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Help Using the Archival Finding Aids

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is a tool created by records professionals that provides contextual information about the subjects covered in archival materials. Finding aids usually contain detailed inventories aimed to help researchers locate relevant materials efficiently.

How to understand finding aids

Finding aids often consist of numerous hierarchies. These hierarchies are used to illustrate the relationships of items or files to higher levels of organization. For example, consider the following image:

This image is used to show the hierarchies in finding aids

This example contains four hierarchies, each of which has their own meaning. Reading from the top:

  • We first encounter a series title. Series titles are labeled in bold maroon and generally contain the words "Series". They are usually followed by Roman numerals to indicate the series number.
  • Next, a subseries is indicated. These are also labeled in bold maroon. They are generally preceded by a capital letter, and are indented from the series title.
  • Folder headings are the next hierarchy. They are labeled in plain black text. Depending on the finding aid, they may or may not contain box and folder numbers. Folder headings are indented from subseries and series titles. Additionally, they may be indented from other folder headings. They provide a context for the folder titles below them.
  • The fourth hierarchy present is a simple folder title. These are presented in plain black text, and utilize the folder headings above them to provide additional description. For example, the folder entitled "Architectural Record" belongs to, and is further described by the folder heading "Acoustics".

In general, you should be aware that every finding aid will differ, and that indentations and hierarchies possess meaning within finding aids. For more information regarding finding aid elements, see the section entitled "How do I search specific finding aid elements?".

If the text within these finding aids appears improperly indented or garbled, you might want to use a newer browser. We have used Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in this project to establish hierarchies within our finding aids. Older browsers have difficulty displaying CSS properly. The best browsers for CSS compliance are Netscape 6 / Mozilla, Internet Explorer 5.x, or Opera 4.x.

Navigating our online finding aids

You can navigate the Physics History Finding Aids in one of two ways: with frames, or without.

What are frames?

Web pages that use frames consist of two or more individual files that are combined into one browser screen. The frames have specific purposes: one or more will control navigation, while other frames will possess the desired content. For large documents (like finding aids), frames are helpful in that they allow you to navigate the pages at arbitrary levels. This makes it possible to "jump" to other sections of the document.

How do I use frames?

Users who possess little experience with frames may have difficulty performing tasks such as printing and finding keywords. The key to using frames is to make certain you click within the frame you want to navigate. Moreover, clicking the right mouse key provides additional functionality. Once you have left- and/or right-mouse clicked in a frame, the browser then understands that you want to perform a certain action within a specific frame.

The chart below will help you perform specific tasks:


Left-click on the frame you want to print. Click on "File", and then "Print" or "Print Frame". Some browsers will allow you to print a frame using the right mouse key.

Find in page

This is an important concept in using our online finding aids. Click on the frame in which your desired keyword might be located. Click on "Edit", and then "Find in Frame" or "Find in this page".

Resizing the frames

Roll your mouse over the bar separating the frames until it becomes an arrow. At this point, you can move it to your desired location. Alternatively, some browsers will allow you to right click in a frame and open the frame in a new, solitary window.

Forward and Backward Navigation

Users who dislike frames often do so because they must traverse through all of the links in which they have clicked in order to return to a desired location. We have provided links within the frames to help you return to a location without having to use their browser's "Back" and "Forward" navigational features.

Resizing text

This feature is, for the most part, frames independent. However, it is always good practice to click on the frame in which you wish to resize the text. Then click "View" and then select the option that allows you to resize the text.

Reloading frames

Reloading can be done within all frames by clicking on "View" and then "Refresh" or "Reload". Individual frames can be refreshed by right clicking on the desired frame, and then clicking on "Reload" or "Refresh".

Why are you using frames, and can I opt not to use them?

We are using frames because, in most cases, they enhance navigation. The more you become accustomed to frames, the easier it may become for you to navigate finding aids.

For those that dislike frames, it is possible to view the content of the finding aid in one of two ways:

  1. Click on the "Browse Finding Aids" link (this link can be found on the home page) and find the name of the finding aid you wish to view. "No Frames". Click on this link.
  2. When searching, the finding aids retrieved that contain terms matching your query will have "No Frames" links as well. Click on this link, and you will be free from frames.

How do I do a simple search?

