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Archives research guide: Archival records

Archives acquire records of archival value that provide valuable primary source evidence about the past. Archival records are made accessible to users, and are preserved for future generations in the archives' holdings so that future generations will be able to access them.

What are records?

Records are any information or data in a fixed form that were created in the ordinary course of business and preserved for future reference. Records are unpublished and because of this they are therefore unique and irreplaceable, as only one exact copy of them exists, unlike most publications. Types of records include:

  • textual records (such as correspondence, minutes, reports, and budgets)
  • photographs
  • maps
  • architectural drawings
  • audio and video recordings

Examples of archives records

Examples of textual records and photographs from F0009 and C0004

What is archival value?

Archives only acquire and preserve records having archival value, that is, enduring usefulness or significance based on the legal, administrative, evidential, or historical information that they contain, which justifies their continued preservation.

How are records arranged?

In archives, records are arranged (organized) by creator, that is, by the person, family, or organization that created or received the records. The entire body of records of a single creator is known as a fonds. For example, all the records that the Acme Steamship Corporation created or received in the course of its business operations would be kept together in an archives in a group titled the "Acme Steamship Corporation fonds." Each fonds is kept separate from other fonds, so that the records of one creator are never mixed with those of other creators.

In archives, records are always kept in their original order, which is the organization or sequence that they were placed in by their creator. The original order is important because­ it provides significant evidence about how the creator created, used, and reviewed the records. For example, the original order of undated letters in a file might indicate the chronological order in which they were received, or it could provide other clues as to how their creator used them. Because this contextual information can be lost forever if the original order is disrupted, records are never physically rearranged.

Publications

Besides records, the Archives and Special Collections also holds rare or valuable publications that would be difficult to replace if lost or damaged. These include rare books, pamphlets, zines, and other specialized library material.

Candian Cold War Pamphlets

Examples of publications from the Canadian Cold War pamphlet collection (C0006)