Create an access pass and describe your archive

Once your documents have been packaged and stored in a cabinet or archive room, you of course need to be able to find them again. Your organisational plan is an essential tool for this, and additional access passes help to unlock the contents of your archive and locate specific archive items or objects.

(c) AMVB

(c) AMVB

An access pass is a list of descriptions for all the items and objects in your archive or collections. There are various ways of putting a tool like this together. The general rule is: the more detailed the access pass, the more it can help with archive and collection management... but also the longer it takes to put together.

As is the case when organising archives, it’s important to see them as hierarchical structures. All archives consist of different sections which in turn can consist of their own sections. For example:

Organisation X archive (archive or collection level):

  • Organisation X project dossiers (series level)
    • Project Y (dossier level)
    • Project Z (dossier level)
  • Organisation X correspondence (series level)
    • Correspondence from year A (series level)
      • Letter from X to Y on date A (item level)
      • Letter from S to T on date B (item level)
    • Correspondence from year B (series level)

This guideline provides four possible ways to put an access pass together:

  • Draw up a placement list (scenario 1)
  • Draw up an inventory with descriptions at series level (scenario 2)
  • Draw up an inventory with descriptions at item level (scenario 3)
  • Create a description for your archive or collection at the highest level (scenario 4)


Each method differs in level of detail and has its own pros and cons. The method you use depends on the nature of your archive or collections, the reason why you are making an inventory, and the time you have available. You can also use existing access passes to create a new, more detailed one. A placement list is often drawn up first to gain an idea of the archive’s scope and contents. This placement list is later converted into a fully-fledged inventory at series or item level.

It’s also possible to combine different methods within the same access pass. For example, you can draw up an inventory with descriptions at series level, but also describe some series at item level.

As a final tip, we can say that professional archive institutions usually make archives accessible with an inventory at series level. This is often the most cost-efficient way to provide access. You will rarely find an archive that invests in describing each individual letter in a series of correspondence, for example. This is only still done for particularly significant archives or series, such as image and video collections with a high practical value.

Authors: Het Firmament, Florian Daemen (AMVB), Wim Lowet (VAi)

Share this article:          

TRACKS is a collaboration between these partners: