General Information Leaflet 71
The National Archives in the Nation's Capital –
Information for Researchers
About Archival Records
"Archives" are important organizational records preserved permanently because they reflect what an organization did and how it went about doing it. In the case of the National Archives of the United States, we preserve the records of all three branches of the Federal Government–the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
We maintain records in record groups that reflect how government agencies created and maintained them. These record groups usually relate to a particular department, agency, bureau, or other entity of the Federal Government. Because records are often organized by function, rather than by subject, you will need to consider carefully the Federal Government's wide range of activities to determine whether your topic can be researched in our records. The majority of our holdings are 30 years old or older and are available for research. Some records, however, are restricted from use because they contain information that is national security classified or otherwise exempted from release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552, as amended). Our staff is ready to assist you in identifying records you need. Some of our documents are not Federal records but are donated materials that help document Federal activities. Generally, individuals, institutions, or companies donate materials that significantly supplement existing records in our custody or provide information not available elsewhere in our holdings. Our motion picture, sound, and video holdings, in particular, contain several bodies of materials from private corporations. We work with donors to establish appropriate conditions for access to donated materials.
Because our records are unique and irreplaceable, each requires careful handling to preserve it for future generations. In order to provide proper protection, archival records cannot be borrowed, and entry into closed stack areas is not permitted. If you visit us for research purposes, we will bring records to you for examination in supervised research rooms, and we will provide you with detailed information about the handling of original records.
We have established a Customer Service Center in each of our Washington, DC, area buildings to provide information about our facilities, including: directions, hours of operation, public transportation information, parking regulations, and services for the disabled. The staff can answer your questions about the location of records, access procedures, restrictions, reference assistance, retrieval schedules, and copying services. The Customer Service Centers will also provide you with NARA address, email, telephone, and web site information. In addition, the staff can assist you with purchasing publications, obtaining free publications, and locating available online information. More details about these and other services are described in the section on "Research Support Services."