To look into our collections in more detail, please use one of the browse/search options below.

If you're new to searching archives, we highly recommend reading our quick introductory guide.

Experienced archive researchers:
access our catalogue search

How to use our archive collections

Archive catalogues are very different to library catalogues and for beginners it can be difficult to navigate and makes sense of a what's available in a collection. The following guide is designed to provide some pointers for those new to archive research. 

Our archive catalogue provides descriptions of the material that we hold in the archive.  Archive material is organised into a hierarchy, to show the relationships between records in a single collection. For example, if an individual deposits an archive there may be correspondence from family and friends as well as professional correspondence. There may be documents relating to work as well as those linked to leisure or political interests. Sometimes there are connections between these records.

To help navigate the archive user, there is a single collection level description that gives high level information about the scope and content of the entire archive. This often includes any relevant biographical information and is a really useful starting point - a bit like the introduction and table of contents you might find in a published book.

Beneath the collection level description in the hierarchy, collections may be organised into different series, according to the type of material held in the archive. For example, one series might be 'Private Correspondence A-Z' while another might be 'Speeches to Environmental Groups'. Within each series are files  (e.g. perhaps files of correspondence ordered by surname) and items (individual letters) belonging to that file.

We have an archive catalogue system that allows you to enter a keyword and search for records that match your interests. However, searching an archive is just one approach and sometimes browsing around the collection in the way described above, until you get to know it better, can be a more useful starting point. Some collections are only catalogued at quite a high level and you might need to ask the Archivist for help in locating something. 

Summary: when to browse and when to search 

  • When you visit our catalogue, use the browse option to discover our collections and the extent/characteristics of an archive.
  • Use the search option when you want to search the collections for a particular subject. 
  • If you need some assistance with your search, you can email for further help.