An Introduction to Archive Resources

by Tamara Thornhill
Corporate Archivist, Transport for LondonTransport

We are very grateful to the author for allowing us publish her article on our web site.


This guide is intended to provide very brief introductions to the various organisations, companies, and standards that are used by the archives profession for regulation, supply, advice, and assistance.

The guide is a continual work in progress and is produced purely for information. It is not exhaustive and is not intended to be demonstrating favouritism in any way.

All information is correct as of the last update (9th January 2015).

The guide is split into sections:

  1. Sources of Training
  2. Cataloguing Software
  3. Media Conversion Companies
  4. Scanning Companies
  5. International Standards
  6. National Standards
  7. Major Archives Groups and Associations (National)
  8. Major Archives Groups and Associations (International)
  9. Preservation and Conservation Resources
  10. Other Sources of Help and Information



1. Sources of Training

The National Archives

The National Archives provide regular training opportunities to anybody interested in or working with collections. Most, though not all, opportunities are free and therefore book up very quickly.

Details can be found on the National Archives website or by emailing


The Archives Skills Consultancy

Provide 1 day training courses aimed at beginners, on both archives and records management, looking at basic principles and theories.



TFPL provide 1-5 day training courses on a range of topics including records management. These are aimed at profesionals but are open to all.


Archives and Records Association

ARA provides training opportunities aimed primarily at their members but open to all. Because they are aimed at the whole spectrum of their membership, these courses cover everything from copyright through to archive buildings at basic through to complex levels. Most have a minimal fee attached but come are free. These courses are well spread throughout the country.


Digital Preservation Coallition

The DPC provides training opportunities from 1-3 days that focus on the tools, strategies, and processes required for preserving digital material. The training is open to all and have a fee attached.



2. Cataloguing Software

CALM / AdLib

CALM and AdLib are 2 different cataloguing applications that have been constructed using international archival standards to provide an electronic means of cataloguing and arranging hierarchically.

The applications each consist of a set of databases. These databases allow for cataloguing as well as the administration of store rooms (via a locations database), enquiries, authority files, accessions, and conservation records.

Previously owned by separate companies, both CALM and AdLib are now owned by the Axiell group. This group is working on a single product to amalgamate and replace CALM and AdLib.

The Axiell group has also recently acquired multiple other museum and library applications.



This cataloguing software has been designed by the International Council on Archives. It is based on international cataloguing standards and is free to download and install.

The software is not very customisable and uses much archival terminology. It is also web based meaning that an internet connection is essential for using it1.As it is a web based application, descriptions created using the software can be published for the public to see.The AtoM site has a test version available that interested parties can experiment with.



Virtually all specialist applications allow for the import and export of data from standard word processing packages such as Excel and Access. The bigger brands will also export data in other formats such as EAD and XML, which are often useful for they also have web server modules that can be purchased to allow for public online access to the catalogue.

These specialist applications need not be overly expensive and are relatively intuitive to learn/use.

Any organisation considering the merits of using specialist software are advised to contact archives that already use it for demonstrations, advice etc.

Other specialist applications do exist, e.g. Modes or Collective Access. These are usually aimed more at the Museum or the American market but remain worth exploring.



3. Media Conversion Companies

There are a host of companies that will convert ‘old’ media formats into current and long term digital formats, e.g. from VHS or Betamax tapes.

Companies recommended by the Archives and Records Association include:

    • Access Digital
    • Beaulieu Film and Video

A full list can be found on the ARA website.




4. Scanning Companies

Keep an eye on the ARA website list of suppliers for new companies. Some known reputable companies are:

Access Digital

Small team based at the University of Creative Arts. Undertake low cost media conversion as well as a range of scanning needs.





5. International Standards

ISAD(G) – International Standard of Archival Description (General)

An international standard, set by the International Council on Archives, which provides guidelines for creating the content of an archival description.

It promotes the creation of consistent and appropriate descriptions, aiding the retrieval and exchange of information, and the integration of descriptions into a unified system.

