Retrieving records from the National Archives for agencies

Records in the open access period cannot be removed from the National Archives. Agencies can view records already digitised and made available to the public online or in a National Archives' Research Centre.

Agencies can request access to records not yet in the open access period through the Agency Digitisation Service, as certified copies or arrange a time to inspect the records in a Reading Room.

Which records will the National Archives issue?

From 1 January 2018, the National Archives will provide access to unclassified paper records through the Agency Digitisation Service (ADS). The following types of records are currently exempt from the ADS and may be issued to the controlling agency:

  • 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.

Coordinating your agency's lending requests

Ideally only one person in an agency should be authorised to make lending requests as this will prevent duplicate requests. Please keep us informed about who is authorised to request records on behalf of your agency. Please group lending requests so we can respond to them more efficiently.

Submitting a lending request

To request a record, you need to know the record's series, consignment (or transfer job) and item or file numbers (control symbols). This information is on the consignment lists your agency sent to the National Archives when the record was originally transferred.

If you don't have copies of the consignment lists, or you don't know the consignment number, please contact the National Archives.

You can submit a lending request by:

  • logging on to the RecordSearch system and filling out a lending request form. To do this you must be the authorised person in your agency and have a RecordSearch login. If you do not have a RecordSearch login, please contact us.
  • Email us with a list of records you would like to borrow, including the following information:
    • agency name
    • the name and title of the officer authorised to make lending requests
    • the branch or section you are calling from
    • your telephone number
    • the series and consignment number of the records you want
    • the item or file number, title or description
    • part numbers if applicable; and
    • how you intend to collect the items.

Turnaround times

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, 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.

Digital records

Any born-digital records can be retrieved via Lending Services. Please contact your local Lending office for more details: Email us

Special format requests

The National Archives keeps certain records in low temperature storage e.g. master microfilms, photographs and films. These records require acclimatisation when they are removed from cold storage and before they can be issued. There is about a one week turnaround for such lending requests. Please note these requirements may limit emergency access.

Pick-up arrangements

Please arrange to have your records collected by an authorised courier or person. If you are using a courier, you should give them specific information about the records they will be collecting including your Commonwealth Agency number (CA).

Records can only be issued to an authorised officer. It is your responsibility to make sure that the person collecting the records has an appropriate security clearance.

For information on the handling and transfer of official information, including protectively marked information, and Australian Government security clearances please see the Australian Government Protective Security Policy Framework released by the Attorney-General's Department.

Withdrawing records for sentencing

If your agency has temporary or unevaluated (unsentenced) records stored with the National Archives you may want to withdraw them to sentence them. The process of withdrawing for sentencing is different to the standard Lending Service procedure and you should contact the Agency Service Centre for advice. If your agency needs to keep the records please contact the Lending Service for advice.

Returning records to the National Archives

Within 90 calendar days please return records to the National Archives office that issued them to you. Pack or wrap records securely to prevent damage in transit.

Make sure you return only the records that the National Archives has issued to you so they can be returned to their series and consignment. Records issued through the Lending Service will have a label on the back with details of the request on it.

Returning records after sentencing

After a sentencing project, you may find that some of the records withdrawn need to be returned to the National Archives as they are permanent archival records. You should not return these records through the Lending Service. Instead, you will need to formally transfer them to the National Archives as a new transfer consignment.