Shelved record boxes of an archive.

An archive is a collection of historical records, or the physical place they are located.[1] Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of an organization.

In general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary 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 Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist.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.[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.

When referring to historical records or the places they are kept, the plural form archives is chiefly used.[3] 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 acquired meanings related to computer science.[citation needed]



First attested in English in early 17th century, the word archive (play /ˈɑrkv/) is derived from the French archives (plural), in turn from Latin archīum or archīvum,[4] which is the romanized form of the Greek ἀρχεῖον (arkheion), "public records, town-hall, residence or office of chief magistrates",[5] itself from ἀρχή (arkhē), amongst others "magistracy, office, government"[6] (compare an-archy, mon-archy), which comes from the verb ἄρχω (arkhō), "to begin, rule, govern".[7]

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 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.[8]

Users and institutions

Historians, genealogists, lawyers, demographers, filmmakers, and others conduct research at archives.[9] 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, business (for profit), government, non-profit, and other.[10] There are also four main areas of inquiry involved with archives: material technologies, organizing principles, geographic locations, and tangled embodiments of humans and non-humans. These areas help to further categorize what kind of archive is being created.


Charles Sturt University Regional Archives.

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 also run a smaller archive.[11] Academic archives exist to preserve and celebrate the history of their school and academic community.[12] An academic archive may contain items such as the administrative records of the institution, 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 collections in these archives is usually by prior appointment only; some have posted hours for making enquiries. Users of academic archives can be undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff, scholarly researchers, and the general public. Many academic archives work closely with alumni relations departments or other campus institutions to help raise funds for their library or school.[13] Because of their library setting, a degree certified by the American Library Association is preferred for employment in an academic archive in the United States.[verification needed]

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 and administration of their companies.[14] 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.[15] Business archives are concerned with maintaining the integrity of their company, and are therefore selective of how their materials may be used.[16]


Government archives include those maintained by local and state government as well as those maintained by the national (or federal) government. Anyone may use a government archive, and frequent users include reporters, genealogists, writers, historians, students, and people seeking information on the history of their home or region. Many government archives are open to the public and no appointment is required to visit.[17]

In the United States, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains central archival facilities in the District of Columbia and College Park, Maryland, with regional facilities distributed throughout the United States.[18] Some city or local governments may have repositories, but their organization and accessibility varies widely.[19] 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.[citation needed]

In the UK the National Archives [2], formerly known as the Public Record Office, is the government archive for England and Wales. The National Monuments Record[20] 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 French Archives Administration (Service interministériel des Archives de France) in the Ministry of Culture manages the National Archives (Archives nationales) which possess 406 km. (252 miles) of archives as of 2010 (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 2,297 km. (1,427 miles) of archives (as of 2010), and also the local city archives, about 600 in total, which possess 456 km. (283,4 miles) of archives (as of 2010).[21] Put together, the total volume of archives under the supervision of the French Archives Administration is the largest in the world.

In India the National Archives[22] are located in New Delhi.

In Taiwan the National Archives Administration [6] 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.[citation needed]


A prominent Church Archives is the Vatican Secret Archive.[23] Archdioceses, dioceses and parishes also have archives in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. The records in these archives include manuscripts, papal records, local Church records, photographs, oral histories, audiovisual materials, and architectural drawings.

Most Protestant denominations have archives as well, including the Presbyterian U.S.A Historical Society,[24] The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives,[25] the United Methodist Archives and History Center of the United Methodist Church[26] and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).[27]



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 as the private funds.[28] 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.[29]

Web archiving

The process of collecting data from the World Wide Web and preserving it in an archive, such as an archive site, for the web user to see. See Website Archiving. Examples of web archives:

  • Side bars
  • Blogs
  • Calendar
  • Tag cloud
  • News websites


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.[30]

Another type of archive is public secrets [7]. This is an interactive testimonial in which women incarcerated in the California State Prison System reveal their stories about what happened to them. The function of the archive is to unfold the stories of the women who want to express themselves and want their stories to be heard. This collection of stories includes the women's direct speeches and also a recording of the women saying their speech.

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.


The International Council on Archives (ICA) has developed a number of standards on archival description including the General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G).[31] ISAD(G) is meant to be used in conjunction with national standards or as a basis for nations to build their own standards.[32] In the United States, ISAD(G) is implemented through Describing Archives: A Content Standard, popularly known as "DACS".[33] In Canada, ISAD(G) is implemented through Rules for Archival Description, also known as "RAD".[34]

ISO is currently working on standards.[35][36]

See also


  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. ^ "archive" The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ archīum, Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, on Perseus
  5. ^ ἀρχεῖον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ ἀρχή, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  7. ^ ἄρχω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  8. ^ "archive: Definition, Synonyms from". Retrieved 2010-06-01. 
  9. ^ "What Are Archives?". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Maher, William J. (1992). The Management of College and University Archives.. Metuchen, New Jersey: Society of American Archivists & The Scarecrow Press, Inc.. 
  12. ^ "Welcome to University Archives and Records Management". Kennesaw State University Archives. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  13. ^ "Guidelines for College and University Archives". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  14. ^ "Business Archives Council". Business Archives Council. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  15. ^ "Directory of Corporate Archives". Hunter Information Management. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  16. ^ "Business Archives in North America - Invest in your future: Understand your past". Society of American Archivists. Archived from the original on October 1, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  17. ^ "Directions for Change". Libraries and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on February 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-09. 
  18. ^ "The National Archives". United States National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 2007-05-09. 
  19. ^ "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. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ (French) Chiffres clés 2011. Statistiques de la Culture, Paris, La Documentation française, 2011.
  22. ^ [1][dead link]
  23. ^ "Vatican Secret Archives". Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  24. ^ "Presbyterian Historical Society". Retrieved 31 March 2011. 
  25. ^ "Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives". Retrieved 31 March 2011. 
  26. ^ "United Methodist Archives Center". Retrieved 31 March 2011. 
  27. ^ "Disciples of Christ Historical Society". Retrieved 2 August 2011. 
  28. ^ Creigh, by Dorothy Weyer (1995). A Primer for Local Historical Societies: Revised and Expanded from the First Edition. AltaMira Press. p. 122. 
  29. ^ 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. p. 311. 
  30. ^ Walch, Victoria Irons (2006). "A*Census: A Closer Look". The American Archivist 69 (2): 327–348. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  31. ^ ICA Standards Page
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Describing Archives: A Content Standard". Society of American Archivists. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  34. ^ Rules for Archival Description. Bureau of Canadian Archivists. 1990. ISBN 0-9690797-3-7. 
  35. ^ 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. 
  36. ^ 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

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