The Library at The National Archives

Michael Little introduces us to the Library at The National Archives.

The Library at The National Archives has existed since the 1830s, albeit in various guises, and been open to the public since 1997. It contains around 65,000 volumes and its principal purpose is to act as a research library to support the main document collection which has been open to the public, also since the 1830s. The library collection holds titles on a wide range of subjects and acquires new titles with users of the archive collection, including staff, in mind. I have worked in the library since 2001 in different roles but always doing cataloguing. The library has been through several changes in this time but its core collection and aims have remained basically the same.

Amongst its collection, the library holds a large collection of local history society runs, divided up into English counties. Whilst holding these runs is not unique, it is very helpful to have complete runs of these on open access. Many of these societies still produce new volumes and we receive them on a regular basis. They contain both volumes of essays and monographs and cover subjects like cartularies, wills, priory charters, Feet of Fines, Assize Rolls, depositions and eyres. In addition, the local history section contains a large number of monographs on a wide range of topics such as histories of villages, towns and counties, local finance, education, law, rural life and architecture and more All English counties are represented, some with more than one local history society collection. These are an invaluable resource for users of the archive collection and anyone conducting local history research. They can be an excellent starting point for archival research and in some cases are a useful research end in themselves.

Title page of Alfred Wyon's 'Great Seals of England'

Title page of Alfred Wyon’s ‘Great Seals of England’

Another noteworthy aspect of the library collection is its collection of books on seals. Seals form an important part of The National Archive’s holdings with over a quarter of a million of them in the document collection. Seals are an interesting and useful historical source; they are used to authenticate and quite literally to seal documents. They can tell us a lot about the time they originate from and are often very interesting in themselves and shed light on the art, customs and power structures of the time. Frequently they are unique. The library holds a large collection of books on seals, one of the best collections on this subject outside the British Library and the Society of Antiquaries. The majority of these are in the main library collection whilst some of these are housed in the library’s rare book collection (which comprises titles published before 1800). Rare books are not on open access but they can be consulted with a reader’s ticket.

One of the most interesting examples of a study on seals is Alfred Wyon’s (1837-1884) The Great Seals of England, published in 1887. Wyon came from a large family of medal makers and engravers who were specialists in the field. We hold two copies, one of them annotated.

Example of seals

Example of seals

Another example of seals

Another example of seals

It contains fine illustrations and plates, along with descriptive text outlining the history of seals in England. It is a rare and very useful title.

You can find several titles relating to seals in the local history society runs that we hold. One of these is Facsimiles of Early Charters from Northamptonshire Collections, (1930) part of the Northamptonshire record society, edited by F M Stenton. This volume acts a useful guide to seals of Northamptonshire as they appear on the county charters. It has some excellent illustrations and plates alongside the text. This is another excellent example of a title on this subject.

There are many titles similar to this in the library and like this title contain excellent illustrations and plates alongside, often extensive, text. The interest in seals is somewhat of a niche market and those books that have been and that are still produced, tend to be of high quality and published or produced in small numbers.

Examples of more general titles are Guide to Seals in the Public Record Office and A guide to British Medieval Seals alongside many others.

We also hold several catalogues of seals relating to archive holdings of other organisations such as those held in Durham Cathedral and to some collections overseas, especially France. In addition there is also a good collection of books on Scottish seals. These are indispensable guides to seals collections. What we hold on this subject to an extent reflects the interests of members of staff in seals over the years.

As a footnote to our holdings on seals, our Collection Care Department now has a research fellow working exclusively on this subject.

Explore Copac records for works on seals held at The National Archives Library

Postponed: Copac Office Move: 17th-20th April

Unfortunately our office move has now been postponed.
We’ll post the new date nearer the time, but it is likely to be early May.

The Copac team is on the move on Friday 17th April and settling into our new office on Monday 20th April. Along with the rest of our Jisc Manchester colleagues we are moving to:
6th Floor, Churchgate House
56 Oxford Street
M1 6EU

With apologies in advance – you may find there is a delay in response to queries sent between 17th-20th April whilst the move takes place. But we’ll get back to you as soon as we can once we’re installed in our new space.


Getting Excited about Collection Management

The Copac Collections Management Tools Project is a collaboration between Mimas, RLUK, and the White Rose Consortium.

