Expert Researcher Series: The ‘Related Material’ field

Welcome to the Expert Researcher series. This is the first in a series of blog posts designed to clue you in on some of the parts of the archive catalogue you may not have paid much attention to before and how they can help you in your research. Whether you’re a budding family historian or a PhD student with a looming deadline, hopefully you’ll get something from this article. Requests are welcome! Whether you’d like to know what a particular catalogue field means, or which bit of the catalogue to look in to find a particular piece of information, just let us know, and we’ll do our best to help.

When I talk about ‘fields’ I’m talking about the fields of a database in our collections management software (we use CALM if you’re interested). There are 26 fields of data in the ISAD (International Standard for Archival Description) standard, although only five of these are ‘mandatory’ for a basic catalogue. Title, Creator, Date, Extent and Description. This is what you’ll find in all basic catalogues or finding aids. We’ll often complete lots of the other fields too, during the course of our cataloguing. This is to prevent all the information remaining in the head of the Archivist and inaccessible to colleagues or other researchers. As I approach the end of cataloguing the University collection, I am now trying to come up with ways to splurge (it’s the right word, trust me) all the information I’ve picked up over two and a half years poking about in the records into print as much as possible. Yet if it’s not in the description field, only a small number of you may ever notice it, and whilst it may or may not show up on an online catalogue or printed list, if you know the information potentially exists, you may end up asking your local, friendly Archivist to check their system for it. This is a good thing.

So… the Related Material field. This is where we can refer to other collections with a link to the one we are cataloguing. Also known as doing some of the legwork of your research so you don’t have to! Archives are collected on the basis of provenance rather than by subject. So we hold the records of the University of Huddersfield that were created and used here. But we may hold records sent from other institutions and vice versa. They will remain with that institution and we’d link to them. Or there may be close subject links with other collections. For example, we hold the records of JH Whitley, local MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, and related material might include links to the collections at the Houses of Parliament, to other local contemporary MPs at other local archives or universities. The link should also mention the level of detail the catalogue goes to, so Collection Name, University of Whatever (fonds) would mean a collection level description exists, whilst Collection Name, Name of Business (item) would mean each item in that collection has been catalogued. See this in action in the Related Material field of the University of Huddersfield collection:*/?view=item Maybe it’s one of those things that you’ve just never noticed before, but here it is again in the Lister collection at our neighbours, West Yorkshire Archives:

Knowing if there is any information in the Related Material field can help to kick start your research, by giving you links to other collections meaning you don’t have to start from scratch. Depending on the ways catalogues are displayed, this field might also contain links to articles written on collections or mini bibliographies the Archivist has used in cataloguing the collection. Strictly speaking, this belongs in the Publication Note field, but Related Material sometimes stands in for it when a catalogue is put online. And if the catalogue you’re looking at has no Related Material field, or doesn’t display this in the online catalogue, remember you can always ask your friendly searchroom staff or Archivist to check for you!

Next Time: Catalogue structure – What exactly is a fond anyway?

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