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Special Collections catalogue search help

What is an archives hierarchy?

Items in Special Collections are often arranged into collections, which you can easily search through in our catalogue. Understanding collections and their hierarchies helps you to navigate the catalogue and find out more about what you’re searching for. This video explains how an archive hierarchy is structured and how it displays in the catalogue.

Collection hierarchies are broken down into archive levels.

The Level field displayed in a catalogue record provides information about where the specific document or group of documents sit in the hierarchical structure. The hierarchical tree can be clicked to move to the lowest level of description available for the specific collection.

Between the top and bottom of the hierarchy you might find the levels sub-collection, series and sub-series. The larger and more complicated a collection is, the more levels there will be in its hierarchy.

The highest level of a hierarchy is always the entire collection, which is either created by an organisation or person, or developed as a distinct group of documents.

The collection (sometimes referred to as fonds) level provides an overview of the entire contents of a collection. The levels of sub-collection (sub-fonds), series, sub-series explain how documents were created and arranged.

The lowest levels of a hierarchy are usually files or individual items. Wherever possible documents are kept in the order in which they were created. This provides the contextual information necessary to understand the relationships documents have to one another.

The levels file and item are descriptive of documents or groups of documents that may be consulted in the reading room. If the collection has not been catalogued to this level, information in the collection description will indicate how records can be accessed.