Visitors only see a small part of the work which is carried out at the Oxfordshire History Centre. Our historic materials are made available for study thanks to cataloguing, preservation and conservation.
- As well as county council records, we collect and receive records from a variety of sources, including official bodies, organisations, groups and individuals which reflect the history of Oxfordshire.
- We have to document and catalogue everything that comes in, to make it accessible, prioritising the work because of the quantity
- Materials are sometimes in poor condition. At the very least they need to be handled and stored in ways which prevent further deterioration. Preserving and conserving documents are key parts of our work.
- We also try to help people understand the collections and look after their own archives. See our resources below for guidance.
All of this has to be done against a legal background of Acts of Parliament, British Standards, professional ethics and rulings by the National Archives.
Cataloguing and indexing
Books and documents are not catalogued in the same way. While each book is an entity in itself, archival documents are part of an integrated collection.
The local studies' printed collections and the archive holdings started out with catalogues which were physically identical: index cards in drawers.
Only in 1991 did the Record Office - as it was known then before it combined with Oxfordshire Studies to become the History Centre - start to catalogue its holdings on a database. The History Centre now uses CALM for cataloguing the archive collections.
In 1998, Oxfordshire Studies began to catalogue its holdings on Oxford University’s OLIS database.
Both databases can be searched through our online catalogue Heritage Search.
Although work has been done to convert the older catalogues into electronic form and to make them accessible online, there are still many items and collections for which only a hard-copy catalogue is available on site.
Preservation and conservation resources
One of the core functions of the History Service is to preserve collections for future generations. The History Centre has a conservation section which employs a full-time conservator.
- storing the collections in an environmentally-controlled and secure repository
- supplying copies whether digital or in other formats
- ensuring that when original material is consulted, it’s done in the most careful way
- undertaking interventive treatments where practical.
All of these different activities help in the long term preservation of the unique material held at the History Centre.
Shelving is purpose built and the environment is carefully managed. Storage materials are inert and acid-free and protection is layered as much as possible to protect the individual item both while it is on the shelf and when it is being transported to the Searchroom.
Handling original material
Almost all of our collections are open for consultation but much of the damage is caused by use. For this reason whenever possible, researchers are encouraged to use copies in their research. When original material is consulted we provide proper space and aids to handle often fragile material.
Book cushions, weights, polyester sheets and gloves are all available from the Searchroom desk. Handling guidelines are also available and Searchroom and conservation staff will assist when needed.
Cleaning or repair is always a last resort but some documents have to be treated to ensure they can be accessed. Any treatment given is minimal and as sympathetic to the original document as possible.
Education and training
The Conservation Section can provide advice and help to enquirers and organisations on how to store and care for their own collections at home as well as guidance on finding a private conservator.
Taking care of your own documents
Download the following information:
- Preserving your own documents (pdf format, 55KB)
- What damages archive material (pdf format, 96KB)
- Suppliers of archival materials' (pdf format, 50KB)
The legal background
There is no single piece of legislation covering the work of the History Centre. However, various acts and statutes have a bearing on what we should do.
The core of Local Studies is a collection of printed books, which means that it is covered by the Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964).
Parish records are held under the Parochial Registers and Records Measure (1978, amended to 2003).