The National Archives now open, offering greater access to our collections
We’re very pleased to be able to welcome visitors back into our reading rooms, offering a limited service to visitors who need access to our collection of original documents for their research. Following regular reviews since our initial re-opening in July, we have expanded our services and increased our capacity, so that we can accommodate more visitors and give them greater access to our collections while ensuring that we keep our visitors and staff safe. All visitors must book their visit and order their documents in advance.
Our second floor map and large document reading room is now also open, and we have increased the number of seats available in our first floor document reading room. Visitors can order more documents each day (nine instead of six), and we have a small number of two-day appointments available for visitors wishing to research bulk document orders (between 20 and 40).
Our building and services will look very different to regular visitors, as we’ve been busy introducing a number of measures to ensure the safety of our visitors and staff. These include:
- New booking system to help us manage visitor numbers – all visits have to be pre-booked without exception, with a limit of one visit per week, and all documents ordered in advance
- New document delivery processes to protect visitors and staff, and to ensure that documents are quarantined appropriately
- One-way systems and capacity controls in frequently used areas
- Floor markers and temporary signage to help with social distancing
- Rigorous cleaning during and at the end of each day
- Easier access to sinks for hand washing and provision of hand sanitiser.
We are asking everyone booking a visit to agree to a coronavirus visitor charter, aimed at encouraging all visitors to do their bit to help us ensure everyone’s safety. We will not permit anyone to enter the building who has not pre-booked, so please do not travel if you have not been able to book as we will not be able to let you in. We are open from Tuesday to Friday, between 10:00 and 14:50.
We are currently able to provide access to our first floor document reading room and second floor map and large document reading room only. Our other facilities remain closed, including our reference library, our exhibition spaces, our on site shop, and our cafés. We are currently unable to provide many of our usual reading room services, including access to microfilm and microfiche, research advice, on site record copying and access to our computers.
We will continue to provide free downloads of digital records on our website for the time being, as we are initially only able to re-open for a very limited number of researchers. We will keep this, and all of our opening arrangements, under constant review.
Our full Q&A below provides more detailed information about our opening arrangements.
What services are available?
Our reading rooms are open to offer a limited service to visitors who need access to our original documents for their research. Visitors must book an appointment to consult up to nine documents which they have ordered in advance.
We have worked hard to get the appropriate procedures and staffing levels in place for us to ensure everyone’s safety, in line with government guidance on social distancing. As a result, we are currently unable to open our other on site facilities, including our reference library, our exhibition spaces, our shop, and our restaurant and cafés. We will also be unable to provide many of our other usual reading room services, including access to microfilm and microfiche, research advice, on site record copying and access to our computers.
Appointments are released on our website on a rolling weekly basis every Monday morning at 10:00. Daily bookings will be available between Tuesday and Friday, when we will be open between 10:00 and 14:50, and your appointment will last for the whole day. We will not permit anyone to enter the building who has not pre-booked a slot, so please do not travel if you have not been able to book as we will not be able to let you in.
In addition, we have now reopened some of our online services that rely on staff being able to access our site, including naturalisation certification, record copying (on a limited basis) and our online shop. Our paid search service remains suspended.
What safety measures are in place?
We’re doing all we can to help everyone feel safe when they’re on site, but we need your help too. We ask that all visitors behave responsibly and respect the measures that we have put in place, including:
- One-way systems and capacity controls in frequently used areas
- Floor markers and temporary signage to help with social distancing (two metres)
- Rigorous cleaning during and at the end of each day, including in washrooms
- Easier access to sinks for hand washing and provision of hand sanitiser.
We will also ask everyone booking a visit to agree to a new coronavirus visitor charter, aimed at encouraging all visitors to do their bit to help us ensure everyone’s safety.
Due to a change in the law, all visitors will be required to wear face coverings during their visit.
We will review these arrangements regularly to ensure that they continue to meet government guidance.
We confirm we have complied with the government’s guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19, and have also now received the We’re Good to Go mark – the UK’s official mark that shows we are following all government and public health guidance to create a safe and clean environment for everyone.
Why do I have to book in advance?
Although we are expanding our services, we are still only able to welcome a very limited number of researchers. This is why we have introduced a booking system to help us manage numbers – we will also be asking visitors to book a maximum of one visit per week initially to help us administer demand fairly. A small number of two-day visits will be available for bulk order bookings.
