Archives and catalogues
In this session you are introduced to the basic principles of cataloguing and archiving material and taken on a tour of the University Archive.
By the end of this session you will be able to:
- Explain the difference between collections and archives
- Explain the difference between a catalogue and an index
- Explain the importance of consistency in naming and numbering
- Mark up and reference the material in your archive resource pack appropriately.
Archive or collection?
It is important to look at the context/content/provenance to determine whether it is an archive or a catalogue.
[Juliet Vine's notes]
What is the difference?
A collection is a group of items that are put together, but have no external context. (E.g. a collection of shoes is simply a collection when they have no other items with them) An archive is a group of items that are put with other items that put it into a wider context. If there are other things that go with this collection of items, these items then have a context and become part of an archive. (E.g. If the collection of shoes are put with other items).
Naming and Numbering
The collection name needs to be kept fairly simple but needs to be meaningful. It is important that it bears relation to the collection. Keep a standardized and controlled vocabulary for naming and describing (so you can use the same terms throughout). There are various ways of writing names so do check with authorities so you can incorporate the correct and appropriate way of naming places/people/items.
The numbering system also needs to be kept fairly simple so it is easy to understand, and each item needs to have a unique identifier. Whether it is a collection or an archive effects the way you catalogue the information. A collection you simply number. With an archive you have sets of items, which requires you to an archival numbering system. There are several numbering systems that you can use: · Sequential numbering (0001)/ Faceted numbering (01/01)/ Alphanumeric numbering (K1003105) When dealing with a large number of items it is important to remember leading zeros!
With an image catalogue you must record the image content as well as recording it’s original format (35mm film/colour slide/glass neg.), as well as its surrogate format (how you created it and what can be done with it).
The importance of consistency
You need to make a choice with how you are going to enter the information on your database and you need to stick with it the whole way through. This is particularly important in relation to people and place names and dates, which can have many different variant forms.
Catalogue vs index A catalogue is a structured hierarchical description of the different levels of contents of an archive/collection. An index is a list of key words that relate to the contents. A catalogue can be used to browse the contents to find out what the collection contains. An index can be used to search the contents for something specific.
To see the presentation from this session follow this link File:Catalogics.ppt
Summary of talk by Katharine Short, University Archivist, September 2013
What are archives?
- Archives are materials created by a group or an organisation over their life or work and kept permanently for research purposes
- Terminology can be confusing – the word ‘archives’ to mean materials is often interchangeable with ‘manuscripts’, ‘documents’, ‘records’, ‘papers’ or ‘collection’
- ‘Archives’ or 'Archive' is also used to mean the physical place where the materials are kept
- Material kept in an archive tends to be very broad and often depends on the person or organisation who has created the items. For example, a university archive might include student registration files, examination results, module handbooks, prospectuses, student magazines and event posters.
- Materials come in varied forms; most commonly paper but also electronic, audio-visual and of course photographic formats.
- Some archivists draw a distinction between a collection of archival material with a common provenance and an artificial collection.
- Artificial collections have been gathered over time by an interested individual from many sources or places – for example, someone interested in the Battle of Waterloo might scour auctions, websites and antique fairs for any letters, ephemera and artwork to do with the Battle, and bring it all together as one collection
- As there is not a common provenance or source for the collection, it is considered artificial when compared to records arising as part of the everyday business of an organisation
- This does not decrease the value of an artificial collection, but it may mean that some information and evidence is lost or hard to recover
- Archivists use an international standard known as ISAD (G) to ensure a measure of conformity across all catalogues
- ISAD (G) puts forward various pieces of information which are considered essential or important for the cataloguer to record
- Mandatory information: unique reference number, a title, the dates of creation or covering dates of the material, the language it is in, a physical description of size and format, an idea of the content and some idea of the historical context of the material
- Many archivists also add index terms to their catalogues, usually by subjects, place names, corporate names and personal names
- Archivists usually sort an un-catalogued collection into a hierarchy in order to make some sense of it and allow researchers to find their way around the material with greater ease
- This involves the use of different levels, beginning at the top with the fonds which usually describes the collection as a whole
- FONDS --> SUBFONDS --> SERIES --> SUB-SERIES --> FILE --> ITEM
- Hierarchy is often suggested by the way the material was originally used by the creator (e.g. the filing system used in the office which created the papers) or by the functions of the material (e.g. minutes, correspondence, and financial accounts would all form different subfonds or series).
