What is an archive?

Archives are unique records which document the history of people, places and events.

Archives exist in a wide range of formats: parchment, paper, volumes, images, photographs, digital records, sound, film and objects. Businesses, governments, councils, schools and universities all have archives. In many cases, museums and libraries also preserve special collections linked to their objects.

An archive is also the buildings and rooms records are kept in. These rooms are temperature controlled and specialist shelving helps ensure the long term preservation of the items being stored.

An introduction to archives

Different information professionals are responsible for the record at different stages of processing.

  • Records managers are responsible for effectively managing current information. These records can be in both physical or digital formats. Once these records are no longer in active use, but have been identified as having historical value, they are transferred to an archive.
  • Archivists are information professionals who processes, and provide access to these records.
  • Conservators are required throughout the process to carry out record repairs when needed. Extensive training means that fixing tears, re binding books and restoring paintings are just some of the specialist skills conservators have.
Image of records management cycle

Before the archive

The records management life cycle

Conservation at Gwent Archives. White man looking at a volume surrounded with archive boxes and smoke sponges

Caring for archives

So future generations can access them

More detail about particular archives.

If you would like to see your archive featured here, use the contact form below.

Find out what working in an archive is like. Take a look at this recruitment video produced by Heritage and Culture Warwickshire. Applications for this post closed on the 21st November 2022 but the information in the video is timeless!

Digital Preservation

Over the last 50 years the role of an archivist has adapted to include born digital and digitised material.

Peak inside real archives across the country

Archivists across the UK and Ireland have submitted images from their collections to the image gallery below. Click to see examples of images you could find when you visit a record office near you.

Logo - Archive revealed in blue.