Access policy

 1. Aims and objectives

This policy defines the principles that ensure that access to the Centre’s resources and facilities is consistent and fair for all users and in line with professional best practices and relevant legislation. It balances our professional duty to preserve our holdings for future use with the need to give our users the best possible access to resources in our custody. This policy also defines our service delivery principles and the charter standards our communities and ‘stakeholders’ should expect us to meet.

This policy has been compiled in line with the Standard for Access to Archives (2008)(NCA PSQG, 2008).

This policy is subordinate to the Churchill Archives Centre Mission Statement. See also our Collections Care and Conservation Policy and our Collections Development Policy.

2. Principles

The Centre is committed to providing its users with the widest possible access to its resources and facilities, subject to available resources and any legal constraints.

Our communities

The Centre serves a number of overlapping communities and ‘stakeholders’. Based within Churchill College, we have traditionally served as a resource for the College’s own staff and
Fellows, as well as researchers and students within the College, Cambridge University and from around the world. We have also been used as a resource for professional biographers and writers, individuals interested in significant historical figures or those connected with them, media companies and other specialist interest groups, including those providing executive education. We have also identified the depositors of records to the Centre and their heirs as one of our stakeholder groups.

Other stakeholders include the Churchill College Archives Committee (a group of College Fellows and expert external advisers who provide specific oversight of the Centre), the charitable trusts which control funds for the benefit of the Centre or have clear interests in specific collections, and the Patrons, Friends and supporters of the Centre, who provide financial resources to help underpin the work of the Centre (see our policy on Governance and Staffing).

We are aware that not all of our stakeholders are able to visit us in Cambridge and continue to work on developing online services for existing users and possible new communities (see section 6 for further details). We have an online portal through which we publish that material for which we have obtained copyright permissions, and have robust systems for supply of other material to individual remote users requesting copies via the Copyright Act 1988.

We are also aware of the need to engage with school and educational audiences and have developed an Education Policy. We are considering how best to reach international audiences (see section 8 for further details).

Special arrangements apply for media companies wishing to film original material in the Churchill Archives Centre (see our Media Policy).


We are committed to providing access to all, regardless of age*, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, nationality, ethnic or cultural origin, religious belief (or non belief), social background or politics. [* NB: minors under age of 16 may need to be accompanied]

We aim to treat all users equally, recognising that first-time users of our services may need more assistance initially and that depositors of records have certain rights regarding those collections. We recognise the value of the many differing types of user activity and research, regardless of the nature of the research conducted. Those with special requirements are encouraged to make contact and discuss their needs in advance.

We are committed to examining bars to access to our facilities and whether any of our potential stakeholders are not benefitting fully from our services.

The services we can offer

We are committed to providing a public reading room at Churchill College where our collections can be consulted by appointment. All collections accessed in our reading room are produced free of charge for all researchers, though in some cases it may be as digital access copies. We aim to provide on-site visitors with a reading room space that is both pleasant and comfortable to work in, with all necessary resources and equipment readily at hand (see section 4 for further details).

We aim to provide the widest possible access to our catalogue data and have a Cataloguing and Collection Processing Policy in place that covers uncatalogued collections (see section 3 for further details).

We are committed to operating fair and transparent enquiry and reprographics services and undertake to publish details of our charges and terms and conditions (see sections 4 and 5 for further details).

As above, we are committed to the increasing our provision of online resources. Generally, our online catalogues are available free of charge, although access to certain content online may be on a subscription basis (see section 5 for further details).

We regularly work with external partners to make sure that information about the Centre and its holdings is disseminated through collaborative websites, exhibitions and conferences (see section 6 for further details).

Communication and feedback

As far as possible, we will give all stakeholders advance notice of any service reductions or difficulties. Where services are not available to users, it is anticipated that we would seek to provide an agreed and suitable alternative form of provision.

We aim to treat all our communities and stakeholders effectively and with due professional courtesy. Users are encouraged to contribute suggestions, comments and general feedback about our services through our regular surveys of personal visitors and remote users, feedback forms, directly through senior staff and also by email. We have procedures for handling and monitoring complaints when our service may have dipped below the levels anticipated.

Legal compliance

We are committed to operating responsibly within the law, and undertake to maintain clear policies on compliance with relevant legislation (e.g. copyright, data protection and freedom of information). All researchers who consult materials, or are supplied with materials, are expected to abide by relevant legislation relating to the use of these materials.

User responsibilities

The Centre expects its visitors and those using our services to treat our staff and other users with courtesy and respect. Our parent body, Churchill College, reserves the right to refuse admission in the event of serious or repeated inappropriate or offensive behaviour.

On-site visitors are expected to abide by our published rules and regulations and the terms and conditions agreed for access in our reader application form, especially with regard to the handling and treatment of documents.

3. Access to information about our collections

The Centre is committed to provide catalogues and other finding aids so that potential users of collections can identify specific items of interest to them and decide whether to visit the Centre in person and/or order copies of materials. (Catalogues are available in hard-copy at the Centre and wherever possible online via our website).

