Cataloguing archives


There are many different ways to sort:

  • Collections by donor/depositor, arranged within each collection by type of material, for example, photographs or newspaper cuttings
  • Collections by type of material, for example photographs, newspaper cuttings, maps, printed ephemera
    Collections by subject category, for example church, school, streets
  • A combination all three

For example, Buriton Village Association have divided their collection into:

  • School
  • Farming
  • Hop-Growing
  • Limeworks
  • Church and Chapel
  • Sport and Leisure
  • War
  • Transport
  • Buildings
  • General


Referencing your collections clearly and logically is important.

  • Give each discrete collection a reference, to link it to the donor/depositor
  • When you come to list the material, use the collection reference and add sub-numbers to reference all the items

Some suggestions

  • Number each collection, with a running number, or a letter code, or a combination of letters and numbers [ABC1]
  • Sort and subdivide each collection into types or series of material (for example photographs, postcards, printed maps), using a number or letter for each series [ABC1/1, ABC1/2, ABC1/3 ...] or [ABC1/A, ABC1/B, ABC1/C...]
  • Within each series, sort the items into a logical order, such as date order, alphabetical order by place, serial number order
  • Number each item with a running number, [ABC1/1/1] or [ABC1/A/1]

Deciding what to record

What sort of information (or metadata) should you record for each item? Some key elements are:

  • Reference number
  • Title - keep this brief but meaningful, to capture the essence of the document (its form, and its basic content). It can be helpful to think how it would look in a list (eg, place name first?)
  • Date - date when document was created, either simple year date or more detailed dates
  • Additional descriptive material - capture as much as possible from those who know about the sources and locality
  • Theme or subject area -  for example church, school, to assist in searching for and using the material

Additional details recorded could be

  • Format - if not recorded in the title, such as photograph, sound recording, video
  • Copyright information about photographs (name of photographer, details of copyright owner)
  • Physical characteristics - whether the document is damaged, fragile, etc.
  • Location of document - shelf number, box number, etc.

Deciding how to record

What sort of system should you use? There are a number of possibilities:

  • Spreadsheet, with columns
  • Table (word-processed), with columns
  • Database, with fields
  • Other software (eg, Comma)
  • Simple card index

A key point is that it should be searchable, and if possible capable of being sorted into order, by reference, date, title, etc.

Sorting collections



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