What Are Archives and How Do They Differ from Libraries?

Libraries in towns (public libraries) or universities (academic libraries) can generally be defined as “collections of books and/or other print or nonprint materials organized and maintained for use.”* Patrons of those libraries can access materials at the library, via the Internet, or by checking them out for home use. Libraries exist to make their collections available to the people they serve.

Archives also exist to make their collections available to people, but differ from libraries in both the types of materials they hold, and the way materials are accessed.

  • Types of Materials: Archives can hold both published and unpublished materials, and those materials can be in any format. Some examples are manuscripts, letters, photographs, moving image and sound materials, artwork, books, diaries, artifacts, and the digital equivalents of all of these things. Materials in an archives are often unique, specialized, or rare objects, meaning very few of them exist in the world, or they are the only ones of their kind.

    Examples of archival materials include: letters written by Abraham Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois), Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural drawings (Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York), photographs documenting the construction of the Panama Canal (Transportation History Collection, University of Michigan Special Collections), and video footage from I Love Lucy television episodes (the Paley Center for Media, New York and Los Angeles).

  • Access to Materials: Since materials in archival collections are unique, the people (archivists) in charge of caring for those materials strive to preserve them for use today, and for future generations of researchers. Archives have specific guidelines for how people may use collections (which will be discussed later in this guide) to protect the materials from physical damage and theft, keeping them and their content accessible for posterity.

    Example: Checking out a book from a library causes it to eventually wear out, and then the library buys a new copy of the same book. Checking out the handwritten diary of a historic figure from an archives would cause the same physical deterioration, but the diary is irreplaceable.

Note that there is a great deal of overlap between archives and libraries. An archives may have library as part of its name, or an archives may be a department within a library.

Example: The Performing Arts Reading Room in the Library of Congress.


*Joan M. Reitz, ODLIS – Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (Libraries Unlimited, 2010), http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_l.aspx.


5 Comment(s) to the "What Are Archives and How Do They Differ from Libraries?"
102476 says:
What a nice post! Thank you

What a nice post! Thank you so much and I am really looking forward to reading more and more articles from you.

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Dayana says:
I want to create my own

I want to create my own archive so I can save the online games I like like monopoly go. It would be great if there were specific instructions for creating a repository.

beryl says:
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101646 says:
Thank you for sharing this

Thank you for sharing this informative overview of libraries and archives. It's important to recognize the distinctions between the two institutions, particularly regarding the types of materials they hold and the access protocols they employ geometry dash unblocked

Libraries and archives both play crucial roles in preserving and providing access to valuable cultural and historical resources. While libraries primarily focus on circulating books and other materials for general use, archives specialize in collecting and preserving unique and rare materials for research and historical documentation.

Understanding these differences helps patrons navigate and appreciate the wealth of resources available in both libraries and archives, contributing to the enrichment of knowledge and understanding in our communities.

100224 says:
An example of archiving

Archiving as a verb means a lot more than a simple archive, which may lead to confusion when trying to differentiate libraries from archives. For example, something like this list of medieval coins is technically archiving but the end result is a glossary not an archive. So I guess what you're trying to say is that an archive, in the literal sense, includes physical items. That list of medieval coins therefore could also be called a "digital archive" to seperate it from traditional analogue archives. I hope that makes things less confusing.

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