Access to Archives
The Archives Hub does not hold any materials. This means that once you have identified the archive(s) you want to consult, you will need to visit the holding institution (for digital archives see below). Each archive collection is unique, so a physical collection will only be held in once place.
The Archives Hub represents the holdings of over 300 repositories. Every description links to the contact details and location of the holding repository.
Collections typically consist of things like journals, diaries, letters, research papers, business ledgers, photographs, postcards and ephemera such as playbills and advertisements.
You usually need to order the materials that you want to consult and you can only access them in the reading room of the repository (see our tips for visiting an archive).
You may be able to take photographs or order photocopies, but this will be down to the policy of the repository and the condition of the material.
The Archives Hub provides some links to digital content, including:
- images displayed within the description
- images linking to full resolution display
- links to digital content such as text files and PDF files
- only a proportion of descriptions include images or links to digital content; most archives are not digital or digitised
- Some collections include digital content but the description on the Hub may not indicate this - we can only work with the descriptions that we have
- a collection described on the Hub may just include one image, to demonstrate the type of holdings within the collection
- some collections are described item-by-item and you may get a selection of items that include links to digital content
- you will often get a link to take you to the repository's own site, where you can see more content
We are continuing to add more and more descriptions that include digital content. This includes both paper-based archives that have been digitised and archives that are born digital. We have a filter by digital content. This includes all descriptions with any images or links to digital content, even if it is just a single image.
If you believe that an archive does include digital materials, you need to contact the holding repository to find out more. Use the link to email the repository.
Some useful tips:
- Take note of the title and the reference number of the collection or collections in order to give these to the archivist when you arrive at the repository
- Archives are very rarely on open access, so you usually order what you would like to see and it is brought to the reading room
- The original material is not always available for use and surrogates may be provided. This is because they are fragile, damaged, or heavily used. Archives may also be closed for a period of time because information is sensitive. The Archives Hub description usually gives information about access to the particular collection.
- Be aware of the size of the archive collection(s) you want to view - some are just a few items, some are hundreds of boxes
- Some archives will not be in English, and sometimes they are not easy to read. We try to provide a list of all languages for the collections we describe on the Hub
- You will sometimes need to contact the repository in advance to make an appointment to consult the materials. Some reading rooms have quite limited opening hours
- Food and drink are not usually allowed while consulting the archives
- Many archive repositories only allow pencils to be used in the reading room
- Many repositories have sockets for laptops, and wireless internet available, but it is worth checking this before you arrive
- You may be able to get copies made of parts of archives, either photocopies or photographs. Each repository will have its own policies on this.
If you are in doubt about any aspect of visiting or consulting an archive collection, it is a good idea to check with the repository you are visiting before setting off.