Using an archive is not like using a library. Library books are arranged according to subject and author whereas archives are arranged according to the person or organisation creating them. Whereas most libraries have open shelves for you to browse, an archive’s collections are kept in secure climate-controlled stores that aren’t accessible to the public. When a document from the archive is requested, it is brought out of the store and into a dedicated reading room where it can be viewed and used with the minimum of formality.
This way of arranging and storing archives can make searching them more complicated than searching for a library book. When you enter a search term into the online catalogue you may not always receive a list of documents relevant to your research straight away.
As often as not, finding a document will rely on browsing through collection hierarchies and filtering your search results to find what you are looking for. You may need plenty of patience and tenacity to find relevant documents that may be classified in different collections. We’ve created some search hacks to help you get the best out of our online catalogue.
The Archives Hub has an excellent resource that explains some of the challenges involved in using and searching archives. This includes a definition of archives and a guide to understanding catalogue records.