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Archives Finding Aids

What is a "fonds"?  The World Bank Group Archives are organized into “fonds,” which are groups of records from a single office or, in a few cases, from a single individual.  The list of Bank fonds is constantly expanding, as records are received from offices and as individuals donate personal papers.  Each fonds is assigned a number for control purposes.  The current list of fonds in numerical order is found here; the current list in topical order is found here.

How are records described?  The World Bank Group Archives describes records using the International Standard for Archival Description General (ISADG).  Each fonds has a description, and many fonds have descriptions for the subparts of the fonds.  Each element of an ISAD(G) description has a purpose.  If you want to know the purpose of any element, the list of all ISAD(G) description elements and the purpose for each is found here.

Each fonds has a description.  The records of one office (one fonds) may include many different series of records, particularly if it is a large office with many subordinate offices. Sometimes the fonds description simply lists the series within it; other times series are grouped together into sub-fonds.  The fonds forms the broadest level of description, but there may also be descriptions at sub-fonds, series, file and even item levels.

The descriptions using the ISAD(G) format are linked within a single fonds.  For example, if a fonds description says in element 3.4 Arrangement that the fonds has five series of records within it, the descriptions of the series will be linked there.  In addition, the Archives may create lists and other finding aids, such as a list of file titles, and these will be listed under element 4.5 Finding aids.  Researchers interested in reviewing lists for particular series should contact the Archives.  Finally, many records in one fonds are closely related to records in another fonds.  Element 5.3, Related units of description, will point the researcher to these additional resources.

How can I identify what I want to see?  Many researchers want to do research on a particular topic.  By thinking about both the topic and the part of the Bank’s organization that is most likely to have dealt with the program or project of interest, researchers will have the greatest success in identifying relevant records.  For example, a researcher interested in Guinea will usually begin with the country operational file on Guinea in Fonds 1.  There is also Guinea information in the fonds that contains the records of the Bank’s headquarters office managing programs in Africa (Fonds 5, Records of the Africa Regional Office), and the field records of the Permanent Mission in Western Africa and the Ivory Coast Country Office (Fonds 74)  contain several important files on Guinea.  If, in addition, the researcher is interested in agriculture in Guinea, the records of the headquarters Agriculture and Rural Development Sector (Fonds 27) may be useful in understanding general agricultural development policy.  Finally, one or more oral histories (Fonds 44) may be useful in understanding development in Africa.

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 in this rich legacy of records.  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 the records will be available for them when they arrive.

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