Top of page

Archival Description

Archives and manuscript collections exist throughout the Library of Congress, encompassing a wide variety of material types and subjects. Archival description encompasses the dual processes of cataloging and production of finding aids.

Finding Aids

Archival repositories such as the Library of Congress routinely create detailed inventories, registers, indexes, and guides to describe their collections of primary source materials. These finding aids provide a comprehensive overview of a collection's scope and contents. They define the conditions under which a collection may be accessed or copied, explain its provenance, and contain histories of individuals and organizations connected with the collection. Descriptions of Library of Congress archival collections can also be searched in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Many Library of Congress archival collections are described by print finding aids available only in individual reading rooms.

Standards for Arrangement and Description

Encoded Archival Description (EAD)

This international standard for encoding archival finding aids is maintained by the Library of Congress in partnership with the Society of American Archivists (SAA).

Go to the EAD official website

Additional SAA Standards

In addition, other standards for cataloging rare material are maintained by the Bibliographic Standards Committee of the Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

Controlled vocabularies and authorized forms for name, subject, and genre/form can be found at the Virtual International Authorities File (VIAF), Library of Congress Linked Data Service, the LC Authorities, the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM), the Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), and the Ethnographic Thesaurus (ET), among others.

National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC)

A free-of-charge cooperative cataloging program operated by the Library of Congress, NUCMC creates online records in OCLC WorldCat on behalf of eligible archival repositories throughout the United States and its territories. The program's mission is further realized by the provision of free searching, via NUCMC gateways, of archival and manuscript cataloging.

Learn more about NUCMC