Federal Records Management

Finding Aid Requirements

Finding Aid Requirements Overview

Detailed finding aids are necessary records management and archival life cycle resources which ensure NARA can implement reference and retrieval procedures and controls on accessioned holdings. Finding aids are integral components of accessioning documentation and are required for all new accessions.

A separate Electronic Records Archives (ERA) Transfer Request (TR) and finding aid is required for each individual records series. Until NARA receives a finding aid for proposed records, NARA will not approve the TR. NARA may return the TR to draft status if the agency is unresponsive to our request to provide a finding aid, refuses to provide a finding aid, or cannot complete the creation of a finding aid within a reasonably agreed upon time. Returned TRs may be resubmitted by the agency once an acceptable finding aid is available and attached to the TR.

Finding aid formats and data points differ depending on record and media type. Specific media type finding aid requirements are outlined below. Finding aids for some records types, for example aerial photographs or various case files--such as court case files, investigative case files, alien case files, patent case files, and other types of records--may require specific data points in order to effectively access and serve. When such records types are identified, NARA will work with agencies to develop acceptable finding aid criteria.

Annual Move Overview

36 C.F.R. §1232.16(3) outlines requirements agencies must satisfy when transferring records to off site storage, including the requirement for folder title lists or equivalent detailed records description for permanent and unscheduled records. For permanent records transferred for accessioning through the Federal Records Center Program (FRCP), per 36 C.F.R. §1233.10(c), a Standard Form (SF) 135, or equivalent, is required and will satisfy the requirements described under 36 C.F.R. §1232.14(c), as long as the SF-135 includes a folder title list,or equivalent detailed records description. Since NARA receives the SF-135 from the FRC, agencies are not required to provide it for Annual Move transfers from Federal Records Centers. If an SF-135 is not available from the FRC, or if it is insufficient as a finding aid, NARA will reach out to the agency requesting a finding aid for the proposed records.

Direct Offer Overview

As outlined in 36 C.F.R. §1232.16, finding aids are required for all Direct Offers and must be attached to the ERA TR at the time of submission to NARA.

For Direct Offers made for records previously stored in the Federal Records Center system NARA may accept an SF-135 if the SF-135 includes an accurate and up to date file list, or equivalent detailed records description. However, NARA generally requires a new list if the box contents have changed or if the original file list is insufficiently detailed.

Specific Media Type Guidance

Cartographic Finding Aid Requirements

When proposing permanent maps and charts, architectural and engineering drawings to the National Archives, a finding aid consisting of the following information is required under 36 C.F.R. §1235.42(g)(4) & (i)(5):

  • Background and context of the series, with as detailed of a description as possible
  • Format
  • Container List
  • Scale (if applicable)
  • Folder or Item Lists (if applicable)

When proposing aerial photography accessions, a finding aid consisting of item or frame level information must be submitted with the records, per 36 C.F.R. §1235.42(h)(5). This information should include:

  • Format
  • Mosaic or map index (if one exists)
  • Geographic coverage (latitude and longitude center or corner points if no mosaic)
  • Scale
  • Date
  • Spot number (if applicable)
  • Can number (if applicable)
  • Container List
  • Other unique agency identifiers that cross reference to records

Please email carto@nara.gov with any cartographic accessioning questions.

Electronic Records Finding Aid Requirements

For electronic records, the term “finding aid” generally equates to documentation or metadata. Documentation requirements for structured data files, digital geospatial data files, and documents containing SGML tags are defined in 36 C.F.R. §1235.48 - What documentation must agencies transfer with electronic records? By extension, NARA Bulletin 2015-04: Metadata Guidance for the Transfer of Permanent Electronic Records further defines “documentation” by specifying the minimum set of metadata elements that must accompany transfers of permanent electronic records to the National Archives. The general transfer requirements associated with Capstone email, including documentation, are defined in Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about GRS 6.1: Email Managed under a Capstone Approach. Please see the section titled Questions About Transfer and the answer to Question 36 for information on documentation.

See the Accessioning Electronic Records and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Transferring Permanent Electronic Records to NARA for details.

Please email etransfers@nara.gov with any electronic records accessioning questions.