Visits must be booked at least a week in advance, and will be made available two weeks before the date of the visit, on a rolling weekly basis every Monday morning from 10:00. Each booking is for one person only on a first come, first served basis – you will not be able to bring anyone with you unless they book a visit themselves. Please be considerate of others when you book – we may cancel your booking if you try to book more than one visit per week, unless you have booked a two-day bulk order visit.
Booking in advance will also help ensure that we have sufficient time to quarantine documents before and after they have been handled by others. You will be able to order up to nine documents when you book your visit, and will be able to suggest a smaller list of alternative documents if any of your first choice are unavailable, for example if they are being used by another visitor or if they are in quarantine if another visitor has seen them within the previous 72 hours. We will let you know before you arrive whether any of the documents that you have ordered are likely to be unavailable for this reason.
A small number of consecutive two-day appointments in both reading rooms are now available for visitors wishing to research bulk document orders (between 20 and 40). Appointments are available for Tuesday/Wednesday and Thursday/Friday only. We are able to offer a small number of camera stands for use in the reading rooms – these must also be booked in advance.
If you book a visit and are delayed or unable to attend, please contact us as far in advance as possible using the Live Chat service on our website.
Should I wear a face covering or gloves?
Due to a change in the law, all visitors are required to wear face coverings during their visit. If you are travelling to us on public transport you must also wear a face covering. All of our staff, volunteers and contractors are also required to wear face coverings.
If you have a legitimate reason not to wear a face covering, please indicate this on the form when you book your visit – this will help our staff prepare for your arrival and ensure that your visit is not delayed. If you need to lipread, please advise our staff and they will remove their face covering at a safe distance.
We will not allow gloves to be worn in our reading rooms, unless you are handling photographs, in line with long-standing guidance relating to the preservation of our collection. All visitors are asked to wash their hands thoroughly before and after their visit to the reading rooms.
Are you quarantining documents after they’ve been handled?
Yes. All documents will have to be ordered in advance, at the point of pre-booking a reading room visit. Documents will be delivered to you on a trolley (rather than in our normal document lockers), so that we can minimise human contact before it reaches you. When you have finished looking at your documents, we will quarantine them for a period of time before they can be handled by another visitor.
If another visitor has already handled a document that you have requested within a certain amount of time before your visit, we will be unable to provide you with access to that document – for this reason, we are suggesting that visitors suggest a number of alternative documents that can be supplied if available.
Will document supports, such as wedges and weights, be available?
Yes, we will supply the appropriate document handling aids, including foam wedges and weights, when we deliver your documents to you. These will also be quarantined for 72 hours before and after you use them.
What’s different about the map and large document reading room?
The map and large document reading room, located on our second floor, is where researchers can access some of the larger and older documents from our collection, including rolls, scrolls, maps and parchment, many of which date from before 1688. The desks in this reading room are much larger than in our first floor document reading room, in order to accommodate the specialist needs of the collections researched here.
The map and large document reading room did not re-open in our initial phase, but we are pleased to be able to open it on a limited basis now.
What are bulk orders and how can I use them?
If you wish to research several documents from the same catalogue series, for example from FO 371 (Foreign Office correspondence), we would class this as a ‘bulk order’. You will be able to order between 20 and 40 documents in your bulk order, but they must all be from the same series, without exception.
There are a few series that we cannot supply as bulk orders – we will contact you if your request is for one of these series.
I’ve booked a visit and want to change the documents I’ve ordered, can I do this?
We understand that some of our visitors may change their minds about the documents that they wish to research, and for this reason we may allow you to make changes within the first 48 hours after you have booked your visit – however, this depends on the documents that you wish to research and their availability, and when you have booked your visit. The confirmation email that you receive when you book will include details of how to contact us with any changes to your document order.
These restrictions are in place because of the quarantine arrangements, which are there to keep everyone safe.
Will I need a reader’s ticket to visit, and should I bring it with me?
Yes, but we can make arrangements to renew expired readers’ tickets or issue new ones if you do not have a current reader’s ticket.
If you already have a reader’s ticket, you will be asked to enter the number when you book, and you will need to bring the ticket with you on the day.
If you do not have a current reader’s ticket, there is an option for this on the booking form – on selecting that option you will receive a link within your confirmation email which will allow you to register for your ticket. You will need to register to renew expired tickets as well as apply for a new one. Registration will need to be completed within 24 hours of your booking. You will then need to bring appropriate forms of identification to complete your registration on the day.
Will I be able to get help with my research?
