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Access to Archives and Records

Access to some archives and records held in the Library is restricted and subject to a closure period. Records are normally closed for legal, privacy and security reasons.

As agreed by the Library Committee the standard closure period is 50 years. This means records are normally opened in the January 50 years after the date of the last paper or entry in a document, plus one year. This ensures all papers in the document are 50 years old. So, files and volumes for 1956 would normally be opened in January 2007 but if a file or volume covers several years then the last date in the file or volume controls the date it is opened. For example, a file or volume covering 1950 - 1957 will not be opened until January 2008.

The 50 year rule (as it is called) applies to all unpublished documents held by the Library, including central archives and records and those of London & Middlesex General Meeting, those of Quaker and non-Quaker organisations, personal papers, manuscripts and archives donated to the library.

Irrespective of their age some records have to be closed because they are in a fragile state and if used, are liable to be damaged further. If they are over 50 years old and have been microfilmed then researchers will be offered the microfilm.

Reasons for a 50 year closure period

The Library Committee adopts a 50 year closure period because:


  • Witness work means the Society and its members frequently work in sensitive areas and the records hold much sensitive information about this work. Disclosure of the records may prejudice present and future Quaker work or jeopardise the safety of those involved or referred to.
  •  There are a high number of personal records and confidential information about individuals within the records. They are closed on grounds of personal confidentiality, and as before their disclosure may jeopardise the privacy of individuals or their families.

Additionally, there are many records in the Library that relate to individuals still alive, and under the Data Protection Act 1998 there is an obligation to protect those records.

Extended closure periods

The vast majority of records and archives held in the Library are made available when they are 50 years old. A very few do have an extended closure beyond 50 years. This may be because they are still considered confidential or sensitive beyond the normal closed period. Some may have been donated to the library subject to certain confidential conditions.

Applying to see records less than 50 years old

Sometimes, exceptions can be made to the 50-year rule at the discretion of the Librarian or (in the case of deposited documents) the person or body whose records they are.

In these instances researchers wishing to consult records that are normally closed should apply in writing to the Librarian. Requests are always considered and dealt with very carefully and in consultation with the originating department or committee.

If access is agreed, it is given subject to a declaration of confidentiality signed by the researcher.

If access is refused, and the applicant is not satisfied with the explanation then appeals can be made to the Recording Clerk.

Access to local Quaker records

Many local Quaker archives and records are held in local record offices across the country. The Library Committee advises local meetings that a 50 year closure period is also appropriate to their records, with some longer periods for some items. However, there are differing practices on access to records in local record offices, with some closed for less than 50 years and occasionally some for longer. Researchers wishing to consult local Quaker records are advised to first contact the record office where they are held.

The Library Committee of Quaker Life
The Library of the Society of Friends
Friends House
173-177 Euston Road