As well as detailed descriptions of the individual documents, the online catalogue also includes descriptions of entire collections. Archives are usually arranged in collections called "fonds" and then sub-divided if needed into "sub-fonds", "series", "files" and "items".


This is the archival term for where the record can be found in the catalogue structure. The levels most currently used in the catalogues are listed below:

Fonds level

The whole of the collection, organically created and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body in the course of that creator's activities and functions. The fonds level provides an overview and a summary of the contents of each archive collection, e.g. the Papers of Bishop George Hay, Coadjutor Vicar Apostolic of the Lowland District

Sub-Fonds level

A subdivision of the fonds level, e.g. George Hay's personal papers.

Series level

A series of records within the collection, e.g. the university notes of George Hay.

File level

A group of related records within the series, e.g. a photograph album. In most catalogues either file level or item level will be used, rather than both levels.

Item level

The smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit within the series, e.g. a single letter or photograph.


This is the reference of the document. If the collection has been fully catalogued, you will need to state the Reference listed at file or item level in order to view the document in the holding repository.


This field provides information about the quantity of material which is being described (e.g. 2 boxes, 1 volume).

Physical description

This field provides relevant information about any important physical characteristics which might affect a record's use (e.g. size, fragility).

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