A number of partners have been working through and with us here  at Mimas  on a  JISC funded  Collection Management project, which is part of the broader Resource Discovery Taskforce activity

Since we have all been working on this slightly under the radar, and recognising the need to share more about this project and what’s going on, we’re planning series of blog posts to update the community on the progress and lessons learned through the partnetship.  The following update is from Julia Chruszcz, who is project managing this piece of work:

Just two months into the JISC funded Copac Collection Management Project the progress has been significant. At a meeting of the project partners on the 6th May each of the representatives from the White Rose Consortium (WRC) universities (Leeds, York and Sheffield) articulated the potential significance of this tool on their decision making processes around monograph retention and disposal and collection development. This included notions of collaborative collection development and how such a Collection Management Tool could facilitate regional and national approaches, each influencing local decisions for libraries.

The WRC has undertaken the early testing of the web-based tool in an approach that the project has adopted to inform development and iteratively assess the tool.  The idea is to build up a full specification over the life of the project of what will be required to take such a tool forward to introduce into library workflows. The next stage, between now and the beginning of July will be to further develop the batch and web technical interfaces based upon the WRC feedback and for this development to undergo further critical testing. The project is due to provide an interim report at the end of June with full report to the JISC at the end July.

The enthusiasm from all the project partners, JISC, Mimas, RLUK and WRC, stems from the realisation that we have the potential to produce a tool that will make a real difference to helping libraries make informed decisions particularly at a time of financial constraint, and assist in furthering the possibility of a national monographs collection, protecting access for researchers at the same time as facilitating local decisions that will save money and resource longer term. And all this by intelligent re-use and application of an existing extensive database, a resource invested in by RLUK and the JISC over many years, the Copac database.

If this is something you are interested in we’d really like to hear your view point and perspective.

Surfacing the Academic Long Tail — Announcing new work with activity data

We’re pleased to announce that JISC has funded us to work on the SALT (Surfacing the Academic Long Tail) Project, which we’re undertaking with the University of Manchester, John Rylands University Library.

Over the next six months the SALT project will building a recommender prototype for Copac and the JRUL OPAC interface, which will be tested by the communities of users of those services.  Following on from the invaluable work undertaken at the University of Huddersfield, we’ll be working with ten years+ of aggregated and anonymised circulation data amassed by JRUL.  Our approach will be to develop an API onto that data, which in turn we’ll use to develop the recommender functionality in both services.   Obviously, we’re indebted to the previous knowledge acquired by a similar project at the University of Huddersfield and the SALT project will work closely with colleagues at Huddersfield (Dave Pattern and Graham Stone) to see what happens when we apply this concept in the research library and national library service contexts.

Our overall aim is that by working collaboratively with other institutions and Research Libraries UK, the SALT project will advance our knowledge and understanding of how best to support research in the 21st century. Libraries are a rich source of valuable information, but sometimes the sheer volume of materials they hold can be overwhelming even to the most experienced researcher — and we know that researchers’ expectation on how to discover content is shifting in an increasingly personalised digital world. We know that library users — particularly those researching niche or specialist subjects — are often seeking content based on a recommendation from a contemporary, a peer, colleagues or academic tutors. The SALT Project aims to provide libraries with the ability to provide users with that information. Similar to Amazons, ‘customers who bought this item also bought….’ the recommenders on this system will appear on a local library catalogue and on Copac and will be based on circulation data which has been gathered over the past 10 years at The University of Manchester’s internationally renowned research library.

How effective will this model prove to be for users — particularly humanities researchers users?

Here’s what we want to find out:

  • Will researchers in the field of humanities benefit from receiving book recommendations, and if so, in what ways?
  • Will the users go beyond the reading list and be exposed to rare and niche collections — will new paths of discovery be opened up?
  • Will collections in the library, previously undervalued and underused find a new appreciative audience — will the Long Tail be exposed and exploited for research?
  • Will researchers see new links in their studies, possibly in other disciplines?

We also want to consider if there are other  potential beneficiaries.  By highlighting rarer collections, valuing niche items and bringing to the surface less popular but nevertheless worthy materials, libraries will have the leverage they need to ensure the preservation of these rich materials. Can such data or services assist in decision-making around collections management? We will be consulting with Leeds University Library and the White Rose Consortium, as well as UKRR in this area.

(And finally, as part of our sustainability planning, we want to look at how scalable this approach might be for developing a shared aggregation service of circulation data for UK University Libraries.  We’re working with potential data contributors such as Cambridge University LibraryUniversity of Sussex Library, and the M25 consortium as well as RLUK to trial and provide feedback on the project outputs, with specific attention to the sustainability of an API service as a national shared service for HE/FE that supports academic excellence and drives institutional efficiencies.

Royal Society records loaded

Royal Society Library We are pleased to announce that the records of the Royal Society Library are now available on Copac.

