Here are some tips and tools that may help you to search the resources of Library and Archives Canada
When going through the results, you may find words that are unknown to you. Here is a short list of definitions.
A group of records or archives from the same entity (source), with the same place of origin or history (provenance), accepted all at once as holdings in an archival repository.
Accessioning is the formal process of accepting materials, which receive a unique, permanent accession number for basic archival control.
Public or private materials that a person, family or organization creates or receives over time, which are preserved because of their enduring value or as evidence of their creator’s functions and responsibilities. Archival records are unique and irreplaceable.
The intellectual and physical organization of an archive.
The documents of an archive, called fonds or collections, are arranged in a hierarchy—from general to specific—that is, from the fonds level to the item level:
(Sous-fonds—if it exists)
(Sub-series—if it exists)
(This information can be found in
The person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies) who created or accumulated and used a collection of documents or archives during the course of personal or business life.
Conditions of access
Access restrictions (identified by an access code) indicating whether documents may or may not be consulted for research and reproduction purposes.
The part of a catalogue entry relating to an edition of a book catalogued.
The amount of material found within a fonds expressed as a number—for example, a number of pages, a number of items, a number of linear metres.
Tools to help access archival material; they include descriptive inventories, guides, accession registers, card catalogues, shelf lists and automated databases.
The body of records and archives of an organization, institution or person, in any medium, created and accumulated during the course of activities and functions.
Item (linked) part of
A level of archival arrangement and description. A unit of handling.
Language of material
The original language of the archival material.
An automated record number assigned upon entry to all archival descriptions by the LAC MIKAN database system.
A MIKAN number is different from an
archival reference number and should not be used for the purposes of purchasing a reproduction or ordering material for consultation.
The owners or guardians—person(s), family (families), corporate or government body (bodies)—of a collection of documents or archives before its formal transfer to and acquisition by an archival repository.
A formal alphanumeric code assigned to an archival fonds or collection, for example, MG26-A Sir John A. Macdonald fonds, RG24 Department of National Defence fonds or R13877 Huguette Oligny fonds.
The origin of acquired material, usually private or public (government).
Word(s) designating an intellectual work or archival document. There are two types of titles:
formal titles and
Formal titles appear prominently in or on the documents being described, are usually assigned to the document by the creator, and are considered authoritative.
Supplied titles are assigned when no formal title is present, may be taken from evidentiary information found within the document or an external source, may be composed by an archivist, usually appear between [square brackets], and are an informed guess rather than authoritative.
Did you know that the concept of the
finding aid dates back to the very origins of archives? The ancient Sumerians created finding aids on clay tablets so that they could locate specific bureaucratic documents. We have moved a long way from the clay tablet, but the principles of the finding aid remain the same.
archive contains all of the documents created and used by a person, family, government institution or corporate body in the course of that creator’s activities or functions. Generally called fonds or collections, the documents of an archive are arranged in a hierarchy, from the general to the specific; in other words, from the fonds level to the item level:
(Sous-fonds—if it exists)
(Sub-series—if it exists)
Finding aids are tools that provide information
about the archival documents held in a fonds or collection. While finding aids can take many forms, they are generally used in the same way. Researchers use finding aids to help determine whether a certain fonds or collection of archival materials contains the documents, photographs, etc. that they might need to consult for their research project. Finding aids are created for fonds or collections but can also be created for series and sub-series of very large fonds or collections.
One of the most common types of finding aid is the
content list. It typically provides general file-level reference information and contains the following elements:
- Archival fonds or collection code (i.e. MG26-A or RG10)
- Volume or box numbers
- File number (and sometimes a file part number)
- File title
- Date of creation or date range of documents held within a file
does not provide content listings of all of the documents in each file.
A content-list finding aid for a fonds or collection can appear in a number of ways:
It can be attached to the fonds-level description as a portable document format (.pdf file). This is generally true for collections or materials acquired from private individuals (usually identified by collection codes beginning with “MSS”), as in the example below:
It may also be accessed by clicking on the hyperlinked number found beside the “consists of” text. This is generally true for collections of materials acquired from government departments (usually identified by collection codes beginning with “RG”).
Sometimes the content list is
only identified by a number in the text paragraph, which can be found beside the
Finding aid field label in a fonds, collection, series or sub-series description.
Content lists simply identified by number generally exist in paper format only and must be consulted in person (or copies must be obtained). Numbers beginning with MSS (e.g. MSS0211) most often refer to content lists for collections or materials acquired from private individuals. Finding aids composed of numbers separated by a hyphen (e.g. 12-13) usually refer to content lists for collections of materials acquired from government departments.
For a percentage of our collection, there are no content lists available. For example, lists are not created for collections of less than 10 boxes of material. Many photographic and cartographic collections do not have content lists. Some older holdings of government documents also lack content lists.
Not everything is available online; for some fonds or collections, the content list exists in paper format only and must be consulted in person. You may also order copies of material by following the instructions outlined in our post “How to Order Digitized Reproductions and Help Build the Digital Collection.”
Access codes for archival records
Have you ever ordered an archival record, only to find out that it is restricted? Archival records may be subject to access restrictions. To find out if a record is open or restricted, you must identify its access code. When you are in Collection Search, you can find these codes in the “Conditions of access” section of records descriptions (see image below):
The most common access codes are 90, 32, 18 and 10.
Open Records (code 90)
Any records that are unrestricted and directly available for consultation are marked as “90: Open.”
Government Records (code 32)
Some government records must be reviewed according to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act before being made available. Records restricted under these laws are identified as “32: Restricted by law.” For an example, please consult the Operational records of Prairie Northern Region record description.
To request restricted government records, follow the instructions on our Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) page, How to make an ATIP request.
Private Records (codes 18 and 10)
Records that are “18: Restricted” can be accessed through an application procedure established by the donor. These restrictions affect what you can consult, as well as what you can copy.
Records that are “10: Closed” cannot be consulted. In some cases, restrictions on closed records are set to be reviewed after a date specified by the donor.
To find out which files are restricted in a private fonds, consult the PDF document linked under “Conditions of Access” in the fonds description. For an example of this type of document, please see the Lester B. Pearson fonds description.
Restrictions vary (Code 96)
Access code 96 indicates that within a group of records, there exists more than one type of access condition. For example, since the Department of Transportation fonds (RG12) contains records that are open (code 90) and others that are restricted (code 32), the fonds-level access condition are indicated by “restrictions vary” (code 96).
Access code 96 can be applied to more than just fonds-level descriptions. It can also be linked to series, sub-series and accessions. However, it does not apply to individual volumes and files.
Access code 96 usually means that there are more specific descriptions available for the records being researched. In some cases, these records can be accessed by simply clicking on "View lower level description(s)" in the “Record information - Details” section of a record description.
In other cases, it will be necessary to consult a printed finding aid. To learn more, read
To be determined / closed pending processing (Code 99)
Access code 99 means that the access conditions for a group of records have yet to be determined. Usually this is because the records are being processed. In the following example, while the photographic material is open, the access conditions for the textual records have yet to be determined:
Open, no copying (Code 95)
Access code 95 indicates that the records are open and can be consulted; however, at the request of the donor, the records cannot be copied or reproduced.