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Using Our Finding Aids


The World Bank Group Archives creates finding aids in order to provide researchers with information about the World Bank’s records and their creators. This information will assist the researcher when making a request for access to records. A list of our finding aids can be found on our Access the Catalog page.

What is a "fonds"?

The World Bank Group Archives arranges its records into “fonds,” which are groups of records in all formats created by a single office, function, or individual. Examples of fonds in the World Bank Group Archives include the Records of the Office of the President fonds, the Records of the Population, Health, and Nutrition Sector fonds, and the Personal Papers of Gloria Davis.

How are records described?

The World Bank Group Archives describes records using the International Standard for Archival Description General (ISAD[G]). Each element of an ISAD(G) description has a purpose, and this is described here.

Each fonds has, at minimum, a fonds-level description. Within each fonds, the records may be further arranged hierarchically into sub-fonds, which most commonly reflects organizational or authority divisions within the office or function. This fonds (or sub-fonds if extant) may contain series of records, which generally reflects activities or record form. This descriptive hierarchy can be seen and explored in the section at the top of each description’s entry.

Our ‘multilevel’ hierarchical finding aids follow four principles outlined in the ISAD(G) descriptive standard:

  • Describe from the general to the specific.
  • Include information relevant only to that level of description.
  • Make explicit the position of the unit of description in the fonds’ hierarchy.
  • Give information at the highest level that is common to the component parts and do not repeat information at lower levels of description.

Fonds described to the series or sub-series level will usually contain links to folder-level lists of the records arranged in the series or sub-series. Users can access these lists by clicking on the link in the Finding Aids field of the series or sub-series level descriptions or the Inventory List button to the right of the description.

Our arrangement and description activities are ongoing. All of our records have been described to the highest, or fonds level, but new series-level descriptions are published regularly. In addition, fonds that contain records created by functions or units which are still in existence can expect further accruals and corresponding updates to their description.

How can I identify what records I would like to see?

First, familiarize yourself with the various Bank units and functions that provide the organizational and functional context for the records’ creation. The Administrative History field of the fonds and sub-fonds level descriptions contain information that will help you understand how the Bank was organized and who was responsible for its various functions, such as projects, Economics and Sector Work (ESW), policy development, development studies and research, evaluation, and so on.

Once you have identified who was responsible for the activities or topics you are interested in, you can further evaluate the relevance of records in a fonds by reading the Scope & Content field. In cases where only a fonds-level description has been completed, this information will be extensive but more general in nature. Review the fonds-level Scope & Content information and use this information to guide your discussion with an archivist once a request has been submitted.

For fonds that have been described to the series-level, the Scope & Content information in the series-level description will be more specific. Furthermore, as described above, most series-level descriptions provide an Inventory List of folder-level and item-level records contained in the series. To make an access request for folders found in the Inventory Lists, cite the Identifier number.

How do I locate project-related records? 

Many researchers are interested in specific World Bank projects. Administering loans and overseeing projects is the primary responsibility of the Bank’s Regional Vice Presidencies. Reviewing the description of the relevant Regional Vice Presidency will provide you with a description of the Regions’ organizational history as well as a summary of the types of records that may exist relating to the project you are interested in.

Researchers interested in the Bank’s project lending also have the option of visiting the Projects and Operations Database, a searchable database of all World Bank projects. Here you will find project information and final reports specific to the project you are interested in. In addition, each project page provides a folder list of archival records over 20 years of age that relates to that project. Digitized versions of these records are accessible here when available. Should you wish to access those archival records that have not been digitized, cite the folder number when making an access request.

If, after reviewing our finding aids, you have not identified the fonds that you think will contain the records you are looking for, place a request through the World Bank’s Access to Information webpage and one of our archivists will work with you to find the records in which you are interested.

What are some tips for searching the Archives’ catalog?

There are a number of ways to search and browse our archival finding aids:

  • The basic search is simple and easy. Search  for information about the records and their creators using keywords or special character and Boolean searches.  Search results can be filtered with the facets including narrowing down your search by the level of description (i.e. fonds, series, folder, etc.). Remember, the fonds-level description, which is the highest level of archival description, will usually contain the most information related to the context of the records’ creation.
  • Advanced searching is also available by clicking on the search bar and selecting “Advanced search” from the dropdown that appears. As before, enter a search term in the search field using keyword or more advanced search strategies. Use the “Any field” dropdown to select a specific descriptive field to search. Employ additional criteria by clicking the “Add new criteria” dropdown. You can limit or filter your results further by description or digital object availability or indicate a date range you would like your results to fall between.

What are some tips for browsing the Archives’ catalog?

You may also browse archival descriptions by selecting one of the “Browse by” options that are located on the top right of page in the blue banner.

  • As with search results, you can filter your browse by using the facets found on the left side of the screen. Results will be organized alphabetically, but they may be reorganized according to relevance, date, and reference code by clicking on the “Sort by” dropdown above and to the left of the search results.
  • Another browsing option is to visit the Archives catalog home page and navigate to the full list of fonds descriptions or to partial, thematic groupings of fonds descriptions.

How do I navigate within a fonds-level description?

Having selected a result from your search or browse to view, it is important to situate yourself within the hierarchy of the fonds. The “tree-view” element, located at the top of the description, indicates your location in the hierarchy of a single fonds description while providing you with easy mobility between levels.

Keep in mind that even if you have identified a description that appears to be relevant to your research question, it is important to go to the highest level of the description – the fonds level – in order to gain relevant contextual information. One of the principles of our descriptive practice is that information common to component parts is only provided at the highest level. Because all the records in a fonds are created by a single creator, information about that creator will only appear at the highest level.

What are the rules on access to the records?

Not all records of the Bank are available for research use. The World Bank Policy on Access to Information balances the business needs of the organization and its partners with the interest of researchers. All records not previously made public must be screened in accordance with the Access to Information Policy before they are ready for research use.

Researchers are advised to contact the Archives substantially in advance of a proposed research visit to ensure that there has been sufficient time for a review of the requested records.