Leeds University Library

What is an archives hierarchy?

Archival catalogues are based on multi-level hierarchical description. Each hierarchy is descriptive of one collection, either created by an organisation or person, or developed as a distinct group of documents. 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 Level field displayed in a catalogue record provides information about where the specific document/ 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.

The highest level will always be collection (sometimes referred to as fonds), providing 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 larger and more complicated the collection is, the more levels there will be in the hierarchy).

The levels file and item are descriptive of documents/groups of documents to be consulted in the reading room.  If cataloguing of a collection has not been carried out to this level, information in the collection description will indicate how records can be accessed.