Archive Descriptions

An Introduction to Archive Descriptions

Archives are unique collections, and so descriptions will vary quite widely. However, you will find the same basic information for most descriptions. The collections are catalogued by the holding institution, and practices may vary between institutions.

This page focuses on descriptions on the Archives Hub, but they are typical of descriptions you will find elsewhere.

Sections of an Archive Description

Descriptions include core sections, that are common to all entries, and additional sections, that may be included in some descriptions but not in others. The key sections are:

Reference Number: The reference used to describe the collection, often a combination of letters and numbers, such as 'MGF'.

Title: The title of the collection, intended to give an overall sense of what the collection is and who created it, e.g. 'British Olympic Association Archive Collection', or 'Papers of Millicent Garrett Fawcett'.

Dates of Creation: The covering dates of the material, from the oldest to the most recent item within the collection. Typically something like '1900-1952', or may be more specific, such as 'January 1914 - March 1915'. Sometimes dates will be more approximate, such as 'Early 19th century'.

Language: The language of the collection, often English, but may be in any language, or a combination of languages. Some collections are in several languages, sometimes quite obscure ones!

Physical Description: The size of the collection, often given as the number of boxes or a measurement in linear or cubic metres.

Scope and Content: A description of the content, which may be quite brief or list all the series within the collection.

Adminstrative/Biographical History: Information about the creator of the archive. For example, a biography of Millicent Garrett Fawcett or a description of The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

Subjects / Personal Names / Corporate Names / Geographic Names: These are 'index terms' added by the creator of the description. They are significant people, organisations, subjects and places associated with the archive. On the Archives Hub they are clickable links, to take you to more archives that relate to the same topic area.

Content of a Description on the Hub

Descriptions on the Archives Hub can be Brief or Detailed, however, the difference between these may be very slight or quite significant.

Brief Description

  • The brief description includes the core information about an archive collection: such as title, date, creator and extent.
  • It includes the scope and content, which describes the material, and the administrative or biographical history, which describes the creator.
  • It shows associated names and subjects for the collection.
  • It does not include detailed descriptions of series and items within the collection (not all collections have this information).

Detailed Description

  • The detailed description may provide additional information, including information about access, use, appraisal, acquisition and accruals.
  • This information is useful to get a fuller sense of the collection, but it is not considered core to the description.
  • The detailed description also provides the full hierarchy, where a collection is catalogued more fully, down to series and item level.



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This page is part of: Using Archives: A Guide for the Inexperienced