ISAD (G) sets out a list of elements which are considered necessary for an archival description, and rules that should be followed when writing a description. ISAD (G) identifies and describes what kind of information should be included in an archival description.


ISAAR (CPF) – International Standard Archival Authority Record (Corporate Bodies Persons and Families)

An international standard, set by the International Council on Archives, which provides guidelines on preparing archival authority records that describe corporate bodies, persons and families associated with the creation and maintenance of archives. This allows for the development of authorised name forms, which can assist users in interpreting and understanding the value of the records created by the person, family or corporate body they are interested in.

Authority records can be shared and linked together more easily if they have been developed in a standardised way. ISAAR (CPF) makes recommendations for the standardised creation of these records and offers a model by which they can be linked to descriptions of records and to other information resources related to the records creator.

ISAAR allows for the use of multiple name forms, reflecting the fact that entities change over time. It refers to the use of national rules, which for the UK would normally be the NCA Rules. The standard includes fields in its Descriptive section which allow for more complex information than traditional authority records cater for.


PD 5454:2012 Guide for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials

PD 5454:2012 gives recommendations for the storage and exhibition of documents, including books. These recommendations apply to permanent and temporary storage of documents, and equally apply to material which is subject to restricted access or is on display.

The recommendations in PD 5454:2012 have been designed to help create and maintain appropriate conditions for document storage and use, and to enable a repository for archives to be built or converted to a high standard. They can be used where an archive is located in a mixed use development and can also be used as guidance for custodians of collections in historic buildings, defining best practice for archival materials while recognizing that best practice for the conservation of a building might require a compromise.

PD 5454:2012 is for use by archivists, librarians, conservators, museum curators, architects, facility managers, contractors, engineers and those concerned with the planning, construction, equipment, maintenance and working of storage repositories and their associated search-rooms, reading rooms and display areas.

The recommendations in PD 5454:2012 apply to archives of all traditional archival materials and formats, such as paper and parchment documents, books, maps and plans, and also cover guidance on photographic media common to archives and on more modern machine-readable media.

PD 5454:2012 is available for purchase but is extremely expensive. It is better sourced through an academic library.


EAD – Encoded Archival Description

EAD is the standard for the electronic capture of hierarchical archival finding aids.

EAD provides a set of elements (or tags) with which a finding aid can be marked up (or encoded) to produce an XML (Extensible Markup Language) or SGML (Standard Generalised Markup Language) text file. As such EAD files can be created using any text or word processing software. In practice though, proprietary XML editing software is commonly used, which has the advantage that rules are automatically enforced thereby lessening the opportunities for error.

Once created, finding aids as EAD may be used as the basis for online searching, presentation and browsing as has been the case with A2A (Access 2 Archives) and the Archives Hub.


ISDF – International Standard for Describing Functions

ISDF is an internationally agreed metadata structure standard which provides guidance for preparing descriptions of the functions of corporate bodies associated with the creation and maintenance of archives.

The recording of information on functions can help place records in the context of their creation and use. It can help explain how and why records were created and subsequently used, the purpose or function within an organisation which the records were designed to fulfil, and how they fitted in with and related to other records produced by the same organisation. The standard provides guidance on how to record such information in discrete descriptions, which can then be used in conjunction with ISAD(G) compliant record descriptions and ISAAR(CPF) compliant authority records to provide a contextually rich archival descriptive system.


ISO 15839:2009 – The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set

The Dublin Core Metadata Element Set is a vocabulary of fifteen properties for use in resource description. In the archival community it is not widely used but when done so is mostly in relation to digital items, e.g. digital photographs.

The standard is available to purchase from the ISO website, but many other websites exist that give a good breakdown of the schema.


ISO 14721:2012 - Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model

The ‘OAIS’ standard is the key standard for digital preservation software solutions.

OAIS is a conceptual framework for building a complete archival repository. The model primarily deals with born-digital, or digitised material. It does not specify a technical implementation, but provides the framework to make a successful implementation possible.