The Centre has a small but significant ‘legacy’ backlog of uncatalogued collections and regularly receives new accessions of uncatalogued material (for summaries of our new accessions see the annual Accessions to Repositories maintained by the UK’s National Archives). We have a methodology in place for assessing collections and prioritising work and resources on them. Our methodology assesses historical importance and likely research interest and regular internal reviews take place.

To ensure the best possible access to our collections, our catalogues are arranged to meet appropriate professional cataloguing standards (see our Cataloguing and collection processing Policy for further details).

4. Access to services for on-site users

The Centre has supervised reading rooms which can accommodate up to nine visitors each day (Monday-Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, with these opening hours being reviewed annually). Visitors have to reserve a place each day on a “first-come, first-served” basis through an online booking form, or by contacting the Archives Centre directly. New researchers have to register by completing an application form agreeing to our standard terms and conditions.

The reading rooms are equipped to provide appropriate access for visitors to look at original material in various formats, as well as surrogate copies of audio-visual and digital materials. A member of staff is on duty at all times to invigilate the reading rooms. That staff member can offer advice on available sources and any issues arising, as well as guidance on handling documents (all researchers are asked to watch a short video presentation on handling documents).

We allow self-service digital photography by on-site users subject to restrictions for the protection of the documents, and offer a reprographics service where our staff will image items on users’ behalf (see section 5 for further details).

We have programmes in place to offer a variety of talks, exhibitions and tours for stakeholders able to visit the Centre in person. We help maintain a dedicated display space within College that is open to all, and also organise conferences and seminars within Churchill College and beyond on subjects related to the collections we hold. There is a permanent display based on the Archives Centre collections in the Wolfson Foyer.

5. Access to services for remote users

We recognise that not all of our current or potential stakeholders are able to visit us in person and that many might not want to. We are committed to provide suitable services for our remote users. To deliver these services, we have a regularly updated website, and are able to answer basic enquiries and requests for information by post, e-mail and telephone. We pride ourselves in being able to respond quickly to all enquiries, in person or remote. Our standard enquiry service is free to all users and we envisage spending up to 1 hour of work on each external enquiry. We suggest that those with more complicated enquiries use private record researchers.

As above, since the Covid pandemic, we have established a prototype sound hub and are also working towards the purchase of a Digital Preservation Management System with a ‘front end’ to enable the easier supply of digitized archive materials to remote users.

As above, we have an openly available online access portal through which we publish material subject to copyright restrictions, and we are committed both to expanding the material available there as we expand our collections and copyright periods expire, as well as liaising with copyright holders of both new and existing collections to obtain permissions to expand this offering.

We offer a free copying service for researchers of up to one hour per calendar month, as well as providing free access to some previously digitised resources. We also offer a fuller choice of reprographics services for external users above and beyond that free hour, although this may be limited depending on the number of images required and the condition of individual documents. The costs of these services and the time taken for copying may vary and should be explained by staff at the time of ordering.

It takes time to copy archival material because of the care needed to protect the documents and their context. Our pricing structure reflects this. All material is copied in a way that ensures the safety of the items and copies are supplied under the terms of copyright legislation. For further details of the principles behind our reprographics practices, see our Collections Care and Conservation Policy.

6. Other online resources and the exhibition of materials

To enable anyone with a potential interest in our collections and services to find out about them, we aim to provide relevant guides, leaflets and catalogues on our website free of charge. We also contribute information and catalogue data to relevant gateways of information, e.g. providing links to our catalogues through Discovery, the online catalogue of the UK’s National Archives.

The Centre is committed to providing the widest possible access to documents in its custody and to explore the exhibition of materials on and off-site, including loans to other institutions, and the development of web-based delivery of documents with partners and in our own right. We would envisage that much of the content provided would be free to users but recognise that some content may require subscription or other payment.

Increasingly, we are also exploring the promotion of our services and collections through social media and other resources. The Centre has its own social media accounts and regularly promotes “news posts”, research guides and visual research stories on its collection and other developments.

7. Restrictions on access

There may be constraints on using particular collections or documents in our custody. Many of the records we hold are very modern and access restrictions may apply in line with exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 (see also our Policy on access, Freedom of Information and data protection). Certain records may be also unavailable until fully catalogued (see section 3 for further details) and the Centre’s staff should be able to explain any restrictions in place.

Certain items that are too fragile to be safely handled may not be available. In certain cases, a surrogate may be produced in place of the original. Where any restrictions are imposed, an explanation will be provided in our catalogues or from staff members. Certain of our collections also have poor or little archival packaging. These materials may be produced in smaller sub-sections to make them less vulnerable to theft or being misplaced after use.

8. Access and audience development

We are committed to working with current and potential partners and contacts (regionally, nationally and internationally) to maximise the accessibility of our collections and open up their content to a wider range of users. We aim to be proactive in developing audiences for our resources and to employ new and developing technologies as access, delivery and educational tools.

Reviewed by: Andrew Riley
Date: September 2023
Date of next review: October 2024