The worst finding aid ever

Archival Description 2013-10-25

In a world of bad finding aids, there are some that make you feel better about your own inadequacies.

I have a candidate to put forward for the worst ever.  What I think makes this a standout is the obvious effort–it just tries so very darn hard.  What it lacks in user-friendliness, it makes up for in unnecessary specificity.


Here’s the handy key from the bottom of page 3:


Now that that’s all clear, here’s page 21 of the finding aid:


OK, so let’s interpret the line on the lower left-hand side that starts with “1910.”

It reads “1910    2, 1, (1)     1xc, 1relay”

This is telling the keen researcher that there are 6 photographic prints of the “track” team (which in this finding aid means any team that runs).

In the position under the “Varsity” column header, “2,1,(1)” means four photographs are of the Varsity track team.  Of these four, two are presumably from the same negative and definitely from 1910, one is from a different negative and definitely 1910, and one is from a third negative and probably from 1910.

There are no photographs indicated under the column for the Junior Varsity team, but there are two “other” photographs.  One is the cross-country team, and the other is the relay team.

Of course, the finding aid is equally eloquent in what it does not say.  There’s no information about the photographs’ sizes, or anything to help you retrieve the right folder.  These are portfolio-sized folders stored flat in drawers, which is scary, since a lot of the photos are small, but we’ll let preservationists shudder about that.  Over there on the right, only those in the know will be able to interpret “H-Y” as a photograph of a Harvard-Yale track meet.

Ah, now I do feel better about the fact that we haven’t added all the links to digitized images to the new version of this finding aid:…