Archival terms – Fact sheet 5

During your research at the National Archives you may encounter the following names and terms. Please ask our staff at any time if you need help.

access decision

The decision made by the Archives under the Archives Act 1983 (sometimes in consultation with agencies) that determines whether a record is open for public access.


Usually an Australian Government department or part of a department which creates records. It can also be an Army base, lighthouse, royal commission, statutory authority, diplomatic post, intelligence agency, Antarctic station, etc. The Archives identifies each agency by giving it a CA (Commonwealth Agency) number and describing it in the RecordSearch database.


(i) records that have enduring value for research purposes
(ii) a building or room where archives are kept
(iii) an organisation responsible for the care and control of archival material.


A standard format for identifying records – eg National Archives of Australia: K997, 1/15/2 refers to item 1/15/2 from series K997. Refer to Citing archival records for more information.


The access decision of a record that has been withheld from public access under the Archives Act. See also open and open with exception.

closed period

Records that are not in the open access period, as defined by the Archives Act, are said to be in the closed period and in most cases are not available for public access under the Act (access can be sought under the Freedom of Information Act). Under the Archives Act records are not available for public access until they enter the open access period. See also open period.

Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) system

The cataloguing system used by the National Archives to describe records and to link groups of items (series) to the agencies which created them.

exempt information

Sensitive information defined in section 33 of the Archives Act (eg personal or security related information) which may be withheld from public access beyond the open access period.


To delete exempt information from a copy of a record in order to make the remainder of the record available for public access.


A term used by archivists to describe records that remain or have survived to the present (ie records that have not been destroyed or lost).

finding aid

A reference tool created by the National Archives to help staff and researchers find records. Examples include RecordSearch, item lists, fact sheets, guides.


Usually a single sheet of a file, folder, volume, etc.


The smallest discrete unit in a recordkeeping system which, with others, forms a series. An item is usually a file but can be a volume, map, plan, photograph, computer disc, etc.

item list

A list of items within a series usually providing the item number, title and date range. Item lists are one of the Archives' main manual finding aids.

internal reconsideration

The first stage of the appeal process in which you may apply to the National Archives for review of a decision to wholly or partially refuse access to a record. You have a legal right to request such a review.


The access decision of a record that has been opened for public access under the Archives Act. See also closed and open with exception.

open period

Records created within the open access period, as defined by the Archives Act, are said to be in the open period. The Archives Act provides a statutory right of access to these records. The open period is currently being reduced from 30 years to 20 years over a ten-year transition period from 2011 to 2021. See also closed period.

open with exception (OWE)

The access decision of a record, part of which has been withheld from public access. See also open and closed.


An image bank available on the Archives website which contains images from the National Archives photographic collections.

reader card

A numbered pass issued to researchers using original records in the reading room.

reading room

The area where public and official researchers view records.


A database available on the Archives website that lets you search for information about records held in the National Archives collection. This information currently comprises descriptions of 9000 creators/depositors and over 8 million record items (about 10% of the items in the collection).

reference copy

A microfilm or other copy of a record made to protect a fragile original or to make the record available in more than one reading room.

research agent

A person employed and paid to do research on behalf of another.


Any member of the public using the Archives information services.


A group of similar records usually kept together because they result from the same activity. The Archives identifies each series by giving each a CRS (Commonwealth Record Series) number and describing it in the RecordSearch database.

top numbering

The renumbering and intersorting of items into a more recent series or their integration into another agency's recordkeeping system.

withheld pending advice (WPA)

A temporary restriction on public access pending advice on whether a record contains exempt information.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019