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Research Guides

Parliament House Canberra, 1927

Appendix 4 - Glossary of archival terms


There are three different uses of the term 'archives':

  1. Those non-current records that are identified as having enduring value and so are suitable for permanent retention;
  2. The place (building/room/storage area) where archival material is kept. Also referred to as a repository;
  3. An organisation (or part of an organisation) responsible for the care and control of archival material.

case file

A file that deals with a specific action, event, person, place, project or other subject.


In the context of the National Archives, a citation is information recorded about records in a standard format – eg NAA: A461, 53/221 is the standard format for referring to item 53/221 of the series A461 held by the National Archives.

.closed period

Commonwealth records are not made available for public access until 30 years have elapsed since the last day of the year in which they were created. For example, records created in 1965 were available after 31 December 1995 (ie from 1 Jan 1996). The period before records are available is referred to as the closed period. See also open period.

Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System

The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System is the cataloguing system used to link records with the agencies that created them. A separate registration is prepared for each agency and series, and each is given a unique identifying number. Series and item number registrations are on the RecordSearch database (view online at

finding aid

Any descriptive medium created by an archival institution to assist staff and users to find records and information within records. These finding aids include guides (general, repository, subject or topical), fact sheets, inventories or registers, location registers, card catalogues, special lists, shelf and box lists, indexes, calendars, and for electronic records, software documentation. The National Archives' primary finding aids are the RecordSearch and PhotoSearch databases.


A finding aid describing archival holdings relating to a particular subject, period, geographical area, record format, or records created by a particular agency. Details of published guides are available online at


An item is the smallest discrete unit which has been incorporated into a recordkeeping system and forms part of a series. An item may be a group of folios fastened together, such as a file, or a single volume, card, map, plan, photograph, film, sound recording, computer tape or other document which exists as a discrete entity.

item list

A list of items within a series compiled for the purpose of control and information. It usually contains such information as item number, item title, item date range and occasionally, item size. Also referred to as an 'inventory'.

item number

A control symbol allocated by the creator of the record item, for example, file numbers. As far as possible, the control symbol allocated to an item by an agency is retained for archival purposes. In the absence of original control symbols, they may be allocated by the National Archives to enable retrieval.

National Archives of Australia

A Commonwealth government organisation established to preserve for posterity the most important records created by all Commonwealth government administrations.

open period

Under the Archives Act, Commonwealth records are made available for public access after 30 years has elapsed since the last day of the year in which they were created. The open period (ie available for public access) begins on the first day of the calendar year after they reach the age of 30 years. For example, records created in 1965 came into the open period after 31 December 1995 (ie from 1 Jan 1996). Also referred to as the open access period. See also closed period.


The right of living people to be secure from the unauthorised disclosure of, or access to, information contained in records and archives of a private or confidential nature about themselves or their immediate family.

public access

The public right to consult records which are in the open period, ie records more than 30 years old, subject to access examination to identify exempt information.


A measurement of the amount of records. In the National Archives this is a linear measurement expressed as the number of metres of shelving occupied by the records.

reader's ticket

A numbered pass issued to researchers to facilitate access to reading rooms. Researchers' details are linked to this number, thereby making it possible to create an audit trail and see which records are being used by whom. By signing a reader's ticket the researcher agrees to abide by reading room rules.

reading room

A room or area set aside for the supervised consultation of archives by researchers. In the National Archives there are both public and official reading rooms. Also known as search rooms in other archival institutions. 


RecordSearch is an online computer database ( recordsearch) that contains information about:

  • all record series in the National Archives' custody and Commonwealth records in the custody of the Australian War Memorial;
  • the agencies or persons who created or control those series; and
  • records still in agency custody.

reference copy

A microfilm or other copy of a record or series made for reference use. The reasons for this may be to enable several copies to be available in different locations or to protect the original copy from damage.

reference service

The facilities and services that enable researchers to use the archives and its records once access to them is approved. This includes assistance in using finding aids, and the provision of facilities to view and copy records.

research agent

A person employed to do research on behalf of another, usually for a fee.


A person who consults records held by the archives, usually in a reading room. Also referred to as a user.


A series consists of a group of records which have resulted from the same accumulation or filing process (with the same numerical, alphabetical, chronological or other identifiable sequence) or which have a similar format or information content. Records in a series are usually kept together because they result from the same activity. Series may include files, indexes, magnetic recordings, photographs, films, plans etc. The series is the basic unit of control in the Commonwealth Record Series System.