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Library Guides

Finding and Using Digital Archives during COVID-19: Home

This guide covers how to find digitised and digital archives material at a time when many archives are closed for in-person visits, and how to critically examine what you find.

Overview

Although many UK archives are currently closed due to COVID-19, some of them have made part of their collections available online. This guide will introduce you to the different types of archives that are available digitally and how to approach them critically.

As well as looking after the University's own collections, the University Archive staff are here to support your research using other archive collections held here in the UK or elsewhere. Once you have read through this guide, feel free to email us with any questions you have.

This guide has been written mainly for humanities students needing to access text-based archive resources. It is written with the presumption that you are unable to access any physical archives and are only able to use digital resources. The guide will be updated as and when some access is available to physical archive collections again.

What are archives?

An archive can refer to:

  • a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people; or
  • a place where historical documents are kept

Although we usually think of archives as being paper documents, they can also be digital, photographic and audiovisual. Many archive collections also include some books and objects. 

An archive differs from a library both in what it holds and how it is organised.

  • Libraries primarily hold published material e.g. books, newspapers, and journals. Archives primarily hold unpublished material e.g. correspondence, administrative records and reports.
  • Libraries are organised thematically, by subject, according to a classification scheme. Archives are organised by creator, and then arranged in a hierarchical structure
  • The items in a library are all self-contained. You can take a book out of a library collection and it doesn't affect the contents of the other books. The items in an archive are an aggregate. They have accrued naturally during the course of a person's life or a business' activities. The items in an archive refer to each other and may no longer be comprehensible if one item is removed.

 

Digital archives

Digitised archives are physical collections that have been scanned, photographed or indexed in order to make the information in them available online.

Born-digital archives are archives that have started their life as digital documents (for example, as a spreadsheet or as a digital photograph) and have been used in this format throughout their life, before being transferred to the archive in a digital format.

Senior Archivist

Anna McNally's picture
Anna McNally
Contact:
Archive office,
Level B3
4-12 Little Titchfield Street,
London
W1W 7BY
0207 911 5167
Subjects:Fashion, History