at the fonds and collections level (most general level of description) with that keyword, but series, files, and items (more detailed / granular level of description) with that keyword.


Some finding aids are navigated via hierarchical (most general to most detailed) dropdown lists above the archival description:


Within the finding aids, you can also do keyword searches by clicking the "Quick search" tab and entering your search term(s):


Click "Browse all descriptions" to expand the results.


Other inventories / finding aids are available as searchable PDFs.


Within the archival database, click on the PDF finding aid to open it in your browser window.

Within the PDF finding aid, you can do keyword searching by pressing Ctrl/Command + F and entering your search term(s). The below screenshot is an example of a fonds that only has a PDF finding aid available:


The following is an example of a hybrid finding aid, where a PDF is available in addition to a finding aid built into our archival database. The PDF and database finding aids describe different parts of the fonds, so researchers should ensure that they search both sections.


If you have found records that you would like to request at RBSC, please take note of the reference code to help us find it for you. Reference codes are available at the fonds/collection, file, and item levels.

AtoM Search diagram