As a follow-up to my previous post, I’m excited to report that we’ve successfully published a new finding aid! A Guide to the Michael Louis Altstetter Records is now available to view through the Virginia Heritage database of archival resources.
To help put this into context, I’d like to answer a few questions you may have:
What is a finding aid?
Virginia Heritage’s FAQ does a good job of answering this:
Finding aids (also called guides or descriptive inventories) are the key to locating primary source materials. The finding aid provides a comprehensive overview of a collection, explaining how it is organized, outlining a collection’s origin, contents and dates, and listing locations within a collection where relevant materials may be found. It also informs the researcher about how a collection may be accessed or copied.
Basically, a finding aid tells you what we have in our physical manuscript collections. Finding aids don’t display digital content–you’d still have to come to our reading room to view these items–but they do function as the best way to determine if our manuscript collections have what you’re looking for.
What is Virginia Heritage?
This is a centralized database that we use as a repository for our finding aids, along with many other Virginia institutions with archival collections. Various participating universities, libraries, and museums across the state upload their finding aids here as a way of consolidating resources and making those resources widely available. You can search finding aids broadly by subject or keywords, or you can narrow down your search to a specific institution.
Visit About Virginia Heritage if you’re interested in learning more about what they do, the history of the project, and the participating institutions.
How can I see what finding aids UMW has available?
But for future reference, Special Collections and University Archives has a link to the current, full list of finding aids on our homepage, in the Resources and Services menu.
You can also find us on the main Virginia Heritage page by selecting University of Mary Washington as the repository and clicking search.
Does UMW have more in the archives than what’s listed here?
Absolutely! We’re working on making more of our manuscript collections searchable and available for research.
Part of the goal of processing the Altstetter collection was for me to become familiar with coding the finding aid according to established standards (Encoded Archival Description, or EAD, is generally accepted as the XML standard for encoding finding aids). Now that I’ve figured out the basics of EAD and publishing online, I’ll be focusing on producing finding aids for those manuscript collections that have higher potential research value. We want to increase our visibility and make sure that anyone interested can discover our resources.
In the meantime, feel free to visit Special Collections’ Research and Instruction page to learn about additional ways to find and access our various collections and artifacts. We’re always happy to help!