Monday, 13 April 2015

Cataloguing our collection

Cataloguing our archive collection to the internationally recognised archival standard (known as ISAD(G)) is an important and ongoing task for the archive. 

An archive catalogue enables an archive to care for, and manage, their large and diverse collections:
  • It enables staff to know exactly what records they hold in their archive.
  • Researchers know what an archive does and doesn’t have and can therefore avoid unnecessary enquiries and visits.
  • It opens access to the collection.
  • It enables rules to be attached to records e.g. restricted access.
  • It gives detailed information about a record or file and shows its context in relation to other records.
  • It helps tell the story of the organisation or individual.
Letter from Florence Nightingale, 1849
St Edmund's College, Ware, 1874

Each archive collection is unique so there is no model archive catalogue structure that can be simply adapted for use. Archive catalogues differ from library catalogues in that they have hierarchical structures and the archives are arranged into categories based upon the organisation and functions of the organisation that produced them. 

At the top of the hierarchy is the collection which is usually the organisation or individual that created that particular collection of archives. The collection is then divided down into various subgroups reflecting the different functions/ divisions of the organisation. These subgroups are further broken down in into series of records which are usually linked to the office or entities that created them. These may in turn be further subdivided. The lowest level is usually the file and this is where the records are actually found.
Each entry in an archive catalogue has a description which made up of different elements or fields. There are several essential fields which are shown below.

Reference code
Scope and content
Dates of creation
Level of description
Parish records
Southwark Diocese
Records of parish churches
60 files
Woolwich Parish
Southwark Diocese
Correspondence, visitation forms, plans and drawings
5 files
Southwark Diocese
Correspondence between the parish and Diocese
3 files
Plans and drawings
Southwark Diocese
Plans and drawings for St Peter’s Church
2 files

Once this cataloguing project is completed the bulk of our archive collection will be catalogued. However, cataloguing will continue periodically as records being produced by the offices of the Diocese are added to the archive. 

The archive is also considering whether to purchase archive cataloguing software. A major benefit of this would be that our archive catalogue could be displayed and searched online. An example of an online archive catalogue can be seen here:

An example of an online archive catalogue taken from the Westminster Diocesan Archives catalogue displayed on Catholic Heritage

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