The process of cataloguing provides a detailed record of your archive collections. A survey is a good starting point in the process. For companies that want to make their archives publicly accessible, for example with on-line catalogues, it is recommended to follow international professional standards for cataloguing. For more information visit

Also see the ‘Textbooks and Reference Materials‘ page for best practice publications

For businesses with less resource in terms of time and finance – this level of cataloguing is impractical because it is costly and time-consuming to deliver. Just how much detail you go into depends on the size and complexity of the collection and how quickly you want to realise its potential, but all catalogues should contain the following information:

Admin details box number, item number or unique reference, location in
archive store.

Context or provenance details who created the records i.e. company name and/or division and/or department and/or section and/or project and/or person; depending on the complexity of your organisation and how much you know about the record.

Content detail – what information is in the records, what does the record tell us, and when was it created i.e. date or date range. The level of detail here can be high level or fairly in-depth depending how interesting it is in terms of what it describes and how you will re-use the information. For example you may want to list at item level all of your companys press releases including their titles so that a computer search for any publicly-communicated event is easily found. On the other hand a decades worth of risk registers can be described as risk registers with covering dates e.g. 1995-2005.

Accessibility of information computer-catalogues

Archives should be catalogued on computer allowing easy access to information, using industry-standard software such as CALM, Adlib or equivalent. For smaller collections using spreadsheets will be a cost benefit solution. See The Archives and Records Association’s on-line directory of suppliers for more information here.

Up-to-date summary catalogues should be sent to The National Archives which maintains the Discovery catalogue which describes the nature and whereabouts of records relating to British history. Where catalogues are mounted on a business or institution’s website the relevant url should be reported to TNA. Visit: