Earlier this month we released a major upgrade to our Discovery service. The new version of Discovery is much more than a catalogue of our records. It enables archive users to search, browse and tag 32 million record descriptions of records held by The National Archives, alongside the collections of over 2,500 archives across the UK. In order to achieve this we have incorporated a huge amount of information about other archives derived from several existing systems developed and managed by us. These are:
- National Register of Archives (NRA)
- Directory of Archives (ARCHON)
- Access to Archives (A2A)
- Manorial Documents Register (MDR)
The UK government policy on archives, Archives for the 21st century, recommended that archives should be more accessible online. The policy called for ‘comprehensive online access for archive discovery through catalogues and to digitised archive content by citizens at a time and place that suits them’. In support of the policy, our action plan made a commitment to ‘extend The National Archives’ new catalogue, Discovery to provide a single point of online access to catalogue and organisational data from across the archive sector’. The project to extend Discovery – known as Finding Archives – began in 2011 and continues today, and as a result of the recent upgrade we have made significant strides towards making Discovery the most comprehensive service possible.
The vast amount of data now contained in Discovery has been generated over several decades and reflects a long standing commitment to providing information about archival collections to our users. Discovery is unique in that it contains such a wide range of content, including collections held in public and private hands.
Many of the records described in Discovery are public records held in approved places of deposit. It makes sense to be able to see information about public records all in one place, and Discovery now reflects the reality that The National Archives is not the sole repository of public records. We will continue to work with these places of deposit to ensure that the information contained in Discovery truly and accurately reflects the records held by them.
Discovery also contains a great deal of information about records that were not created in the course of government, but by private individuals, businesses, and organisations. These records are vital if we are to paint a full and vivid picture of British history. The National Archives is committed to continuing to provide access to information about these records in accordance with the terms of the Historical Manuscripts Commission Warrant, which states that we ‘shall make enquiry as to the existence and location of manuscripts, including records or archives of all kinds, of value for the study of history’ and ‘assist those wishing to use such manuscripts or records for study or research’.
Discovery also contains information about manorial documents, which, like public records, have statutory protection and a mandated register of those records known to survive. We are developing a custom search tool to make it even easier to find information about manorial documents in Discovery, and work is continuing to complete the computerisation of the register.
If you would like to see the details of a particular archives service, and information about collections they hold, use our find an archive search.
Opening up access
The amount of information Discovery contains is impressive, but we recognise that more needs to be done to improve the quality and the coverage of the data.
At The National Archives we continue to catalogue and release more information about records throughout the year.
Each year we conduct a survey of new accessions to repositories, the information from which is incorporated into Discovery.
We administer the Cataloguing Grants Programme which has distributed more than £2 million over six years to tackle cataloguing backlogs.
In the past, ensuring that this – and more – information about records held by other archives was incorporated into our resources depended on our ability to process it. We recognise that we need to streamline adding new information to Discovery and later this year we will start developing an administrative tool for Discovery. This will provide mechanisms for manual or automated data contribution from other archives.
We are already planning to talk to all of our contributors over the next couple of years. We hope that through these discussions we will be able to maximise the potential of Discovery for all of its users, including contributing archives services.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below, or send your feedback via Discovery.