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The National Archives Labs

Rediscovering the Record

This is my first blog on our Rediscovering the Record project. I want to first of all describe the overall thinking behind the project, and in the next few months I will look in more detail at some of the improvements we will be making.

The project will create new, improved and innovative ways of accessing our records and ensure they are easily accessible in the future. The project has four major parts – a new catalogue, a new search tool, geographical-based searching and user involvement.

The National Archives currently hosts two major online cataloguesThe National Register of Archives (launched online in 1995) and the Catalogue of The National Archives’ own holdings (launched in 1998). Both of these have grown rapidly – The National Archives Catalogue has doubled from 5 million entries in 1998 to over 11 million today. This rate of growth is unsustainable on our current technology platforms so we plan to develop a new, more robust catalogue and to bring the two together into one system, with a single interface.

As part of the redevelopment of the catalogues we will build a new and improved search tool, to provide more detailed, helpful subject information and make searching for names and places much easier.

We are also developing map-based searching – making it possible to click from a map to a record. We have already launched some pilot applications (UK history photo finder and Valuation Office map finder) on Labs and we are planning more for later in the year.

Finally, we intend to make it possible for users to get involved in our cataloguing work. In future, you will be able to add descriptive information to our catalogues. Equally importantly, developers will be able to download data from our catalogues to reuse as they think fit. This could be used in smartphone apps or mashed up with other catalogues or historical data. What can be done is only limited by your imagination.

You have already provided invaluable feedback through your comments on the site, telling us what you think of the concepts and how the technology works (or could work better!) for you. All of your contributions are read and shared around the Labs team – please keep talking to us.

We intend to have much of the groundwork finished by the end of March 2011 with further developments going live in the coming months.

In my next post I’ll be talking about our shiny new search project.

Director of Technology and Chief Information Officer – David Thomas

As a senior archivist and records specialist at The National Archives, David’s career has focused on developing access to archives and information in both government and the archive sector.

David is responsible for information technology services at The National Archives, and is leading on the major cross-government project to develop a shared service for preserving digital records.

Comments (4)

  • Hazel Lister

    I am now finding it difficult to switch the census years from year to year-using the same name. Am I doing something wrong ? It seems the more information supplied by you , the methods of research may become more complicated. I liked the offer of the most likely subjects – it was usually spot on.

  • Felicity

    I would like to thank you for the innovative work that you are doing in making records more accessible. The National Archives website has improved dramatically over recent time and I can’t wait to see what you have on offer next.

    The National Archives reply:

    Thanks for your feedback Felicity – our users play a very valuable part in helping us develop the website and our resources, so do continue to check back and let us know what you think.

  • Anne James

    As a developing family and local historian I have found the online catalogue invaluable. However, maybe due to my own lack of skill, I have hardly ever been able to access the same return twice! I like the idea of the map-based searching- can’t wait to have a go! Thank you for your work and innovations!

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