(Re)-Introducing our online catalogue

Many of you may have noticed that a few weeks ago our online catalogue had rather a face-lift, but that we haven’t actually mentioned it very much – until now! Part of the reason for this is that we were still making some final changes to the system (and we still have one slight technical problem that is in the process of being resolved). However, it is about time we made a bit of a song and dance about it, and we hope you agree that it looks so much better than the old catalogue. Whilst the underlying information in the catalogue hasn’t really changed, there are a few new elements that should make it easier to find what you are looking for. What follows is a brief introduction with some useful tips and tricks for making the most of the catalogue.

A guide to the archives and local studies catalogues and how to find what you are looking for

What does the online catalogue include?

Derbyshire Record Office holds over a mile of books, periodicals, maps, postcards and other material in the local studies library and over 8000 archive collections ranging from single items to hundreds of boxes. It has been over 100 years since our predecessors first started to care for the county’s local history books and archives, and less than 25 years since we had an electronic cataloguing system. Several years ago our FindersKeepers project made huge progress in transferring our paper-based catalogues to the online catalogue and we continue to publish an average of 1000 additional entries each month, including descriptions for new acquisitions.

With just a handful of exceptions all the original paper-based archive catalogues are now searchable in the online catalogue. Approximately 10% of the archive collections have never been catalogued, but a summary for each is available online and a number also include a downloadable interim list which can at least be browsed although it is not text searchable.

Since 2015, all new additions to the local studies collection have been catalogued online. Good progress is being made on adding all the books to the online catalogue and a project is ongoing to add details of periodicals, articles and other resources. However, there are approximately 140,000 cards to be entered and we expect this to take at least 8 years. See our website for details of all the ways we are improving our finding aids.

As with online shopping, the catalogue briefly describes the items we hold, but not the contents of the items themselves; for example, it indicates that there is a minute book containing minutes of Chesterfield Borough Council Civil Defence Committee 1946-1971 (ref: D1504/3/1), but it doesn’t describe the different topics and places that are mentioned in the minutes. To view the contents you will usually need to visit us or request a quote for copies.

How archives are catalogued and how this may affect your search

Archives are arranged into collections according to which person, family or organisation created them, for example: Lady Manners School in Bakewell, Long Row Primary School in Belper, Edmund Potter Calico Works near Glossop or the Manor of Bonsall. This person, family or organisation is known as the Archive Creator.

Within each collection, the descriptions are arranged into categories and sub-categories, (known as series and sub-series) usually by the type of record, such as minutes, admission registers, accounts, diaries or photographs.

Each individual item or file has a unique reference number that can be used to request access to the original in the search room or as a copy. The reference is made up of a number for the archive collection, followed a sub-number for each of the series and sub-series in the catalogue.

The Level field will indicate whether the entry relates to an Item or File that relates to a physical record that can be consulted or whether it relates only to a Series or Subseries. Some entries will say Fonds, which is the official term (from the French) for an archive collection or Piece, which refers to a page within a volume or a sheet within a file.

When viewing a catalogue description, the context of the record within its collection, series, etc. can be seen just above the main entry:

The easiest way to see the arrangement of a particular catalogue is to use the Browser. Click the ‘Browse the collection’ link to see a full overview of a collection:

What information does the catalogue provide?

The local studies entries will usually give the Title, Author and Publication Date. Books and files include the Library Class number indicating where the item can be found on the shelf. Depending on the type of material, e.g., article in a periodical, a pamphlet or ephemera, additional information may also be included such as Edition, Editor, or Periodical Title.

The archive entries will always provide a Reference number, Title (brief description of the item), Archive Creator (see above) and Level (see above). They should also include the Date and Extent (quantity) and we are working to eliminate the remaining gaps for these fields. Many entries will also give a little more detailed information, although sometimes it is useful to check the series level entry for this information. The Fonds (collection) entries will include more detailed information, such as the Custodial History (when and from whom the records were received) and an Administrative History (biography) of the Archive Creator.

Some records created less than 100 years ago and containing personal information cannot be consulted in the search room or copies provided. The catalogue entry will usually indicate if this is the case, although there are some gaps. See our website, for more information about closed records.

Many local studies entries and an increasing number of archives entries are also being linked to our new Names and Places databases – look out for next week’s guide for more information.

Searching the catalogue

The best way to search the catalogue is with the Quick Search from the homepage. You can search for a place, keyword/s, published author, archive creator, descriptive text, current or former reference number. All the local studies entries and a small number of archive entries also include a list of Subjects that the item relates to. Due to the small proportion of entries with Subjects listed, searches by subject are limited, but improving. 

Use the Advanced Search to search within an archive collection, enter your search term in the Any Text field and narrow the results by specifying one of the following:

  • Archive reference/Library Class No., if you know it, e.g., D654 or NCB
  • Archive creator name, e.g., Denby Pottery, or Bakewell school (if you don’t know the exact name)
  • Date/s to search for material created/published in a particular year or within a date range, e.g., 1939-1945. This field will also understand decades (e.g., 1650s) and centuries (e.g. 18th century).

The Advanced Search also enables you to:

  • search for a Published author, e.g., Alison Uttley, in the Local Studies collection
  • browse a list of archive collections by the type of organisation that created them, using the Organisation Type field. Narrow the results by entering a place name in the Any Text field.
  • See a list of items where we have been able to make an Image available online – there aren’t many. Those that do exist are primarily relating to the First World War, are from the archive of the 18th century cartoonist George M Woodward, or are Workmen’s Compensation Act forms for miners employed by the Butterley Company between 1939 and 1946.

Key Points to remember

The catalogue describes the records not their contents

Therefore, the best way to search is to look for the type of record that will contain the information you want, or the organisation that created the record, rather than to search for the information itself. For example, if you want a map showing your house, you won’t be able to search for your house, street or postcode, because the map will probably cover the whole town.

The search is not intuitive

Unlike most online searches, the catalogue cannot identify that entries for mines, miners and mining might also be useful if you only search for ‘mine’. Similarly, if you search for Matlock, it will not understand that you aren’t interested in Matlock Bath. This can be overcome to an extent by using the options under Refine Search Criteria

  • With all the words: e.g., Matlock Bath, including entries relating to a bath tub in Matlock, but not Matlock only
  • With at least one of the words: e.g., entries including Matlock, Matlock Bath or the word bath
  • Without the words: e.g., entries for Matlock, and excluding Matlock Bath and bath:

Don’t search for too many words or too many fields at once – if there are too many search results to start with go back and add more words, or if there are only a few results, try again with fewer words.

Use an * to search for words or names beginning with the same characters

For example, Youlgr* for Youlgreave and Youlgrave or min* for mine, mines, miner, miners, mining, minerals (of course, this example will also find unrelated entries such as minutes, so mine* is probably advisable, with a separate search for mining, but you get the idea).


Most of our catalogues were written in the decades before computerisation and were designed to be read on paper. This means some of the relevant description may appear in the series level rather than the item or file level (see above). Use the Browser to check if more detailed information is available.

Our other research guides provide advice to help you navigate the different archives and local studies collections and how to make the most of the catalogue. In particular, look out for the guide on Searching for People in the Online Catalogue.

2 thoughts on “(Re)-Introducing our online catalogue

  1. I found this a great aid to finding ‘stuff’. Of course it also applies to other Record Office catalogues which is really helpful Thanks so much. Helen

    • Thanks Helen, I’m glad you found it so useful. We know we have such wonderful collections and want everyone to be able to make the most of them

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