Moving Image and Sound Finding Aid Requirements

When proposing permanent moving image and sound records to the National Archives for accessioning, an item list by container, or file list by storage media, with the following information as noted in 36 C.F.R. §1235.42(f)(1)-(2) is required:

  • Title
  • Agency assigned identifiers or control numbers, if available
    • e.g. production numbers, file names, barcodes
  • Production Date
  • Format:
    • e.g., motion picture film, videotape, audio cassettes, discs or file types, etc.
    • Additional characteristics that are useful if available but not required:
      • Film gauge or video tape format
      • Running time
      • File size
      • Sound or silent
      • Color or black and white
      • Edited or unedited
      • Does video have closed captioning
      • Do digital files include embedded metadata
  • Any item level content descriptions are useful if available but not required
    • Content summaries
    • Subject keywords
    • Geographic locations
    • Prominent figures
  • Contacts for known rights and permissions by title

 

All corresponding finding aids, including additional metadata not specified above, should be transferred with the records. In addition to metadata, any associated textual records such as scripts, rights and permissions files, production files and shot lists should be transferred.

Please email mopix@nara.gov with any moving image or sound accessioning questions.

Still Pictures Finding Aid Requirements

When proposing permanent analog photographic records to the National Archives, a finding aid consisting of the following information is required under 36 C.F.R. §1235.42(c) & (f)(1)-(2):

  • Background and context of the series, with as detailed of a description as possible
  • Format (e.g., prints, film, slides, glass)
  • Size (e.g., 35m, 4x5, 8x10)
  • Color (black-and-white, color)
  • Container List
  • Folder or Item Lists (if applicable)

When proposing permanent digital photographic and graphic material records to the National Archives, a finding aid consisting of the following information is required under 36 CFR §1235.48(e) and §1235.50(e):

  • Background and context of the series, with as detailed of a description as possible
  • Media (e.g., hard drive, optical disc)
  • File Types (e.g., JPEG, TIFF, PNG, DNG)
  • Estimated Overall Volume (e.g, gigabytes, terabytes)
  • Container List (if the transfer consists of optical discs)

Additional guidance pertaining to metadata for digital photographs and graphic material can be found under NARA Bulletin 2015-04.

When proposing analog poster and other graphic material accessions, a finding aid consisting of item level information must be submitted with the records, per 36 C.F.R. §1235.42(c) & (f)(1)-(2). For both photographs and graphic material accessions, all existing corresponding finding aids (box lists, folder lists, items lists, indexes, shelf lists, logs, metadata) should be transferred with the records. If the information is not readily available, please contact the accessioning archivist

Please email stillpix.accessions@nara.gov with any still picture accessioning questions.

Textual Records Finding Aid Requirements

Per 36 C.F.R. §1232.16, when proposing permanent textual records to the National Archives for accessioning, all textual records transfers must be accompanied with a finding aid in the form of a folder title list, or equivalent detailed records description.

A folder list is documentation of all the folder titles in the accession, as written on the folder label or tab. At a minimum, the folder lists must specify the box number in which each folder is contained and be sufficiently detailed to provide access to the records by National Archives staff, federal agency staff conducting research at NARA, and members of the public. Spell out abbreviations and acronyms and identify codes or provide a key with this information. An Excel spreadsheet is the preferred file format.

Box lists may be acceptable for some transfers arranged chronologically. A box list is documentation of the first and last folder in each box. If you believe a box list provides sufficient detail to navigate the series (e.g., records arranged chronologically), please contact your accessioning point of contact prior to submitting your Transfer Request to NARA.

Additional Finding Aid Requirements

  • Loose sheets – place in a folder(s) and provide an appropriate title reflecting the contents.
  • Untitled folders – provide an appropriate title reflecting the contents.
  • Bound volumes – place in a file folder if the volume fits within the dimensions of the folder. If a bound volume does not fit into a file folder it may remain un-foldered and counted as a single file in the folder title list.
  • Binders – three ring binders are accepted and inventoried as a single file. Please provide an appropriate title on the binder(s).

Please email a textual accessioning contact with any accessioning questions.

Examples of textual records file lists are included below

Staff Director’s files (file list)

An image of an Excel spreadsheet with two columns and twenty-seven rows. The first column is called 'Box Number' and contains numbers.  The first several numbers are '1', followed by '2', up to 5. The second column is called 'Folder Title' and contains information that might be written on a folder of records. For example, two of the folder titles are: 'Cost Issues Notebook: Government Information Folder 1'; 'Memoranda for Commissioners and Correspondence, June 5, 1996-January 10, 1997'.

Meeting Minutes (box list)

An image of an Excel spreadsheet with four columns and seven rows. The first column is called 'Box Number' and contains the numbers 1 through 6. The second column is called 'First Folder Title' and contains information that might be found on a records folder, such as 'Meeting Minutes October 1, 1979'. The third column is called 'THRU' and contains the word 'THRU' on each line. The fourth column is called 'Last Folder Title' and contains information that might be found on a records folder, such as 'Meeting Minutes September 30, 1980'.

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