The best website for a quick self guide through OAIS is the paradigm project site.


ISO/TR 18492: Long-term Preservation of Electronic Document-Based Information

ISO/TR 18492 is a technical report from the International Organization for Standardization which provides a framework for developing a long-term preservation strategy for digital material. ISO/TR 18492 gives guidance on best practice for preserving the essential characteristics of records, over the long-term, when they are created in a digital format. It provides a framework for developing a digital preservation strategy, and applies to any digital documents whose useful life is likely to be longer than the viability of the hardware and software used to create access and maintain them, and the media used to store them.



6. National Standards


UKAT – UK Archival Thesaurus

UKAT is a subject thesaurus for the archive sector in the United Kingdom. It is a controlled vocabulary for archives to use when indexing their collections and catalogues. The thesaurus can be searched or browsed online. There are two options for browsing: alphabetical order or a hierarchy of terms organised under broad fields of knowledge. The UKAT data can also be downloaded from the website in various formats, including formats suitable for import into archival cataloguing software such as CALM.



7. Major Archives Groups and Associations (National)

Archives and Records Association

This is the main professional body for archivists, records managers, and conservators in the UK and Ireland. They advocate the profession and its issues and concerns to the highest level both nationally and internationally.

ARA runs a registration scheme for qualified archivists to support their continuing professional development.

The Association has an annual conference and its sub-groups have regular meetings and training sessions.

Membership is charged.


Business Archives Council

The Business Archives Council exists to promote the preservation of business records of historical importance, supply advice and information on the administration and management of archives and records, and encourage interest in the history of business in Britain.

The Council organises a well attended annual conference and also administers a cataloguing grant for specific projects through an application process.


Information and Records Management Society

The Information and Records Management Society is a professional association for all those who work in or are concerned with records or information management, regardless of their professional or organisational status or qualifications. Regular meetings are held to hear guest speakers or to hold discussions on topics as wide-ranging as office technology, organisation of records services, legal aspects of records management and the role of service companies.


CHARM – Charity Archivists and Records Managers Group

The Charity Archivists and Records Managers Group (CHARM) is made up of people responsible for or involved with the management and care of the records and archives of charities and voluntary organisations. CHARM membership is open to anyone interested in charity records.

CHARM provide a forum where issues of interest can be discussed and action taken. Members form a network allowing them to draw support from each other and benefit from shared expertise and experience.

CHARM operates in a collaborative way with an informal structure and co-operative working.



8. Major Archives Groups and Associations (International)

International Council on Archives (ICA)

The International Council on Archives (ICA) is dedicated to the effective management of records and the preservation, care and use of the world's archival heritage through its representation of records and archive professionals across the globe. The ICA strives to protect and ensure access to archives through advocacy, setting standards, professional development, and enabling dialogue between archivists, policy makers, creators and users of archives.

It is the ICA who produces and maintains the international archival standards for archives, such as ISAD(G).



9. Preservation and Conservation Resources








10. Other Sources of Help and Information


AIM25 is a permanent web-accessible database of descriptions of the archives and manuscript collections of more than one hundred of London's higher education institutions, learned societies, cultural organisations and City livery companies. The website has been fully available since 2002. New partner institutions and records are added regularly with the objective of London-wide coverage of all the capital's archive holdings.

AIM25 is run by a central team based at King's College London Archives, with technical support and hosting provided by the University of London Computer Centre. Partner institutions supply collection level descriptions of their archives, assisted by the central team.



The Archives Hub is an online collection of archive catalogues of over 220 institutions across the UK. It does not hold any archive material itself but provides a means to cross-search archival descriptions from different institutions. The Hub's remit is to make available descriptions of archives that are deemed to be of value to the UK education and research communities, and they are funded specifically for this purpose.

1. This is not strictly true as it will also run on an intranet or even a stand alone machine that has the necessary software (MySQL and a web server like Apache - both of which are open source and cost free.) Webmaster, 17/5/2015

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