Cataloguing archives

Cataloguing is an important part of the archiving process as it helps you to sort and record information relating to a document or item. Producing a catalogue for your collection takes time and careful consideration, so make sure to follow the guidance below to make the process as smooth as possible.


You can sort your collections in many ways. From sorting by;

  • Donor/depositor
  • Type of material, for example photographs, newspaper cuttings, maps, paper documents
  • 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


It’s important to reference your collections clearly and logically. Make sure you give each collection a reference and link it to the donor/depositor to make it easy to find later. When it comes to listing the material, use the collection reference and add sub-numbers to reference all the items.

  • 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]

What to record

There are a few different key pieces of information you might want to record for your catalogue. These might include:

  • 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 (such as, 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 - such as church, school

There are also additional details you might want to record for your item. For example:

  • 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

How to record

It can be a challenge to work out what kind of system you should use to record your catalogue. Whatever system you use should be searchable, and ideally should be capable of being sorted into order, for example by reference, date, title. You could use any of the following:

  • spreadsheet, with columns
  • table (word-processed), with columns
  • database, with fields
  • other software (such as Comma)
  • simple card index

Following these steps, you should have a clear and functional catalogue of your records. If you encounter any challenges, we’re always on hand to offer advice to people creating their own collections, so feel free to contact us.