Making plans for re-opening

Making plans for re-opening or widening access arrangements

Below are some principles and operational factors that an archive service should take into account when planning for its re-opening following an extended closure. We are aware that the majority of services have now re-opened, but that for others this is still not yet possible. We will continue to update this information so that it remains relevant to the wider archive sector. If you have any feedback, we’d be happy to hear from you at

Principles for plans to re-open

  1. It is a positive and necessary step for archive services to plan to re-open or broaden access for their staff, volunteers and communities. This will offer access to unique resources for legal, business, research and community needs.
  2. Re-opening and broadening access should take a risk-managed approach, recognising individual archive service situations. The institutional and sector context will have an impact on each archive’s plans and The National Archives is available to advise and support local decision making.
  3. This risk management should take account of public health guidance and conservation needs, and not put staff, volunteers, users or other site visitors at risk.
  4. Widening access will be a phased process to allow for effective management of risk, and plans should anticipate the possibility of having to adapt or withdraw access again, should public health and government guidance require it.
  5. Planning should take into account the preparation time for new procedures, workflows and spaces.
  6. Collections should be continually safeguarded during a phased re-opening process, recognising that organisational context and risks will shift during that process.
  7. The situation is changing fast and detailed advice will also change over time, so any plans should be flexible and take account of updated guidance and context. Once in delivery, revised arrangements should be reviewed regularly, in consultation with The National Archives where appropriate.
  8. Altered provision for staff, visitors and volunteers will affect groups and individuals differently. Conducting Equality Impact Assessments for these changes will be helpful to ensure an overview of the effect on each service’s community.
  9. Some archive services may not be able to resume the level of access and operational activity that existed prior to closure in March 2020 and a period of transition may be necessary. Any longer term changes should be based on analysis of user needs and expectations.

As services plan for a broader opening up of service areas, we understand that some services and their parent bodies will want to keep an element of    social distancing in place and we recommend that services  be guided by their local context.  We anticipate that this may mean a continuation of reduced opening hours and increased restrictions on access (e.g. pre-booking of documents and seating) for many archive services for the time being. We also recognise that services may experience a continuing reduction in staff resources or need to support the priorities of their own organisation, which could have an impact on their ability to carry out the full range of core functions.

Places of Deposit and accredited archive services

The priorities and practicalities on re-opening and widening access will differ for each archive and this will not affect their Accreditation or Place of Deposit status at this time. We would expect services to keep new arrangements under review, to adapt procedures in light of experience and to plan to increase activity when it is safe and possible to do so. As arrangements change, the effective management of storage spaces will continue to be important. If you have concerns about the application of specific elements of the Public Records Act or the Archive Service Accreditation standard, please get in touch. There is additional information on the Archive Service Accreditation and Information for Places of Deposit webpages.

Operational factors affecting plans to re-open

  • The possible ongoing fluctuations in staffing levels as a result of shielding, isolating, re-deployment and caring responsibilities
  • The specific layout of buildings and pinch points for anyone (staff, volunteers, users, contractors) needing on-site access
  • Shortfall in revenue for the archive or funding organisation
  • Wider organisational objectives and priorities

Resources for planning a service’s re-opening

The checklist below suggests areas for consideration in planning your reopening, in the context of the principles and operational factors listed above. Not every point will be relevant for all archive services. This list is not detailed in every area but links to existing guidance produced by other bodies in case these are useful for reference. The links and the areas for consideration will be updated as further guidance arises.

Planning for re-opening checklist (DOC, 0.09MB)

You may also find the following template useful for collating information about risks and their countermeasures.

Risk management template (XLS, 0.03MB)

Operational planning at The National Archives

Below we have shared The National Archives’ own operational planning to illustrate the approach we have taken to the resumption of services. However, individual archive services should be guided by the specifics of their own local tier, location, scale and shared facilities.


  • started small and grew the service over time – this included working with small numbers of staff initially, and similarly a limited number of visitors. After our first opening, we have expanded the service to allow larger numbers of readers with an increased document limit
  • are aware that opening is staff intensive even for small numbers of the public and have allocated extra budget for support services such as additional cleaning
  • are maintaining the separation of people (social distancing) and the minimal use of PPE
  • are making sure we know the maximum of numbers of staff and readers in all our spaces – not just reading rooms. We have scaled up our capacity in our reading rooms over time, and updated our booking system in line with this. Readers are strongly encouraged to book in advance, although we can now accommodate some visitors on the day
  • are keeping in mind that behaviours have changed and people are used to social distancing. We are continuing to use signage that expects, encourages, and recommends this behaviour. In some cases where firm limits are necessary, such as lifts, signage will make this clear
  • are ensuring cleaning takes place regularly
  • are employing a mix of some Perspex screens, cheaper ‘sneeze guards’ and pre-printed mats to act as barriers at enquiry desks. We also use other barriers such as low tables to encourage social distancing
  • have retained one-way systems and separate entrances and exits where routes are narrow
  • are conscious that good signage is important
  • have continually tested the flows, use of spaces and systems when they are up and running. We have filmed the process and used this footage as educational tools for staff and customers

Face coverings

All visitors to The National Archives are expected and encouraged to wear face coverings during their visit.

Document quarantine

We have removed the 72-hour quarantine period for all collection material. This decision was made following DCMS guidance around document quarantine, based on PHE advice, published in the Libraries Connected Library Recovery Toolkit (May 2021).

Our decision also takes into account our collection material, document housing materials, document production practices, frequency of use of the collection and additional mitigation measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All staff and readers are strongly encouraged to follow good hand hygiene practices and wear masks in accordance with government guidance, and we continue to clean frequently.

We are not disinfecting archival documents, even those encased in plastic covers or Melinex as the chemicals in the disinfectant could cause a negative and irreversible change to the documents.