Empowering the user: the development of flexible archival catalogues

The project is exploring the issues involved in creating a dynamic and flexible online archival finding aid, which is responsive to the needs of individual researchers. The project’s premise is that most archival finding aids are rigid, mono-hierarchical lists, which cannot adequately reflect the multiple contexts and complex inter-relationships of records. The project is taking a more flexible approach. By separating descriptions of the content of a record from descriptions of its context, the project is free to link any individual record to any number of different contexts. These might include the organisation(s) or person(s) who created or used the record, the specific activity or activities that gave rise to the record, and the relationships of the record with other records. The result will provide researchers with as much information as possible to enable them to interpret and assess the value of the records. It will also allow them to follow paths of interest and tailor the finding aid to their own specific research needs.

The project is using as a test bed, and will provide a greatly enhanced research resource to, the outstanding House of Fraser Department Store archive relating to British design, fashion and culture from the early nineteenth to the end of the twentieth century.

The primary aim of the project is to assess the potential of flexible archival descriptions. The secondary aims are to assess the value of a function based approach to business archives, to clarify and define the application of archival descriptive standards to business archives, to develop a facility enabling users to add contextual information to the finding aid and to provide enhanced access to the archives of the House of Fraser.

The project will firstly provide a basis for professional debate and will enhance archival descriptive practice. It has already been active in assisting the development of the new international standard for describing functions (ISDF) by the International Council on Archives and the development of Encoded Archival Context (EAC) by the Society of American Archivists. Researchers will also benefit from improved resource discovery and access to archives. The online catalogue produced will immediately enhance the existing research resources for the study of the records of design, fashion, tastes, lifestyles, consumption and consumerism.


Principal investigator
Mrs Lesley Richmond
Principal project staff
Mrs Lesley Richmond
Start date
Monday, May 1, 2006
Completion date
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Source material
The digital resource is a catalogue of the House of Fraser Department Store Archive, which is held at Glasgow University Archive Services. The archive comprises132 linear metres and approximately 10,000 items and covers over 200 different stores.