Users of the Archives Hub come from all over the world, and from many different backgrounds. Cataloguing for this disparate online audience requires a different approach than creating printed handlists for an in-house audience. Below are our top tips for making your descriptions online-friendly.
Think online, think users!
Always remember that your descriptions need to work in an online environment. It is useful to think about users finding your description via Google and then viewing it - think about how to make it instantly understandable to them. It must be easy to scan - try to ensure that users can easily pick out key bits of information.
Google result for a search around cotton spinners archive
The Hub attracts users from across the world, and it's important to remember this global context when creating your descriptions:
- Add 'England' or 'UK' to place names
- Expand/explain common UK acronyms (eg BBC)
- Uniquely identify people & organisations (they may be well-known in the UK but not globally)
- providing external references to people/events mentioned in the description.
Use straightforward language
Many people will come to your descriptions whilst they are browsing online. It should be easy for them to understand exactly what it is about and what the archive contains. They will usually not be experts in the language of archives, so it is important to use appropriate language. Try to avoid jargon and complex technical terms.
Include the mandatory fields
An online description needs enough content for users to know whether it is relevant to them and worth a visit to your repository. We ask for 8 mandatory fields that should provide this basic information:
- Scope and Content
- Access Conditions
Creator is also highly recommended. It is not mandatory because we have received descriptions over the years without a creator name, and we understand the impracticality of adding it in retrospect.
Create consistent and short References
The reference is one of the most important entities in a description. Not only does it identify the description, it is also integral to the processing that goes on behind the scenes of the Archives Hub.
We highly recommend using a countrycode (GB), Archon repository code and short local reference code. For example:
GB 3184 SK [the Stanley Kubrick Archive]
Lower level entries can use nested numbers or letters. For example:
GB 1499 JVG [Artwork of James Vincent Glover]
GB 1499 JVG/1 [Series One]
GB 1499 JVG/1/1 [Series One, Item One]
GB 1499 JVG/2 [Series Two]
The reference is used to create a direct link for your description. For example:
Carefully consider an appropriate Title
Always think of the title as something that should make sense outside of the full description. Consider a user finding your archive by using Google - the title will be the clickable link, and may be the only information they see about the archive. Try to include the creator of the archive and the type of material and/or subject. For example:
- The Constance Willis Peace Archive
- Ursula Momray Williams Collection
- Co-operative Party Papers
- University of Salford Photographic Collection
Title with name of organisation and area, also including the country in the scope and content. This description should ideally also have an index term for the Theatre
We highly recommend avoiding using just a name as a title, e.g. 'William Wordsworth'. This is not really descriptive of the content in a global context. Avoid using 'Photographs' or 'Accounts' if possible.
Titles at lower levels of description
It is often practical to provide a fairly generic title at item level, such as 'Account Book'.
On the Hub this is fine, as we have a breadcrumb that indicates to the user the context of the current location, so you need to make sure the parent titles make sense.
Breadcrumb trail. 'Minute book' does not indicate much to the end user unless they can see the context.
If you want an entry to be found via a search engine, you should consider using a more unique title.
Use Extent consistently
The size of the archive can be very useful to those searching remotely. Try to use standard measurements. For example:
- 10 boxes
- 8 linear metres
- 2 cubic metres
- 12 volumes
- 7 items
Extent entries that may not be so useful for researchers are things like:
- Diaries, speeches, correspondence
- 57 shelfmarks
If you want to add more descriptive information, use brackets, e.g. 20 boxes (diaries)
Describe the archive in the Scope and Content
The description should give the user a good idea of what they can expect if they visit the archive. Make it easy to read. Bulleted lists are good. Think about the significant people, organisations, places and subjects that are represented.
Scope and content with a clear bulleted list of series and dates.
Create a useful Administrative or Biographical History
It is very useful to give background on the creator of the archive, to give a sense of context. Keep to what is relevant for the archive in question and draw out important events and relationships that the researcher may find useful. However, do bear in mind that index terms are equally and possibly more useful in terms of discoverability on the Web.
Select and structure Index Terms
These provide structured metadata for the significant names, places and subjects represented in your archive. Think carefully about what is appropriate to include, and try to only include index terms that are mentioned elsewhere in the description.
It is good practice to add the source of your name, for control purposes.
A structured list of subjects and names associated with an archive helps with search engine rankings, a researcher's ability to judge the relevance of an archive, and searching and linking within the Hub.