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Improving our Record Office finding aids

We're constantly working to improve the way you can find what you are looking for in our collections.


Finding aids are the tools we create so that people can search our collections and find the information they are looking for. They include catalogues, indexes and research guides.

Our finding aids have been created over the last 60 years, and we continue to create new ones every day. They're an invaluable resource, but many are now old and need updating to conform to new standards and technology, and to be relevant to modern audiences and fulfil their expectations. To achieve this, we've a continuous programme of improvement.

Tackling offensive and oppressive language

Our catalogues often repeat terminology that was used in the original archive document, but which is now recognised as offensive and oppressive. We're working to improve these catalogue entries to reflect the changes in such language and beliefs. We believe it's important to retain the original language, as it reflects the attitudes of the time, but we'll make clear that this language is offensive and oppressive and add new descriptions that are respectful of all communities.

Marginalised people and communities

All members of society should be able to see themselves reflected in the archives. But the way that records have been catalogued means that those that relate to marginalised people or communities can be difficult to find. This continues their marginalisation. To address this, we are:

  • creating research guides to help people find records about marginalised communities
  • bringing marginalised people to the fore by prioritising them in our name and subject indexing
  • highlighting information about marginalised people and communities in our catalogue descriptions wherever we can

Improving the overall quality of catalogue records

We have approximately half a million catalogue records. Many of them do not meet our current standards so we're continually making improvements. At the moment we're particularly working on:

  • expanding abbreviations and improving the wording in our descriptions to make them easier to understand
  • making sure that dates are in the correct format to enable people to better search and organise search results by date
  • adding archive creator names to all records, so that it's easier to find records created by the same person, family or organisation which are split across different archive collections
  • indexing records by place and subject
  • creating mini profiles for selected people and organisations in the collections and linking them to archive documents

Converting the local studies card catalogue

The primary finding aid for our local studies collection is a large card catalogue, but it can only be used by customers who visit us in person. We're currently adding our local studies items onto our online catalogue so that people don't have to visit us in person to find out what we hold. There are approximately 140,000 cards in the authors index, so this is an ongoing project that we expect to take at least 8 years.

Adding paper-only finding aids

We have a small number of collections with only a paper list. Scanned versions of these lists are available to download from our online catalogue but they are not searchable through the main catalogue. These are for collections which are only partially catalogued, or which were transferred from another library or archive with only a paper list. We're currently working our way through these collections to convert the paper lists into electronic format.

When collections are added to our online catalogue, we announce this on our blog. Take a look at our blog posts about newly added catalogues.