- The different levels are usually demarcated by an alpha-numeric reference code system which drills down eventually to the individual item, which can be a file, single document, photograph, or video recording
- Example of archival hierarchy:
D/050 – Records of De Montfort University Netball Club
D/050/A: Organising Committee minute books
D/050/B: Correspondence with league
D/050/C: Team Rosters
D/050/D: Financial Accounts
D/050/E/01: Photographs of matches
D/050/E/02: Team Photographs
D/050/E/03: Photographs of club fundraising events
D/050/E/01/A: Varsity Matches
D/050/E/01/B: League Matches
D/050/E/01/C: Friendly Matches and Charity Matches
D/050/E/01/A/01: Album of photographs of 1986 Varsity match
D/050/E/01/A/02: Album of photographs of 1989 Varsity match
D/050/E/01/A/01/001: Photograph of goal being scored during 1986 Varsity match
D/050/E/01/A/01/002: Photograph of cheering supporters during 1986 Varsity match
- It is not compulsory to use all the levels and most archivists keep it more simple, sometimes cataloguing at the top level only
- The decision on how to arrange the items and what to put together might put a different complexion on the material to what was there already, suggesting interconnections where there were none; or hiding connections which were in place
- This is why archivists place great importance on 'original order' and try to maintain the collection much as it was handed to them. Of course sometimes the original order has been completely lost and this is not possible
- Language and terminology used by the cataloguer is very important to assist with searching
- Photographic material can present quite a challenge to the archivist
- Photographs often lose a lot of their metadata or background information which helps with cataloguing
- A photograph album with unlabelled images showing people at a formal meal, for example, might be impossible to catalogue well – what is the event? Who are the people? When was the date? Clues to date can be gleaned from what people are wearing or from their surroundings, but the names and roles of the people in the pictures might be lost forever
- Photographs also present difficulties as they come in so many formats, and most archivists are not trained to tell the difference between various types of photograph. This can be frustrating for a researcher who is interested in technique or format rather than subject
- Special photograph catalogues often record type of material, photographic type or techniques used (e.g. glass plate negative, sliver gelatine print, aerial photography), dimensions, copyright information and subjects depicted.
- Photographs also need special care and should ideally be kept in slightly different conditions to archival documents – indeed some negatives are dangerous if not stored at very low temperatures
- Most archivists will move photographs from their original storage into more stable packaging
- The archivist must take care when repackaging not to lose any contextual relationships which might be established from the order in which photographs have been kept, for example if they are in an album, and should record or keep any labels or captions which might exist. It is often a difficult balance between maintenance of context and original information and the long-term preservation needs of the photograph
- DMU catalogues are hosted on the Archives Hub: 
- The Archives Hub also includes a useful guide to using archives for the inexperienced which touches on many of the definitions and concepts I have mentioned above and includes tips on getting the most out of visiting an archive: 
- ISAD (G) International Standard of Archival Description (General) is available here: 
- A useful slide-show from the British Postal Museum describing their photograph cataloguing process. Includes many links to examples of good photographic catalogues: 
- British Library Preservation Advisory Centre booklet on standards of care for photographic material: 
DMU Archives and Special Collections in the Kimberlin Library is open 3 days a week, usually Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Please do come in to use the Kodak Journals Collection or to look at any of our photographic collections.
Working with your selection of material from the archive, decide how you are going to catalogue it, then apply your cataloguing system to all of your objects.
Follow this link to the PRDA Contents page to return to the module contents.
Back to the MA: Photographic History Main Page to return to the Course contents.