To understand how to use an archive catalogue it is necessary to look at why an archive is catalogued differently to library material
An archive can only be understood within the context of a creator, which may be an individual person (such as an artist, or writer) or an organization (such as a university, or artist book publishers). An archive has to reflect the way a creator has organized it, so an archive is always in a hierarchy.
Here is an example, of an archival catalogue, of Bob Godfrey’s, an animator’s archive.
At the top level, it says Bob Godfrey Archive, Fonds Level, which is an archival term for collection level. The top level or collection level describes all the items within the archive.
The next level is a series level. A series level are records arranged together because of coming from the same filing system (of the organisation or individual), or relating to the same activity. These may include governor minutes, personal correspondence, work records. The example here showcases animation productions, records that were grouped together by the creator. Although three series levels are shown here there can be as many or as little series levels as the creator chose.
The next level shown is a sub-series level. There are not always sub series levels needed. A sub series of records are records that are a sub-set within the series level. For example, within this catalogue, the series level is further broken into pre-production records, and production records.
A file level is a group of items within a series, relating to the same activity, or filing process, for example a file of correspondence between two people.
An item is the smallest possible unit, which may be a letter, in the correspondence.
You can find the full glossary here
The archive catalogue goes from the general to the specific. The further you go down the catalogue, the more detailed each description is. For example the top level provides a general description of what material is in the archive and general keywords relating to all material, while item levels provide descriptions of individual names, and specific keywords.
A few difficulties that emerge within cataloguing include that it is not always possible to know the creator’s intended filing system, or to know for a fact that there was even a filing system. Descriptions about archives is also a key issue, as what is important to one person, may not be important to another. Appraisal theory, which means what you keep and what you don’t keep, is an area Archivists need to explore when cataloguing – this can often be difficult as research trends are hard to anticipate.
For further information about any of these areas including archival cataloguing theory please contact us at

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