Search all the finding aids to find the ones you want:

Specify the keyword(s) inside the box(es) on the Home/Search page and click on the search button. To find an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in double quotes (e.g., "linear accelerator"). In the pull-down menus, you can specify if you want to locate terms at any level of the finding aid, or in specific element. Drop-down menus that feature the words "and", "or", or "not" can be used in Boolean searches.

The search will find all the keyword matches and then sort the results according to relevancy within each specific finding aid. Finding aids containing more of the keywords will have a higher rank than those matching less. On the results page, you can enter additional words to further refine the search.

(Note: When refining queries, only the "and" and "not" operators will work. A link is provided to begin a new search if your query requires the "or" operator. For clarification, see the section entitled "Boolean and proximity operators.")

Search for text within a particular finding aid:

Once you have completely loaded the finding aid in your browser, click in the frame in which your desired term might be located. Click on "Edit", and the "Find in Frame" or "Find in this page." If it is found, the desired term will be highlighted in your browser. Please note that this box searches for exact text located in the document, and therefore does not allow keyword or Boolean searching like a traditional search engine. If you have difficulty with this due to our use of frames, see the section entitled "Navigating our online finding aids."

Alternately, you can use the "Locate term in finding aid" link in either the navigation or content frames to pinpoint specific text in the document. A popup window will appear asking for your input term. When completed, press the "Search" button to initiate the search. Please note that this box searches for exact text located in the document, and therefore does not allow keyword or Boolean searching like a traditional search engine.

How do I search specific finding aid elements?

Queries can be retrieved from any level of the finding aid by selecting any of these fields when searching:

Keyword / Entire document:

Queries searched at this level will be retrieved from anywhere in the finding aid.

Scope and content note:

Queries searched at this level will only search terms located within the scope and content notes of the finding aid. Scope and content notes generally provide an overview of the collection's content.

Biographical / historical note:

Queries searched at this level will only search terms located within the biographical and historical notes of the finding aid. Biographical and historical note generally place the records in a historical context, giving users a clearer sense of the entity being described.

Subject / Name / Form of Material Terms:

Queries searched at this level will only search for terms located within the controlled access terms of the finding aid. Controlled access terms provide additional access points for users who wish to locate finding aids in the AIP International Catalog of Sources.

Title of Collection:

Queries searched at this level will only search terms located within the title of the finding aid. The title of the Physics History Finding Aids generally contain either the word "papers" or "records". They also contain the name of the person who created those records.

Author / Creator:

Queries searched at this level will only search terms identifying the creator of the collection.

For more information regarding the navigation of our finding aids, see the section entitled "Navigating our online finding aids".

Boolean and proximity operators

You can use operators and modifiers in query expressions to instruct the search engine to widen or narrow the focus of a search by applying logic to your query. The most popular logical terms are the operators AND, OR, and NOT. Modifiers can be used with operators to further define your question. These frequently used words (AND, OR, and NOT) are interpreted as Verity Query Language by default.

You can focus the search more closely by telling the search engine to retrieve documents that contain the search terms in close proximity to each other: that is, near each other or in a specified order.

The operators used for proximity searching are NEAR, NEAR/x, and the pair ORDER NEAR.

Desired result Valid syntax * Examples
Find both terms term1 <AND> term2 proton <AND> electron
Find one or both terms term1 <OR> term2 smith <OR> jones
Find one or both terms (both scores higher) term1 <ACCRUE> term2 smith <ACCRUE> jones
Find documents excluding a term term1 <NOT> term2 lasers <NOT> excimer
Find terms in close proximity term1 <NEAR> term2 air <NEAR> pollution
Find terms separated by x words term1 <NEAR/x> term2 (where x = # of words separating terms) optical <NEAR/3> systems
Find nearby terms in a given order <ORDER> <NEAR> (term1 term2) <ORDER> <NEAR> (thin film)

* Note: all operators except AND, OR, and NOT must be surrounded by "<" and ">" symbols.)

Wildcard characters

Wildcard characters select documents that contain matches to a character string containing variables. Wildcard characters let you define a search string with variables, which can be used to locate related word matches in documents.

You can use the following wildcard characters to represent variable portions of search strings.


You can use a question mark (?) to specify the first letter of a word

You cannot use an asterisk (*) to specify the first letter of a word

Desired result Valid syntax Examples
Specify one and only one character ? p?oton (finds proton, photon)
Specify zero or more characters * neutr* (finds neutron, neutrino, ...)

Modified from http://www.aip.org/vhelp.htm. Copyright 1996 Verity, Inc.; All rights reserved.