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Library Guides

Finding and Using Digital Archives: Home

This guide covers how to find digitised and digital archives material and how to critically examine what you find.


This guide to digital archives was written while many UK archives were closed due to COVID-19. Although the majority have now re-opened, it continues to be a useful introduction to the different types of archives that are available digitally and how to approach them critically.



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  • a collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people; or
  • a place where historical documents are kept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 Archives primarily hold unpublished material e.g. correspondence, administrative records and reports.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.


The original version of this guide was written by the Senior Archivist in 2020 while many UK archives were closed due to COVID-19. 

Contact Us

This Guide was created by members of the University Archive who can be contacted by emailing or via Chat on our catalogue