The Royal Society is a Fellowship of the world’s most distinguished scientists, which promotes the advancement of science and its use for the benefit of humanity and the good of the planet. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles: as the UK academy of science promoting the natural and applied sciences, as a learned society, and as a funding agency.

The Library sits within the Royal Society Centre for History of Science, and contains over 70,000 titles published from the 1470s to the present day. The main strength of the collections is in the 17th and 18th centuries; from the 1680s to the mid 19th century the policy of the Library was to acquire every important scientific publication. The Centre also holds significant scientific archives, and a collection of images which includes over 6,000 photographs, engravings and paintings of past and present scientists.

Expanding Copac

It’s exciting times for Copac – we’re working on improving the Copac user experience and we’ve been looking at other aspects of the development of Copac. A vital aspect of this development is expanding and enhancing Copac’s coverage, through the addition of new libraries and collections.

Copac’s original remit was to be the merged union catalogue of the holdings of the RLUK (then CURL) libraries. This was expanded in 2006 to include libraries added through the Copac Challenge Fund (, which aimed to ‘facilitat[e] the discovery of the widest possible range of research materials’. The specific Challenge Fund activity has ended, but we are still committed to helping to expose rare and under-used materials, and are accepting informal applications from libraries wishing to be included in Copac. We ask applicants for some information about their collections, and ensure that they meet some basic technical criteria.

Our main focus is on supporting UK education and research, and we prioritise collections with large amounts of rare, scarce, and under-exposed material. We accept applications from all types of library, not just academic and research, and we will take specific collections from a library – eg while a public library’s lending collections may not fit in with Copac’s remit, they may have special collections that do.

Our Steering Committee is meeting in September, and they’ll be discussing strategies and priorities to ensure that Copac’s growth remains mission-focussed and sustainable. Much as we as a team would be delighted to add every library, that simply isn’t feasible in the short-term for a variety of reasons. Our steering committee will help us to prioritise our inclusions over the next two years. Longer-term, we’re going to develop a new strategy for Copac, and our future approach to content development will be high on the agenda.

Until then, we’re looking at ‘quick wins’ for helping users access more content held across the UK. For instance, the ‘your local library’ tool. We’ve been working with academic libraries whose collections are not on Copac to cross-search their collections through z39.50. When a user of the library signs in to Copac, they get the opportunity to search their institution’s records alongside Copac.

If you’re interested in learning more, please email We’d be pleased to hear from you.

National Railway Museum Library loaded

We are pleased to announce that the holdings of Search Engine, the National Railway Museum’s Library, are now available on Copac.

The library and archive collections at the National Railway Museum form one of the largest resources of railway and transport history in the world. The Library Collection is international in scope and covers all time periods.

  • Over 20 thousand books and 800 journal titles, of which 300 are current subscriptions
  • Railway company works archives and drawings
  • Official publications and publicity such as Accident Reports, holiday guides, timetables and tickets
  • Technical records describing locomotive performance and design
  • Extensive photographic, art and poster collection

You can see more details about Search Engine on their information page on the Copac website.

    Royal College of Music Library loaded

    We are pleased to announce that the holdings of the Royal College of Music Library are now on Copac.

    The Library contains a wealth of material, over 400,000 items, ranging from rare, early 16th-Century printed music to standard musical repertoire and from 78 rpm recordings to compact discs and DVDs. The collections of music literature include much rare material as well as all the major encyclopaedias, bibliographies, catalogues and standard works in most musical genres, as well as over 600 music periodical titles.

    The addition of these holdings will greatly enhance the range of music material discoverable through Copac.

    National Trust libraries loaded

    Library at Dunham Massey

    Library at Dunham Massey

    We are pleased to announce that the libraries of the National Trust are now live on Copac. This is the first time that the National Trust’s catalogue has been available to search online.

    The National Trust owns 140 historic libraries, containing around 230,000 titles, generally preserved in the places where they were originally assembled and read. Many are country house libraries, some collected by wealthy bibliophiles, others containing more practical everyday books, including rare provincial printing. Other collections reflect the interests of middle-class readers; some were assembled by literary figures, such as Kipling and Shaw.

    Together these libraries provide an unparalleled resource for the study of the history of private book ownership in Britain and Ireland. The collections will be of interest to researchers from a wide range of disciplines, and include a huge variety of materials, from illuminated manuscripts to picture postcards.

    For fuller details please see the National Trust’s Books and Manuscripts collection webpages, or contact You can also see the National Trust’s library page on Copac.

    We are confident that exposure of these exciting resources will be of great benefit to the education and research communities.