Ask the Archivist

Do you have a question about archives or archiving?

Email us at and we will answer your question, or refer you to a resource or an expert who can address it. You may also want to consider contacting your local archival councils. More information on our Useful links page.


What are archives?

Archives are the documentary by-product of human activity retained for their long-term value. They are contemporary records created by individuals and organisations as they go about their business and therefore provide a direct window on past events. They can come in a wide range of formats including written, photographic, moving image, sound, digital and analogue. Archives are held by public and private institutions and individuals around the world.

See more on the website of the International Council on Archives.

What are community archives?

Documentation of a group of people that share common interests, and social, cultural and historical heritage, usually created by members of the group being documented and maintained outside of traditional archives.

Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archives Terminology

Why archiving?

Archives are witnesses to the past. They provide evidence, explanation and justification both for past actions and current decisions.

Archives enable society to undertake a wide range of roles that enable civilised communities to take root and flourish, from enabling education and research, providing entertainment and leisure, to protecting human rights and confirming identity. Archives are unique, contemporaneous records and so once lost cannot be replaced. It is only through proper identification, care and wide access that the vital role that archives has can be fully realised to the benefit of humanity.

See more here

What is an archivist?

Watch a short 4 min video created for a class at the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto. It shows, in a fun and accessible way, how archival acquisition, arrangement and description, preservation, and access work.

Check back later for more FAQs.