About Records and Repositories

Historical Records: Vital Information for Future Generations

Organizations, institutions and individuals create records in the process of doing day-to-day activities. Such organizations and institutions include:

  • Government agencies
  • Businesses
  • Churches
  • Synagogues and other religious bodies
  • Colleges, universities and other educational institutions
  • Labor unions
  • A broad array of other cultural, social, political and economic organizations and institutions.
  • Individuals who create historical records​, which can include ordinary citizens as well as distinguished or prominent persons.​ 

Records created by individuals, institutions and organizations in the course of daily activities may contain information valuable to future generations. If so, these records are considered to be historical records.

Historical records have many formats. They may be paper-based text records such as letters, diaries, memoranda and financial records; they may be audio and visual records such as magnetic tapes, CDs, photographs and motion picture films; or they may be generated by computers in electronic formats and stored on magnetic disks, tapes, cartridges or CDs.

Kinds of Repositories

Historical records are held by two basic types of archival repositories:

  • Institutional archives that have as their primary mission the preservation of historical records of the particular institution of which they are a part.
  • General or cultural archival repositories that have as their primary mission the preservation of historical records for historical or cultural purposes.

Archival repositories are institutions where historical records are identified, preserved and made accessible for use.

Among institutional archives are those administered by governmental agencies (these include federal, state and local repositories), corporations and other businesses, religious bodies, and various other cultural, social, educational, economic and political organizations and institutions.

Among general or cultural archival repositories are those administered by historical societies, libraries, manuscript repositories and museums.

Archival repositories at colleges and universities often carry out the functions of both of these two main types of repositories.

Historical records may be public records (created by taxpayer-funded governmental entities) or private records (created by private organizations, institutions and individuals).​​​​​​​​​