Bringing peace archives to life: the Commonweal Archives

Summary of the project

The Special Collections Department at the University of Bradford was awarded a grant under the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme in 2008, to catalogue the Commonweal archives, part of the Commonweal collection. This is an independent specialist library concerned with issues relating to non-violent social change. As a result of the project a detailed online catalogue is now available on the University of Bradford Special Collections website and via the Archives Hub network.

Employing a project archivist to develop new ways of working

The grant funded the appointment of the first professional archivist to carry out the 12 month long project, which involved appraising, weeding and cataloguing the collection.

The Special Collections Department was able to benefit from the professional knowledge of the project archivist to help refine cataloguing and data protection procedures, allowing greater access to material in this and other collections. For the first time a collection was added to the Archives Hub at item level. The archivist used Excel spreadsheets for multi-level cataloguing and then converted them to EAD for adding to the Archives Hub.

To raise awareness of the project, the project archivist created a blog, which was preserved at the end of the project. This was a new way of engaging audiences for the Special Collections team and at it improved confidence in creating blogs.

These new ways of working have now been incorporated into ongoing practice and used in other projects.

Developing a greater understanding of the collection

The cataloguing process revealed unexpected content, which allowed for the reassessment of the importance of the archives. Due to the way the archives had been rearranged and handled over time, the coherence and meaning of the collection had been lost. The project archivist was therefore able to bring the archives back again into a coherent collection.

The archives were much more closely connected to the Commonweal's founder David Hoggett and the organisation he founded than had been previously thought. A greater understanding of the archives has also enabled a closer definition of the collection development policy.

Improved access to archive through an online catalogue

Though there has been some increase in the numbers accessing the material on site since the project has finished, the real increase has been noted in those accessing the catalogue online where visits have grown more rapidly. With greater detail about the archive now available online, researchers can now target what they need and find out much more in advance of a visit.

The online availability of a detailed catalogue has also extended interest in the collection beyond the usual researchers to new audiences, such as family historians.

Benefiting from publicity about the project

Receiving a cataloguing grant and creating a named product, 'PaxCat', enabled the service to boost its profile within the university and reaffirm its relationships with departments.

The grant has helped boost its status as an archive within the archives sector, as opposed to rare books and special collections alone.

Following on from publicity around the 'PaxCat' project, the department received additional grant funding, from a trust associated with the university and its peace interests, to retain the project archivist to catalogue the trust archive that is also deposited at the university.

Future plans

The head of special collections sees huge potential for partnership work and digitisation now the collection has been made more accessible through the new catalogue in the future.

Other possibilities include:

  • digitisation
  • online learning
  • cataloguing other archives within the group
  • developing outreach activities