Making plans for re-opening

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 a growing number of services are planning to re-open in the near future or have re-opened more than once, 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 access for their staff, volunteers and communities. This will offer access to unique resources for legal, business, research and community needs.
  2. Reopening 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. Re-opening 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.

As services plan for a potential re-opening in line with social distancing guidance, we anticipate that this will mean reduced opening hours and increased restrictions on access (e.g. introducing the pre-booking of documents and seating) for many archive services which are able to re-open. 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 will differ for each archive and this will not affect their Accreditation or Place of Deposit status for the duration of the emergency. 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. It may be some time before a service can re-open and the effective management of storage spaces will continue to be important. Further guidance may be given about expectations for the medium term when services have some experience of delivering under these new conditions and we can collectively establish good practice assumptions. 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 availability and acceptability of using scarce resources (eg PPE, sanitiser, Perspex) if these are needed more urgently by public health bodies
  • 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 are taking 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 expanded the service to allow larger numbers of readers with an increased document limit. However, reading room services are currently suspended at The National Archives following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a national lockdown in England
  • 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 where possible
  • are making sure we know the maximum of numbers of staff and readers in all our spaces – not just reading rooms – and have set up a booking system so that we can control when they come and for how long. Advance document ordering is essential. The booking system has been updated over time as capacity has increased
  • are keeping in mind that behaviours are changing and people are getting used to social distancing. For example, we know that people will tend to only get into a lift one at a time and we are using signs to support and reinforce this behaviour
  • are ensuring cleaning takes place regularly – in between each document delivery, for example. Document handling staff use gloves for production, while those consulting documents do not use gloves
  • quarantine archival material for 72 hours between uses
  • 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 ensure social distancing takes place
  • have introduced one-way systems, clear barriers on staircases, one-way stairs and separate entrances and exits
  • 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  required by law to wear face coverings during their visit. Visitors who have a legitimate reason not to wear a face covering are asked to indicate this on the form when they book their visit. This helps staff prepare for the visitor’s arrival and ensure that their visit is not delayed.

Surveying visitors

We continue to survey all visitors. The largest contingent of visitors self-identified as academic researchers (47%) while the rest were a mix of professional and personal interest researchers. The average visit length was 2 hours and 45 minutes with 87% of visitors saying that the visit met their expectations. A key finding was that visitors appreciated the support from staff and they felt safe with the social distancing measures we had put in place. Inevitably, not everyone was happy, including users disappointed at not being able to secure a slot to visit and at the document limit restrictions.