What are Archives?

Archives are the records that are created and accumulated by an organization or an individual through the course of their activities.  These records are kept because of their enduring historical or legal value.  

The records found in an archival repository are unique and therefore must be managed and stored to preserve them for current and for future use.

Examples of archival records include:

  • Diaries and journals
  • Meeting minutes and agendas
  • Correspondence
  • Legal records
  • Financial records (account books, ledgers, etc.)
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Sound and video recordings
  • Architectural and technical plans
  • Maps

These records may be in analogue or digital form.


There are differents type of archival repositories.  Below is a list of some of the different types that exist.

Corporate archives acquire, preserve and provide access to the records of the business. These repositories exist, primarily to assist the needs of the company. They allow varying degrees of public access.

Example: Scotia Bank Archives, Coca-Cola Archives

Government archives acquire, preserve and provide access to the records of municipal, provincial and federal government entities.

Example: Archives of Ontario, City of Toronto Archives

Historical societies acquire, preserve and provide access to the records that promote the history of a region or a specific historical period.

Example: West Toronto Junction Historical Society

Religious archives acquire, preserve and provide access material relating to major faiths and faith denominations. 

Example: United Church Archives

University/College archives acquire, preserve and provide access to material relating to a specific institution.  Some university and college archives may also be special collections.  Special collections are repositories that collected material from individuals, families and organizations deemed to have significant historical value.  Special collections may also include rare and unique books.

Examples: University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services, Seneca College Archives


There are several difference between Library and Archival holdings.  Below are a list of some of those key differences.

Libraries Archives
Open stacks - Users are free to browse the material on the shelves. Closed Stacks - Users are not permitted in the stacks to browse.  The archival material is held in a locked, environmentally controlled room.
Circulating - Material may be checked out of the library. Non-circulating - Material may not leave the archival repository.  It must be consulted on site in a designated area.
Multiple copies of material exist in other libraries or are available to researchers. Unique materials - No other copies of the material exist.
Material is catalogued at an individual level (e.g. a record for a single book) Materials are arranged and described at different levels: fonds level, series, level, file level, item level.
Materials can be searched in an online catalogue.

Materials can be searched in a finding aid.