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An archive is a collection of historical records, and the location in which the collection is kept.[1] Archives contain records (primary source documents) which have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime.

The archives of an individual may include letters, papers, photographs, computer files, scrapbooks, financial records or diaries created or collected by the individual – regardless of media or format. The archives of an organization (such as a corporation or government) tend to contain other types of records, such as administrative files, business records, memos, official correspondence and meeting minutes.

For lessons on the topic of (Teaching Mission) Archives, follow this link.

In general, archives consist of records which have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation, due to their enduring research value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives (the places) are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.

Archives are sometimes described as information generated as the "by-product" of normal human activities, while libraries hold specifically authored information "products".[2] A person who works in archives is called an archivist. The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science.

Archivists tend to prefer the term 'archives' (with an S) as the correct terminology to serve as both the singular and plural, since 'archive,' as a noun or a verb, has meanings related to computer science.[3]

Users and institutions

Historians, genealogists, lawyers, demographers, filmmakers, and others conduct research at archives.[4] The research process at each archive is unique, and depends upon the institution in which the archive is housed. While there are many different kinds of archives, the most recent census of archivists in the United States identified five major types: academic, for profit (business), government, non profit, and other.[5]


Archives in colleges, universities, and other educational facilities are typically housed within a library, and duties may be carried out by an archivist or a librarian. Occasionally, history professors may run a smaller archive.[6] Academic archives exist to preserve and celebrate the history of their school and academic community.[7] An academic archive may contain items such as papers of former professors and presidents, memorabilia related to school organizations and activities, and items the academic library wishes to remain in a closed-stack setting, such as rare books or thesis copies. Access to the majority of these archives is by appointment only. Users of academic archives are often graduate students and those wishing to view rare or historical documents for research purposes. Many academic archives work closely with alumni relations departments to help raise funds for their library or school.[8] Because of their library setting, a degree certified by the American Library Association is preferred for employment in an academic archive in the USA.

Business (for profit)

Archives located in for-profit institutions are usually those owned by a private business. Examples of prominent business archives in the United States include Coca-Cola (which also owns the separate museum World of Coca-Cola), Procter and Gamble, Motorola Heritage Services and Archives, and Levi Strauss & Co. These corporate archives maintain historic documents and items related to the history of their companies.[9] Business archives serve the purpose of helping their corporations maintain control over their brand by retaining memories of the company's past. Especially in business archives, records management is separate from the historic aspect of archives. Workers in these types of archives may have any combination of training and degrees, from either a history or library background. These archives are typically not open to the public and only used by workers of the owner company, although some will allow approved visitors by appointment.[10] Business archives are concerned with maintaining the integrity of their parent company, and therefore selective of how their materials may be used.[11]


Government archives include those run on a local and state level as well as those run by the national (or federal) government. Anyone may use a government archive, and frequent users include reporters, genealogists, writers, historians, students, and people wanting information on the history of their home or region. Many government archives are open to the public and no appointment is required to visit.[12]

In the United States, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) archives exist in the District of Columbia, and regionally.[13] Some city or local governments may have repositories, but their organization and accessibility varies widely.[14] State or province archives typically require at least a bachelor's degree in history for employment, although some ask for certification by test (government or association) as well.

In the UK the National Archives [1], formerly known as the Public Record Office, is the government archive for England and Wales. The National Monuments Record [2] is the public archive of English Heritage. The National Archives of Scotland [3], located in Edinburgh, serve that country while the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland [4] in Belfast is the government archive for Northern Ireland.

A network of local authority-run record offices and archives exists throughout England, Wales and Scotland and holds many important collections, including local government, landed estates, church and business records. Many archives have contributed catalogues to the national Access 2 Archives[5] programme and online searching across collections is possible.

In France, the Directorate of the Archives of France (Direction des Archives de France) in the Ministry of Culture manages the National Archives (Archives nationales) which possess 364 km. (226 miles) of archives as of 2004 (the total length of occupied shelves put next to each other), with original records going as far back as A.D. 625, as well as the departmental archives (archives départementales), located in the préfectures of each of the 100 départements of France, which possess 1,901 km. (1,181 miles) of archives (as of 2004), and also the local city archives, about 600 in total, which possess 449 km. (279 miles) of archives (as of 2004).[15] Put together, the total volume of archives under the supervision of the Directorate of the Archives of France is the largest in the world.

  • In India the National Archives [6] are located in New Delhi.
  • In Taiwan the National Archives Administration [7] are located in Taipei.

Most intergovernmental organisations keep their own historical archives. However, a number of European organisations, including the European Commission, choose to deposit their archives with the European University Institute in Florence.


Include Archdioceses, dioceses and parishes archives in the Roman Catholic and Episcopalian Churches and another kinds of archives in the different denominations of the Christian Churches. The most famous Church Archives is the Vatican Secret Archive.


