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Physical & Digital Collections

ArchiveSearch: Understanding records

Records on ArchiveSearch

ArchiveSearch displays records hierarchically, allowing you to browse from general information (such as a description of a collection) down to specific information (such as a description of a file of documents within the collection).

The bar running beneath the reference code provides clickable links to navigate upwards in the collection’s hierarchy, or to the repository.

At the top level of a collection, three tabs offer different views of the resource (top level description):

  • Collection Overview
  • Collection Organization (if the collection has a hierarchy it can be viewed with a single scroll)
  • Container Inventory (available for some collections)

ArchiveSearch display of a resource (top level) record

Image shows a labelled display of resource record

ArchiveSearch display of an archival object (lower level) record

Image shows a labelled display of an archival object record

Collection Organization tab

The Collection Organization tab offers a scrollable finding aid of the whole collection. This shows each record in the collection's hierarchy with key information about it (title, reference code, scope and contents, dates and physical extent information). Click on a record to open it and view more information.

The navigation tree in the right-hand sidebar provides a full overview of the collection hierarchy and its arrangement. This is the quickest way to navigate the contents of the collection. Click on the arrows to reveal the contents of each series or on the text to go to a description. The sidebar also offers the function of searching within the context of the current collection.

Container inventory tab

The Container Inventory tab of a collection record shows a list of all the boxes associated with a collection.

Clicking on this tab may not show data for every collection available on ArchiveSearch. Please contact the repository holding the collection for further information. 

Collection Overview tab

The Collection Overview tab provides a summary of the collection including information about the dates covered by the material, its physical extent, conditions governing access or use of the materials. 


The name of the unit of description (copied from the original or supplied by the archivist to give an overall description of the contents)

Reference code

A combination of letters and numbers which forms a unique identifier for the unit of description. The first element of the reference code (e.g. GBR/0014) denotes the identity of the repository or collection. Also referred to as the shelfmark or classmark.

Scope and contents 

A narrative statement summarizing the characteristics of the described materials, the functions and activities that produced them, and the types of information contained.


The covering dates of the material, from the oldest to the most recent. Often a range of years “1900-1910” but may be more or less specific (e.g. early 20th century).

Conditions governing access

Important information about whether the material is available for consultation and whether there are any restrictions on accessing it. Seek further clarification from the repository if needed.

Conditions governing use

Information about restrictions on copying or publication of the material.


Information about the creator of the records. 

This might comprise a short biography of an individual or an administrative history of an organisation.


Information about the physical extent, quantity or size of the material.

This may be supplied in a variety of formats such as the number of archive boxes, items or cubic metres. The dimensions of a typical “archive box” will vary a little between repositories but is usually around 405 x 305 x 80mm.  Other information may be included here such as types of materials and dimensions.


The language or languages of the material.

Additional information is available by clicking “Expand All”.

Additional description information may include information about how the archive has been arranged, details of its provenance or acquisition and the originator (or creator) of the material.


'Index terms' added by the cataloguer or creator of the description to enhance the description by adding keywords to describe the significant subjects, events, people, places and organisations covered by the archive.

These are clickable links which take you to more archives relevant to the same subject. Subject or names used as keywords are usually used to denote substantial information about a person, organisation, subject or place.

Browsing (or searching) for subjects and/or names on ArchiveSearch can help eliminate records which only refer to the subject or name in passing. 

Subject terms can link records which contain information about the same subject but which do not all refer to it in exactly the same way.

For instance, descriptions mentioning "votes for women" or "suffragettes" can all be retrieved using the keyword "womens suffrage".

Subject terms also link records relating to different aspects of a general theme. Material about railways and roads can all be retrieved using the keyword "transport".

Finding aid and administrative information

This includes information about the archival description such as when it was created.

Repository details

This provides information about the archive organisation that holds the archives and includes contact details.

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