Transferring records to the Noel Butlin Archives Centre

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre holds a national collection of business and labour archives, with records about all states of Australia and the Pacific region. A major role for the Noel Butlin Archives Centre is to encourage and assist with the preservation of the records of significant companies, businesses, trade unions and other organisations that have influenced the development of Australia. These records of Australian industry and the labour movement provide the raw material for a wide range of research interests.

Organisations interested in depositing records with the Archives should contact the Archives at for further information. Advice can also be given on the most appropriate location for your records whether at the Australian National University or elsewhere. The Archives's collecting policy governs the acceptance of collections.

procedure guide to transferring records has been developed by the Archives to assist depositing organisations identify records of permanent value, list and despatch these records, monitor the growth of their archival collection in the Archives and use the Archives effectively for their own reference requirements.

Donating records to the Noel Butlin Archives Centre

Why keep records?

This is probably the first question many will ask. There are two main reasons to keep records: archives are the memory of the organisation which produced them - more reliable and longer-lasting than the memories of even the most dedicated and knowledgeable staff, and they are also the raw material from which all history is written.

The Noel Butlin Archives Centre was founded specifically to collect records and make them available for research. Without the records of your organisation, your history cannot be written, and without the records of all the organisations whose records we and other archives hold, Australia's history cannot be written.

What's the benefit to you?

Once records have ceased to be in daily use, many organisations struggle to control them without advice on what should be retained and what can be safely destroyed. Often they are stored in inadequate conditions in basements and storerooms, where because of the lack of control over them, the information content is effectively lost.

Records transferred to the safe keeping of the Archives are organised into series, listed, placed in archival boxes, and stored on steel shelving in a secure, climate-controlled repository. The repository has a security access and fire-suppression system and is regularly fumigated. 

Records are cared for by trained and experienced archivists, who make decisions about conservation treatment and preservation copying, and who supervise their use for research under agreed arrangements for access.

Our staff also respond toy our requests for information from your records, either by sending copies or by lending the original records to you. The list compiled at the time of transfer will assist in narrowing down the records needed for your current business use or for celebrating significant anniversaries.

In summary, the benefits for our depositors are:

  • Storage space is freed for more profitable use
  • Information requests can be answered more quickly
  • Records are protected from deterioration caused by unsatisfactory storage

In addition, the research that is undertaken on the records and the resulting publications are of benefit to the organisation and the industry in which it operates.

Why not just scan or microfilm the records?

This may seem an attractive option but there are drawbacks - the cost is a major one because of the quantities involved and the quality control needed.The longevity of paper is significantly greater than either digital media or microfilm. Digital data needs to be regularly migrated and microfilms recopied at additional expense,while paper will remain usable for centuries. When archives digitise ormicrofilm records this is usually to provide more convenient access and to reduce wear and tear on the originals - the original records are retained because of the instability of the alternative format, so there is no saving on storage costs.

What does the Archives collect?

Our collecting policy specifies what records the Archives collects: in general terms, records of significant Australian companies, federally-registered unions, and nationally significant industry bodies and professional associations. We collaborate with the National Library of Australia and the University of Melbourne Archives, among others, to place records in the most appropriate location.

Our collecting strengths are in the following industries:

  • Pastoral, from large companies and stock and station agents to individual pastoral stations
  • Manufacturing, particularly of agricultural, mining and forestry products
  • Shipping and stevedoring
  • Financial and banking services
  • Health and welfare services
  • Information technology and advertising

We also actively collect records relating to the following subject areas:

  • Immigration
  • Pacific Islands

We do not accept transfers of records which cannot be made available for research. More detail of what we don't collect is available in the procedure guide on transferring records.

Donation versus depositing

Generally, donation of the records to the Noel Butlin Archives Centre is preferred - this is done by a Deed of Gift (see Reference documents section above) which transfers ownership to the University. The Deed may specify what conditions of access are to apply to the records. We may also ask you for an accompanying donation of funds to undertake reboxing or other preservation work on the records.

The Archives is an approved place of donation under the Commonwealth Government's Cultural Gifts Program.To benefit from this program, the records must first be donated to the Archives and valued by approved valuers at the donor's expense. The Cultural Gifts Program Committee will then assess whether a tax benefit will be granted.

Records can also be deposited in the Archives, where ownership is retained by the depositor. This option involves an annual storage fee of $25 a metre per annum, with a minimum charge of $220 including GST. Alternatively, a negotiated upfront donation of funds can be provided in lieu of the annual fee.

If you have records which you would like to place in the Noel Butlin Archives Centre, you should contact the Senior Archivist on 6125 2219 or at in the first instance.

Who uses archives?

