Making our collections more discoverable

Over the last few months we have been revising how we describe our collections in our online catalogue.  For every catalogued or partially-catalogued archive collection that the University of Surrey holds, we have a record which describes that entire archive collection.  As these have been written over the course of several decades, we wanted to make sure that they all contain the information they ought to and, with new cataloguing currently limited, now seemed the ideal time!

So now, when you go into a collection record you will find:

  • Information about the person or organisation who created the archive or assembled the collection.  This means you will, for example, discover where Cycles Dance Company operated.  (Hint: if you are interested in touring companies in the West Midlands, this would be a good archive to investigate!)
  • An overview of what records and objects you will find in the archive.  So if you want to know whether we hold any publicity material in the Kokuma Dance Theatre company archive, take a look at the collection record.  Or, if you are interested in what topics our Battersea alumni were discussing during their oral history interviews, have a look at the Remembering Battersea Oral History Project collection record.
  • How much material there is in that archive.  We hold collections which range from a few items through to many, many boxes so this is a very useful piece of information. It means that when you come to our Research Room to look at, for example, the archive of the Kickstart Dance Company you will know that there is a small quantity of documents (9 files to be precise) and no audio visual material. 
  • The date period the archive relates to.   After all, if you are specifically interested in the 1950s then you need to know which collections cover this period.
  • How the material has been arranged in the catalogue – this will help you find your way round.  So, you know that the hand-coloured Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations are arranged in the order in which they appear in their respective books.
  • And we have provided a see also section, more properly described as related material.  This is the “people who looked at this archive also looked at these other archives” bit. Except we write these based on our knowledge of the collections rather than relying on an algorithm!  Quite often we are referring to other material which we hold at the University.  But, where we know of related collections held by another archive we record that here too.

As part of this work, we have also been recording where we have material that still needs cataloguing and, if possible, giving an idea of what type of material it is.  (This is variable because, in the current circumstances, nipping into the strong room for a quick look in a box is a bit tricky.  Where we have been able to do this, we are indebted to our predecessors and their collection surveys – thanks, former colleagues!).  If you do want to know more about this uncatalogued material, have a word with us.  We have included our email address on the collection records so it is there when you need it.  (The phone number will be reinstated once we ourselves are reinstated back in the office and around to take your phone calls).

If you want to see collection records yourself, go to our advanced search page and then select collection in the level field.  This will bring up a list of all collection records in the catalogue.  Scroll up and down and then click on the refno (the letter code in the first column) of anything which takes your fancy – you will now be looking at a full description of your chosen archive.  If you have any feedback, we would be delighted to hear to it – our email address is

And finally, the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that in the opening paragraph of this blog, I said “for every catalogued or partially-catalogued archive collection that the University of Surrey holds”.  So, what about the uncatalogued collections?  The next stage of this project is to write catalogue records for all the uncatalogued collections we hold.  Once we are further down the road with this, I will write a blog – so watch this space!