We will of course do all we can to help you with practical advice during your visit, but we will not be able to offer any research advice in person in the reading rooms. The computers in the reading rooms will not be available, although we will continue to provide free wifi for visitors. Our email and Live Chat enquiry services will remain available on our website, and we would recommend that you use them to plan your research before you visit. We are currently unable to respond to phone enquiries.
Can I access the finding aids in the reading rooms?
You will not be able to use our finding aids during your visit, but we may be able to check these for you to help you identify document references when planning your visit. Please use our enquiry form to do this – you will need to specify exactly what you are looking for and which finding aids need to be checked. We will not be able to undertake open-ended searches on your behalf or conduct searches that will take more than 15 minutes to research. If you want more than one search to be conducted on your behalf, we will consider this in light of the number of requests we have received from other researchers. We aim to complete these searches within five working days, but your search may take longer if the finding aids in question are in quarantine after previous use.
Will I be able to use the computers in the reading rooms?
Our computers, used by many visitors to access digitised collections on our website and those of our partners, will not be available when we re-open due to the challenges of keeping them clean and safe for everyone. You will however be able to use your own device to connect to our free wifi.
Will I be able to order documents held off site (at Deepstore)?
Yes, we are now able to offer wider access to our documents, including those stored off site at Deepstore.
Can I leave during the day and return later?
Yes, you will be allowed to leave the building/site to get refreshments, although this will obviously reduce your research time. We’d encourage visitors to bring their own refreshments, where possible.
Will I be able to use the lockers?
A limited number of our ground floor lockers will be available for visitors to use, to ensure sufficient distancing in the locker area. These lockers will be thoroughly cleaned at the end of each day. We’ll also be carefully managing how visitors and staff move in and out of this area, so please try to minimise your return visits to your locker as much as possible.
Will I be able to use the toilets and washrooms when I visit?
Yes – although we have limited the availability of the toilets and washrooms to make it easier for us to keep them clean to a high standard, a number of our public toilets will be open, including our accessible toilets.
Will I be able to get a cup of tea/coffee or lunch?
Although we are not serving any food or drink, we will make a number of tables and chairs available for visitors to use in our restaurant, which has been rearranged to allow sufficient distance from other visitors. You will also be able to use the picnic furniture in our gardens, which remain open and accessible to all. Please be mindful of other visitors and staff, and dispose of your rubbish responsibly.
Will the car park be open?
Yes, our car park will be available and free of charge to visitors who have pre-booked their reading room visit. We’d encourage all visitors to follow government guidance and avoid public transport as far as possible, preferably walking or cycling to The National Archives.
If you have to use public transport to reach us, please check the government guidance for the latest advice and updates on using the tube, bus and train network safely.
Will arrangements for disabled visitors change?
We have worked hard to ensure that our safety measures and new arrangements do not discriminate against any of our visitors. If you need someone to accompany when you visit, they will also have to book a visit. If you have any other special requirements, please let us know when you make your booking.
Can I order copies of documents, instead of visiting the reading rooms?
We are pleased to announce that we have now restarted our record copying service on a reduced and limited basis, which means that you can now order digital and paper copies of records in our collection.
You will be able to place your orders at weekends, between 15:30 on Fridays and 23:59 on Sundays – the service will be switched off outside these hours to allow us enough time to process the orders received. The record copying process will take approximately 29 working days to complete.
We hope to be able to expand the service soon, but reserve the right to suspend the service temporarily to allow us to fulfill outstanding orders.
Our paid search service remains suspended.
Are digital records still free to download from your website?
Yes, we will continue to provide free downloads of our digital collection for the time being, as we are initially only able to reopen our reading rooms for a very limited number of researchers. We will continue to review this regularly.
When will events/education visits/behind the scenes tours etc. resume on site?
We’ve suspended all of our on site events, including school visits and tours, until further notice, but we’ll continue to review the situation and plan to restart them when we are confident that we can deliver them safely.
In the meantime we are providing a wide variety of education and learning resources free of charge on our website, along with a full online events programme. Our social media channels offer behind the scenes glimpses of our collection, including a curator-led tour of last year’s Cold War exhibition.
Why are you collecting information about my visit?
We will keep a secure temporary record of your visit for 21 days, after which it will be destroyed – during this time your information may be shared with the NHS test and trace service if necessary, for example if a visitor on the same day as you tests positive. We are doing this to help reduce the risk of a local outbreak of coronavirus and in line with government guidance, as we want to do everything we can to protect our staff, visitors and the wider community.
Can I still submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request?
Please refer to our detailed Q&A about FOI requests for information about how this service has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.