The National Archives

Content from the National Register of Archives, ARCHON Directory, Access to Archives and the Manorial Documents Register is now available via Discovery, which provides a single point of online access to catalogue and organisational data from across the archive sector.

Discovery previously displayed information about records held at The National Archives but we have been developing an upgraded version which contains this and information about records held in other archives too.

Why are we doing this?

It has long been an ambition of the archives sector to offer users an online point of access to the widest possible range of archive catalogues and related finding aids to make it as easy as possible to identify available archival sources for any research topic. Advances in technology have now made this technically feasible and affordable. An integrated catalogue will both help users and support archive services to make their collections more readily discoverable, and as well used as possible.

How are we doing it?

Discovery has been redesigned in-house to host, search and display the many different databases and datasets held at The National Archives. This provides a more robust and integrated system for current and future data management and storage. 

The team working on this includes systems and web developers, user experience experts, cataloguing and records experts and other staff from across The National Archives, including the Archives Sector Development team. The project began in 2011 and will continue into early 2016, overseen by a project board including external sector representation.

Initial research with users and data contributors in 2011/12 gave us requirements for Discovery, which were subsequently reviewed and developed by our in-house team. The research confirmed that we needed to improve the user experience and to provide ways for archives to contribute data which reflect advances in technology, cataloguing and archive management systems. We have continued to consult those users and data contributors, as we develop Discovery to ensure that it supports both access to information and data management.


Each of our resources has its own user and data requirements and the challenge has been bringing them together in a simple and coherent way. We have thought about the technical and intellectual relationships between the records, record creators and access information and how to display them. We have also worked to preserve the integrity of Discovery as The National Archives' own catalogue, while developing it to include information from over 2,500 different archives.

We are still developing this resource, and some features including an advanced search tool for the Manorial Documents Register are currently in development. Later this year, once we are confident that Discovery  meets our needs, we will begin to close the individual resources.

Next steps

Later this year, we will also start developing an administrative tool for Discovery. It will enable us to curate data here at The National Archives and provide mechanisms for manual or automated data contribution from other archives. Hundreds of archives already send us records information annually and we want to offer quicker and more convenient ways of doing this for full catalogues, summary accession or collection level content, name authorities and Manorial Documents Register data.

Ambitious as this is, there is a vast amount of archival data managed outside of The National Archives and we want Discovery to make it searchable for users via a single interface. 

We are planning to talk to all of our data contributors over the next couple of years about the new ways in which they can share their records information with us, and to discuss strategies for providing the maximum amount of data through Discovery. More immediately, we will need participants from across the archives sector to trial different approaches. We know that not every archive has an online catalogue or data that can be shared easily but we will be working hard to ensure that Discovery is an inclusive service that allows all repositories which are willing to do so to share information about their collections more widely.

For more information, please contact the Collections Knowledge Managers for Finding Archives or Systems.