Archives FAQs

What does an archivist do?

In the course of daily life, individuals, organizations, and governments create and keep information about their activities. Archivists are professionals who assess, collect, organize, preserve, maintain control of, and provide access to the portions of this information that have lasting value. Archivists keep records that have enduring value as reliable memories of the past, and they help people find and understand the information they need in those records.


What is an archives?

These records, and the places in which they are kept, are called “archives.” Archival records take many forms, including correspondence, diaries, financial and legal documents, photographs, video or sound recordings, and electronic records. An archives serves to strengthen collective memory by creating a reliable information bank that provides access to an irreplaceable asset – an organization’s, government’s, or society’s primary sources.


What does an archivist do all day?

General archivist job duties include:

  • Preserving the condition of materials and storing them in secure, climate controlled areas
  • Facilitating access and use of the archival records
  • Helping make records available in multiple formats and mediums
  • Conducting research on documents, materials and records
  • Authenticating and conducting appraisals to determine the research value of records
  • Giving presentations, displays, tours and exhibitions
  • Networking and negotiation to acquire additions to archival holdings
  • Managing the system used for preserving electronic and digital records
  • Following protocol to safeguard records, such as creating digital and film copies of them
  • Organizing archival materials and classifying them appropriately for easy access


What are archival records?

Historically significant collections of unique materials, such as government records, manuscripts, photographs, films, and sound recordings. Archival records are essential to support society’s increasing demand for accountability and transparency in government and public and private institutions. Archival records protect the rights, property, and identity of our citizens.


Who uses an archives and why?

Researchers, scholars and average citizens refer to archives to find proof; to gather research data; to illustrate, illuminate or explain. An archives is a place where people can go to gather firsthand facts, data, and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, and other primary sources.


Is everything available online?

Not all of our records are available online but the majority of the Archives’ collections have finding ads, or collection guides, online. The Archives provides online access to selected documents and images on this website and on the digital archives.


What are the different types of archives?

There are many varieties of archives, and the types of materials they collect differ as well. 

  • College and university archives are archives that preserve materials relating to a specific academic institution. Such archives may also contain a "special collections" division (see definition below). College and university archives exist first to serve their parent institutions and alumni, and then to serve the public.
  • Corporate archives are archival departments within a company or corporation that manage and preserve the records of that business. These repositories exist to serve the needs of company staff members and to advance business goals. Corporate archives allow varying degrees of public access to their materials depending on the company's policies and archival staff availability.
  • Government archives are repositories that collect materials relating to local, state, or national government entities. This is the description that best fits the Harris County Archives.
  • Historical societies are organizations that seek to preserve and promote interest in the history of a region, a historical period, nongovernment organizations, or a subject. The collections of historical societies typically focus on a state or a community, and may be in charge of maintaining some governmental records as well.
  • Museums and archives share the goal of preserving items of historical significance, but museums tend to have a greater emphasis on exhibiting those items, and maintaining diverse collections of artifacts or artwork rather than books and papers. Any of the types of repositories mentioned in this list may incorporate a museum, or museums may be stand-alone institutions. Likewise, stand-alone museums may contain libraries and/or archives.
  • Religious archives are archives relating to the traditions or institutions of a major faith, denominations within a faith, or individual places of worship. The materials stored in these repositories may be available to the public, or may exist solely to serve members of the faith or the institution by which they were created.
  • Special collections are institutions containing materials from individuals, families, and organizations deemed to have significant historical value. Topics collected in special collections vary widely, and include medicine, law, literature, fine art, and technology. Often a special collections repository will be a department within a library, holding the library's rarest or most valuable original manuscripts, books, and/or collections of local history for neighboring communities.