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What are Archives?

Archives are the records of an institution or organization that are no longer current but are preserved because they contain information of permanent value. They are the recorded memory, preserved for those who might find them useful in the future. Those who handle archival materials carry out several functions to preserve materials and make them accessible to potential users: appraisal, arrangement, description, and reference. 
Hansen, Mary Anne. "Archives." Dictionary of American History, edited by Stanley I. Kutler, 3rd ed., vol. 1, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 255-256. Gale eBooks, Accessed 17 July 2024.

The word archives can be used in three different ways:

  • The word archives (usually written with a lower case and sometimes referred to in the singular, as archive) refers to the permanently valuable records—such as letters, reports, accounts, minute books, draft and final manuscripts, and photographs—of people, businesses, and government. These records are kept because they have continuing value to the creating agency and to other potential users. They are the documentary evidence of past events. They are the facts we use to interpret and understand history.
  • An Archives (often written with a capital A and usually, but not always, in the plural) is an organization dedicated to preserving the documentary heritage of a particular group: a city, a province or state, a business, a university, or a community. For example, the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States, Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan, The Coca-Cola Company Archives, and The Archives of the Episcopal Church are all responsible for the preservation and management of archives.
  • The word archives is also used to refer to the building or part of a building in which archival materials are kept, i.e., the archival repository itself.

An archive is an accumulation of historical records or materials – in any medium – or the physical facility in which they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the history and function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative, or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as "the secretions of an organism", and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity. In general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on the grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value.[4] Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines, of which many identical copies may exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.

Donald & Beverely Gerth Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA)


Other Archives & Selected Libraries (State, Regional & Local)




Last Updated: Jul 24, 2024 2:57 PM