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Agency Digitisation Service

Access to unclassified paper records is provided via the Agency Digitisation Service (ADS). The ADS is available in all regions and will enable agencies to receive digital records by secure file transfer application (SFTA) irrespective of the regional office of the National Archives in which the original records are held.

This is part of an ongoing transformation to a digital framework for the National Archives and agencies and is consistent with the Digital Continuity 2020 policy. The ADS is designed to preserve paper files; minimise the impact of handling; reduce the administrative burden and associated costs for the National Archives and agencies to process the collection and return of files; provide better controls over the movement of records; prevent the removal or addition of material by agencies; and allow the re-use of digital images. The service is provided on a cost recovery basis.

An agency request to be exempt from or delay implementation of the ADS may be directed to the Assistant Director-General, Collection Management Branch, by emailing the Lending Service Provisions are also available for emergency access to the original record, for example for freedom of information requests.

What is covered?

The ADS applies to all unclassified paper records held by the National Archives. It applies to:

  • Paper records of A3 size or smaller
  • All unclassified records
  • RNA (retain as national archives, or permanent) records as well as temporary or unevaluated records in custody
  • Records in both the open and closed periods, regardless of their access status (Open, Closed, Open With Exception or Not Yet Examined). Any exempt material will be included in the digitised record.

The National Archives will assess records prior to digitisation and advise the agency if digitised copies cannot be provided.

The following types of records are currently exempt from the ADS and may be issued to the controlling agency or reviewed in a National Archives' Reading Room:

  • Existence of any security classified information (including Protected and above, caveats and information bearing dissemination limiting markers) on a file or a folio/document within a file.
  • Unclassified paper records larger than A3 size.
  • Photographs, microfiche, audiovisual, glass negatives or other formats.
  • Unclassified records that due to the physical state or format of a record are assessed by the National Archives as not suitable for digitisation by the ADS.

Records which are exempt from the ADS may be borrowed through the National Archives’ Lending Service. If the records are very fragile and cannot be easily digitised then the National Archives may ask you to send a staff member to look at them on the National Archives’ premises. If this does not suit you, we may be able to send you a copy. Our staff will consult with you about the best way to give you access to very fragile records.

How will digitised records be made available?

The National Archives provides digitised copies of records to agencies in PDF format (called the access copy) through the SFTA. During 2018 the National Archives will move to digitise records to preservation standards so these images can be stored in the digital archive to reduce the risk of degradation or obsolescence of format and maintain the authenticity of the record. Only the access copy will be made available to the agency and online to the public through RecordSearch if certain conditions are met i.e. if the record is in the open access period and can be made publicly accessible.

What is the standard of service?

The National Archives will complete ADS requests within 30 business days. If you need the record urgently please consider making a request under the Emergency Access (EA) Provisions below. Whenever possible the National Archives will process any agency EA requests that have been approved by the following business day but delays may be experienced if the number of EA requests is high.

How does it work?

An authorised agency officer needs to complete the ADS authorisation form and send it to the central ADS registry: You can nominate as many authorised officers to meet your business needs. Please direct any initial enquiries to

Digitised files are delivered to agencies via the STFA. You will receive an email with a link to the digital records. You can access the records via the link for seven calendar days only before the link is deleted. You will need to download each record within this time period.

Requesting an exemption from the ADS

An agency may request an exemption or a delay to implementation of the ADS. This will also be considered by the National Archives on a case by case basis. The financial pressure of budget constraints for a small agency or if there is a business need for the original records to be retrieved may be taken into account by the delegate.

The National Archives is aware that some agencies digitise their files in-house using the published digitisation standards of the National Archives for preservation purposes. An agency may propose to give the National Archives these digitised files as part of the conditions governing the exemption.

Exemptions from the ADS should be in writing and directed to the Assistant Director-General, Collection Management Branch, by emailing The agency request for an exemption should be issued by a Senior Executive Officer, Band One or above.

If the exemption is approved and the conditions include the provision of the digitised files then arrangements for this to occur will be negotiated between the parties. A sample of digitised records may be requested prior to approval so we can ensure the results meet our specifications for digitisation and metadata. We may also validate the file types provided against the appropriate ISO standards for example PDF/A format against ISO 19005 and ISO 32000. Further arrangements under an exemption will be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

What are the charges?

Under s69 of the Archives Act 1983, the National Archives can charge agencies to digitise a paper file on a cost recovery basis. Agencies will be charged $19.59 to retrieve each file plus a per page cost for digitisation. The Archives (Discretionary Service Charges – Agency Digitisation) Determination 2016 to enable this arrangement has been registered as a legal instrument. Below is the schedule of costs for digitisation. These costs will be offset to some extent by the costs agencies already incur in managing the retrieval, digitisation and return of files (i.e. transport costs and/ or contractor services).

ADS cost

Retrieval of file

Cost for digitisation per page

Fragile record



Non-fragile record



All files require disassembling before digitisation and reassembling post digitisation.

Fragile files are those which have a multiplicity of paper sizes, intricate stapling or joining of papers and which require more pre-digitisation disassembling and need more quality checks in reassembly.

All records are provided in a secure PDF format via the Secure File Transfer Application.

To sign up to the ADS please contact your local Lending Service for further advice. Please lodge any requests for the ADS or a quote with the Lending Service in the location that the records are held.


The National Archives will invoice the agency on a monthly basis for records digitised under the ADS. The invoice will be sent to a pre-approved central contact point. The agency may receive multiple invoices if more than one office provided the ADS. Invoices will be sent to a nominated officer as registered on the authorisation form.

There is no charge for agency access to records in the Research Centre. Records may only be viewed in the Research Centre in the location where they are held and by prior appointment: visiting a National Archives research centre. Access to records held in other states is usually provided via the ADS.


The National Archives will consult with agencies in mid-2018 to seek feedback on implementation of the ADS. More details on the consultation will be provided through the GAIN forums. Feedback can also be provided to the Lending Service in your region.

Emergency Access Provisions

Agencies occasionally require access to the original record in a short turnaround time in order to meet urgent requests. Emergency Access (EA) to the original record is available in the following situations:

  1. Records required for legal proceedings such as Royal Commissions, Commissions of Inquiry and court cases barring any other arrangements.
  2. Records required by the Australian Parliament relating to requests by the Prime Minister, Ministers, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Clerk of the Senate and Parliamentary Departments.
  3. Records required by an agency for a member of the public in an emergency such as Australian citizens who have lost their passport overseas or for any other circumstances as authorised by the National Archives.
  4. Access requests from an agency on behalf of high priority personal records donors that are: current and former Governors-General and Prime Ministers.

If EA is approved then the agency may choose to digitise the record and provide a digital copy to the National Archives.

Access to records subject to a current request for public access may not be provided under EA and suitable alternative arrangements will need to be discussed.

Records issued to an agency should be returned to the National Archives according to standard procedures for returning records to the National Archives.