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English Composition II Archival Searching for Students: What are Archives?

According to the Society of American Archivists, the word archives can be used in three different ways:

  • “The word archives (usually written with a lower case a 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 Archives’ main goal is to secure, save, and share the story of the institution, a person, a group of people, a culture, city, state, building, etc. After materials to document that story have been collected, the Archive will ensure the materials are kept safe through proper preservation protocols, and will make sure that materials are secure and cannot be stolen or tampered with. But, there is more to an Archives’ mission than simply storing and preserving these materials—why keep materials if no one knows you have them? This is why an Archives must share the material they keep. One of the ways Archives are sharing their materials is by creating digital copies of their materials and sharing them online in digital collections.

Here's some more on what an Archive is from ArchivesHub: Archives can be defined as "Materials that have been created by individuals, groups or organisations during the course of their life or work and deemed to be worth keeping permanently for the purposes of research....Importantly, [these materials] are not usually created for future research, but for immediate practical, personal or administrative purposes, as part of the activities of an individual, family or organisation...Archives range in date from ancient right through to contemporary. They can offer insights into all walks of life and all subject areas. They reflect our personal, social, economic and political activities throughout history, up to the present day, and they provide evidence that sheds essential light on the who, why, when and where of our history."