Non-profit archives include those in historical societies, not-for-profit businesses such as hospitals, and the repositories within foundations. Non-profit archives are typically set up with private funds from donors to preserve the papers and history of specific persons or places. Often these institutions rely on grant funding from the government as well.[16] Depending on the funds available, non-profit archives may be as small as the historical society in a rural town to as big as a state historical society that rivals a government archives. Users of this type of archive may vary as much as the institutions that hold them. Employees of non-profit archives may be professional archivists, para-professionals, or volunteers, as the education required for a position at a non-profit archive varies with the demands of the collection's user base.[17]


Some archives defy categorization. There are tribal archives within the Native American nations in North America, and there are archives that exist within the papers of private individuals. Many museums keep archives in order to prove the provenance of their pieces. Any institution or persons wishing to keep their significant papers in an organized fashion that employs the most basic principles of archival science may have an archive. In the 2004 census of archivists taken in the United States, 2.7% of archivists were employed in institutions that defied categorization. This was a separate figure from the 1.3% that identified themselves as self-employed.[18]


The word archive (pronounced /ˈɑrkaɪv/) is derived from the Greek ἀρχή (arkhē) meaning government or order (compare an-archy, mon-archy). The word originally developed from the Greek ἀρχεῖον (arkheion) which refers to the home or dwelling of the Archon, in which important official state documents were filed and interpreted under the authority of the Archon. The adjective formed from archive is archival.

Archives in history

The word "archives" can refer to any organised body of records fixed on media. The management of archives is essential for effective day-to-day organisational decision making, and even for the survival of organisations. Archives were well developed by the ancient Chinese, the ancient Greeks, and ancient Romans. Modern archival thinking has many roots in the French Revolution. The French National Archives, who possess perhaps the largest archival collection in the world, with records going as far back as A.D. 625, were created in 1790 during the French Revolution from various government, religious, and private archives seized by the revolutionaries.


  1. "Glossary of Library and Internet Terms". University of South Dakota Library. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
  2. "A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2007-04-06.
  3. "definition of archive". Wiktionary. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
  4. "What Are Archives?". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
  5. Walch, Victoria Irons (2006). "Archival Census and Education Needs Survey in the United States: Part 1: Introduction" (PDF). The American Archivist 69 (2): 294–309. Retrieved 2007-04-30.
  6. Maher, William J. (1992). The Management of College and University Archives.. Metuchen, New Jersey: Society of American Archivists & The Scarecrow Press, Inc..
  7. "Welcome to University Archives and Records Management". Kennesaw State University Archives. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  8. "Guidelines for College and University Archives". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  9. "Business Archives Council". Business Archives Council. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  10. "Directory of Corporate Archives". Hunter Information Management. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  11. "Business Archives in North America - Invest in your future: Understand your past". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  12. "Directions for Change". Libraries and Archives Canada. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  13. "The National Archives". United States National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  14. "U.S. - State Level Records Repositories: State Libraries, Archives, Genealogical & Historical Societies". Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  15. (French) "Les archives en France". Quid - 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  16. Creigh, by Dorothy Weyer (1995). A Primer for Local Historical Societies: Revised and Expanded from the First Edition. AltaMira Press. pp. 122.
  17. Whitehill, Walter Muir (1962). "Introduction". Independent Historical Societies: An Enquiry into Their Research and Publication Functions and Their Financial Future. Boston, Massachusetts: The Boston Athenaeum. pp. 311.
  18. Walch, Victoria Irons (2006). "A*Census: A Closer Look". The American Archivist 69 (2): 327–348. Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  19. International Organization for Standardization. "ISO/NP TS 21547-1 Health informatics -- Secure archiving of electronic health records -- Part 1: Principles and requirements". Retrieved 19 July 2008.
  20. International Organization for Standardization. "ISO/DIS 11506 Document management applications -- Archiving of electronic data -- Computer output microform (COM) / Computer output laser disc (COLD)". Retrieved 19 July 2008.

External links

  1. UNESCO Archives Portal - over 8000 links worldwide
  2. Letter Archive - Online archive of personal letters
  3. International Council on Archives
  4. Archives Hub — gateway to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges, part of the National Archives Network
  5. InterPares Project — international project on electronic records
  6. Access to Archives (A2A) — the English strand of the UK archives network
  7. Online-Guide to Archives around the globe
  8. The Changing World of Records Storage
  9. Archivopedia - archives wiki
  10. AIM25 - archives within the UK M25 area.
  11. British Cartoon Archive associated with the University of Kent
  12. The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives
  13. Banco di San Giorgio - Genova Italy: Archive (1407-1805): nearly 40,000 books catalogued with full description.