Viewing records in the reading room – Fact sheet 11

Ordering a record using RecordSearch

To order and view records in a reading room you must be registered as a researcher. To register, go to Search the collection, then select ‘Register’ to enter your details. A login name and reader card number will be generated.

When you visit a reading room for the first time, you will need to show identification so we can verify your identity before issuing a reader card to you. Your reader card must be presented each time you visit a reading room, and each time original records are issued to you.

Once you have identified an item on RecordSearch, check the access status. If this is shown as Open or Open with exception select ‘Issue to reading room’. A ‘Request for Issue’ screen will appear showing your name and reader card number and the details of the record. Print this request and lodge it with the reference officer on duty.

If you are using RecordSearch outside of a reading room, you can print and mail the ‘Request for Issue’ to us in advance of your visit, or submit an advance request to view records.

Applying for access

You will need to apply for access if:

  • the record is listed on RecordSearch but has an access status of Not yet examined (meaning it has not yet been examined for sensitivities)

  • the record is listed on RecordSearch with an access status of Closed (which means that the record consisted entirely of exempt information or the information was not in the open access period), or

  • the record is not listed on RecordSearch.

Why do I need to apply for access?

Under the Archives Act, all records must be examined before they can be released to the public.

How do I apply for access?

You can apply for access online by submitting an access application through RecordSearch. Select ‘Request copy’ on the item details screen. Alternatively, contact us with the details of the item/s (including series number and control symbol).

If you intend on submitting a number of applications, or are undertaking a major academic or publishing research project, please contact our Reference Service beforehand, to let us know when you wish to begin your research and which applications you would like processed first.

What if the records are Open with exception or Closed?

If you submit an application for access for a record that is Open with exception or Closed, we will re-examine the exempt material to see if it still requires exemption.

If the record is Open with exception, you might find it helpful to discuss the nature and extent of the exemptions with reference staff before you submit an application for access. Even if the record is Closed, discussing it with staff first will help you determine whether the exempt information is likely to be relevant to your field of interest and whether you would like us to re-examine it.

Note that the access status for many records may be Open with exception or Closed because at the time they were examined some or all of the papers on the record were not in the open access period. If they are now in the open access period, you can apply for access. In order to ensure that the records are examined for any closed period material prior to requesting to the reading room for viewing, please submit an inquiry via the 'ask us a question' page of our website so that a reference officer can initiate the examination process. When you receive advice that the examination is complete, you can then request to view the files in the reading room.

How long does the examination of records take?

While most examination is completed within a month, it may take up to 90 days and sometimes longer to examine some files. We will let you know if there are delays.

How will I know the results of my application?

We aim to notify applicants of our decision within 90 days, but the time this takes depends on the volume and type of records, the amount of exempt information they contain, and whether the records need to be referred to agencies.

If we withhold access to information on a record, we will provide you with a written statement of reasons explaining why we refused access. In most cases the Act gives you the right to appeal against our decision.

Viewing audiovisual records

ABC, SBS or Film Australia records

If a digital reference copy already exists, we will make the item available in the Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne reading room. If the reading room chosen is not where the item is stored/housed, a delivery (and postage?) charge will be incurred to cover the cost of transferring the item to the reading room of choice. Refer to our copying charges.

If reference copy does not exist, you may inspect the original by looking at the canister or other delivery medium. Access to the content cannot be provided due to copyright and preservation reasons (under section 40(5) of the Archives Act). Please approach the relevant agency for access and copies.

Non ABC, SBS or Film Australia records

If a digital reference copy already exists, we will make the item available in the Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne reading room. If the reading room chosen is not where the item is stored/housed, a delivery (and postage?) charge will be incurred to cover the cost of transferring the item to the reading room of choice. Refer to our copying charges.

If a reference copy does not exist, we will produce a copy for a fee. Refer to our copying charges.

Additional information

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018