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Brief guide to searching

Please note that the catalogue is updated regularly every couple of months, so look out for new entries appearing.

General search tips
Archive catalogues are arranged hierarchically, rather than by subject. So for instance, all the material relating to Bedford College is gathered together with the prefix ‘BC’ and then further letters and numbers indicating which section the information is in, e.g. GB referring to Governing Body minutes, AS for associations and societies, PH for photographs etc. Other catalogues just have numerical references. The terms used to describe levels below the main collection description (‘fonds’) are section, series, sub-series, file and item. Records can usually only be brought to the reading room at item or file level, as the higher levels may constitute many boxes or volumes. Please check the ‘Extent’ and ‘Level’ fields to get an idea of how big a collection is, and whether you are looking at the lowest level of description, if you are requesting something to view in the reading room.

On CalmView, enclosing a search term in inverted commas will search for the words next to each other in the specific order, e.g. “Thomas Holloway”. Without inverted commas, the two words will be searched for wherever they appear in an item description, separately or together.

An asterisk (*) can be used where you are not sure of a particular spelling or want to search for variations, e.g. drama* will find drama, dramatic, dramatis etc.
Search terms can be entered in upper or lower case letters, because the search is not case-sensitive.

There are two main ways to search the catalogue, simple and advanced searching.


Simple search
The simple search is accessed via the “Google-style” search box in the upper right of the CalmView page. Type the word you wish to search for into the box and click the Search button.

By default, the simple search will search across the Title and Description fields. You may wish to combine search terms in your simple searches using the Boolean “and, or, not” searching options:

  • + represents Boolean And, meaning the search result must include this word (e.g. searching for Thomas +Holloway would find all the titles and descriptions where the phrase ‘Thomas Holloway’ appears)
  • - represents Boolean Not, meaning the search result must exclude this word (i.e. a search for Thomas –Holloway will find mentions of Thomas but exclude any for ‘Thomas Holloway’)
  • | represents Boolean Or, meaning the search result may include this word (a search should return any mentions of Thomas or Holloway in the title or description fields.)


If no symbols are used, Boolean “and” is assumed.

Advanced search “Search the Collections” tab
Any Text’ will search any box which has text in the catalogue entry. You can use the tips above to search for particular phrases, exclude search terms etc or click on ‘Refine search terms’ to include or exclude certain words.

Search in the ‘RefNo’ box if you want to just search a particular catalogue, or e.g. to find an item level description. More details about the collections and their references can be found on the RHUL archives web pages, or you can contact us to ask a question, using the details in the link on the left of this page.

As an example, if you search for GS, you will find the top-level description for the whole collection. To find all the descriptions in a particular collection, you need to type an asterisk after your search term, e.g. GS*. The catalogue will only return hits if you type references exactly as they are written, so please make sure you copy them down correctly!

‘Title’ will search just the main title box of each catalogue record – this may describe collections, or any level below that (usually section, series, sub-series, file and item).

‘Date’ can be used if you are only interested in documents of a particular date. The database uses a sophisticated date parser which allows it to interpret various common forms of expressing dates, e.g. entering 1890-1920 will bring up all documents created between those dates.
You may enter your search terms into any of the boxes, but you do not have to enter something into every box. The narrower your search terms, the fewer hits you will receive.

Hit list
If your search is successful, you will be presented with a list of ‘hits’ containing your search terms, in ascending order by Sortcode.

You can change the field by which the records are sorted by clicking on the green label at the top of the list.

You can select how many results you want to have displayed on the page by using the drop down box on the right of the screen above the date column.

Click the Sortcode to see an individual record in more detail. When an individual record is displayed, you can click the Sortcode to see where the record sits within the whole collection. You can then navigate through this hierarchy view by clicking any of the items displayed.

Please contact us if you would like any more advice on searching.

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