About the Archives Finding Aids

Frequently asked questions about our finding aids

The World Bank 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. The current list of finding aids, arranged topically, is found here.

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. Our arrangement and description activities are ongoing, which means that our list of Bank fonds is constantly expanding. In addition, those fonds that contain records created by persistent functions or units which are still in existence can expect further accruals and corresponding updates to their description. 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.

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 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.

In some cases, fonds described to the series or sub-series level will contain links to folder-level lists of the records arranged in a given series or sub-series. Links to these lists will be found in the Finding Aids field of the series or sub-series level descriptions.

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 explore the series level descriptions for more detail or, if no series level description exists, see the fonds level Scope and Content field for a summary of the types of records that are included and the types of activities to which they relate. The Related Units of Description field will also point you to other fonds and series in the Bank’s archives that contain similar or 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 also have the option of visiting the Projects and Operations Database. Here you will find project information as well as final reports specific to the project you are interested in. Searching the Database will also provide you with the Project ID number. Should you wish to access the archival records related to a specific project, cite the ID number when making a request.

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 the records will be available for them when they arrive.