A common assumption is that archives are used only to write an official history of an organisation. This is just one of the many uses that are made of archives. For statistical purposes,the Archives keeps track of our researchers and the types of research that are supported by our records. We also maintain a bibliography of works written from the archives. The main types of researchers are:

Academics - historians, economists,demographers, sociologists, linguists, geographers, political scientists and biographers produce books and articles, relating to broad historical developments or to particular events, people or technologies

Family historians - genealogists are major users of archives, and our records provide information about early immigrants,company employees, members of unions and friendly societies, and Aboriginal people living and working on pastoral stations

Local historians - we have records about towns and cities throughout Australia, such as records about hotels in New South Wales, cattle stations in Queensland and the Northern Territory, and land use throughout New South Wales, including mining in Newcastle  

Depositors - your records are available at a day's notice for your use, for writing a centenary history of the organisation or checking up the background to a past decision

Film-makers ­- research our collections to ensure historical authenticity for movies and for photographs, film andsound-bites to include in documentaries

Government departments - local, State and Commonwealth departments use archives to compile heritage reports on significant buildings and sites, and to produce histories, biographies and exhibitions relating to their responsibilities

Heritage architects - research the past use and form of buildings and landscapes to be restored or renovated using plans and photographs

Legal practitioners - records may be produced in court as evidence of where and under what conditions people worked in the past Students - both secondary school and university students prepare assignments and theses on many different subjects.

All users sign an Access Agreement (see Reference documents section above), which ensures that any restrictions that have been put in place are honoured.

What other services does the archives provide?

For new depositors, Archives staff will survey the records in situ to identify records of research value. If this isn't practicable, we will provide advice by phone or email. We can also advise on records management issues, such as electronic record keeping, digitisation projects, and what to do with temporary records, objects and publications. For future transfers and where we are not able to visit, the guidelines for selection of material in the procedure guide to transferring records will assist you through the procedure.

When the records arrive at the Archives a control number is allocated and the records checked against the list, reboxed if necessary, and shelved. The next step is processing the collection and involves examining the records in some detail, establishing their context and researching and recording information about them and their creator. The final documentation consists of information about the organisation and the collection with a final list of material, and will be sent to you once processing has been completed.

Archives staff administer research use of your records according to the agreement made at the time of transfer. We supervise researchers using your records in our Reading Room and ensure they are aware of any restrictions on their use of the records.

Information about your records will be contributed to websites such as

The Archives regularly contributes material to exhibitions, including those organised by other cultural institutions, such as the National Museum. We will advise you of any plans to use your material in this way, as it is often a good opportunity to promote your organisation.

Further advice is available by contacting the Archives.

Conditions of deposit

If you are an existing depositor, additional records may be transferred to the Archives according to the conditions of deposit already agreed between your organisation and the Archives. These usually relate to ownership of and access to the records. Some records may be restricted for a number of years and others only made available to researchers with individual permission from the depositor.

If you wish to change the conditions of deposit (for example, donate records which you currently own under the Cultural Gifts Program) you should contact the Senior Archivist on6125 2219 or at in the first instance.

In summary, in return for allowing your records to be accessed for research purposes, the Archives provides you with:

  • secure and cost-efficient storage
  • re-boxing of records
  • description of records
  • professional appraisal and disposal advice
  • rapid reference and retrieval services
  • supervision of the use of the records.

Transferring records

It is essential to make contact with the Archives before forwarding any records. The Archives will only accept records which fall within its collecting policy and which are of value for future research.

There is a separate procedure guide to transferring records which will help you identify records and prepare them for transfer.

Access to your records

If you need to get access to information in your records, the first thing to do is to check the list of material you have transferred to identify the relevant files. Contact us at or on 02 6125 2219 and we will retrieve the files. Then there are two options:

  • we can copy the information and email, fax or post it to you
  • we can lend the file back to you for short periods (note: only if the records are owned by you and are robust enough to be posted).

We aim to provide a 24-hour service but let us know what your deadline is and we will try to meet it. 

Records management advice

If you require further advice of the management of your records, archives staff are happy to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Our staff have worked in a variety of large and small organisations, both government and business archives, and have many years of experience between them.

Information on the short-term and long-term value of records is available from a number of sources and we can help you find the best advice. For example:

  • We can provide you with a copy of the Trade Union Records Disposal Guide which was jointly published by the Noel Butlin Archives Centre and the University of Melbourne
  • Both the Commonwealth and State records authorities have published guides on the disposal or retention of government administrative records which can be easily adapted to other organisations, eg the National Archives' Administrative Functions Disposal Authority
  • Advice on the management of electronic records is available for the National Archives of Australia including migration of data and archiving websites

Contact the Senior Archivist on 6125 2219 or at