Archive Access and Engagement Policy

1.0 Policy statement

1.1 The National Portrait Gallery Archive Access and Engagement Policy sets out how access to the NPG archives is provided; identifies internal and external stakeholders of the archive; and highlights relevant legislation which the Gallery needs to comply with when providing access.

1.2 The archive access and engagement policy also ensures that access to the archive is consistent and fair for all users and accords to professional best practice and relevant legislation.

2.0 Stakeholders

2.1 The NPG Archives serve the staff of the National Portrait Gallery and other community members who share a research interest in the history of the NPG and its collections, and a history of portraiture. The NPG Archives community contains members from across the world.

2.2 The following stakeholders make up the National Portrait Gallery Archives community (this list is not exhaustive and new stakeholders are welcome to join the NPG Archives Community):

  • NPG staff and volunteers (from departments across the organisation)
  • NPG Trustees
  • University academics
  • University students
  • Family historians
  • Art historians
  • Art dealers
  • Museology historians
  • Media companies and professionals
  • Contractors working on Gallery projects
  • Donors

3.0 External access to the Archive

3.1 Access to the archive is provided by appointment in the Heinz Archive and Library study room which is open 10 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Thursday and supervised by Archive and Library staff at all times. Planned closures to the study room are advertised in advance on the NPG Heinz Archive and Library webpages and on signs within the study room.

3.2 New users are asked to show photographic ID on their first visit and to complete a visitor agreement form, agreeing to conditions of access; when conditions of use change users are required to complete an updated version of the form.

3.3 Relevant personal data is gathered via the access agreement form. In compliance with Data Protection legislation visitors are informed about personal data collection and processing via the Privacy Notice published on the Gallery’s website.

3.4 New users are given an induction to the facilities offered by the study room and guidance on the collections held.

3.5 The study room is equipped with supplies to aid researchers when viewing material from the archive and staff advise users on appropriate handling as required.

3.6 Staff will also provide assistance on using finding aids and catalogues, identifying material relevant to users research interests and advice on other repositories that might hold relevant records.

3.7 Visitors to the archive can have up to 5 units of production from the archive retrieved for them in advance of their visit, where a surrogate copy of material is available this is issued instead of the original document. Users can request to view the original document and archive staff will make a judgement on whether this is possible.

3.8 The NPG archive tries to make all records in its holdings accessible to users. However some records may be restricted from access, this could be for one of the following reasons:

  • General Data Protection Regulation, Data Protection Act 2018 – records containing sensitive personal information about individuals.
  • Business sensitivity – some Gallery records are closed for a period following their creation. Researchers can request access to them under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) by submitting a request in writing to the NPG’s Records and Freedom of Information Manager.
  • Condition of material – records in an unstable condition which are unfit to be safely handled can be withheld from access. Where a surrogate copy exists this will be made available to researchers.
  • Uncatalogued records – material which is uncatalogued can be withheld in order to protect the original arrangement of the records.
  • Donor wishes – donors can sometimes put time constraints on whether certain material in their collection can be accessed or copied. The archive respects the wishes of donors at all times.

When records are not available for access explanations as to why are provided in catalogues or from staff members, who will also make reasonable efforts to extract relevant information for researchers and to communicate it to them subject to compliance with the legislative and business sensitivity factors described above.

3.9 Users are permitted to take non flash photographs of archive records for research purposes only. Photocopying of archive material is not permitted.

3.10 Electronic archival records are currently made available through print outs. Digitised video and audio recordings are made available via NPG laptops, there is currently no means to access audio visual records that have not been digitised in the public study room. It is recognised that improving public access to electronic and AV formats is desirable and both these areas need to be improved.

3.11 In extraordinary circumstances the NPG reserves the right to close the Heinz Archive and Library Public Study Room. Archive and Library staff will make every effort to contact researchers and re-arrange bookings as soon possible.

4.0 Internal access to the archive

4.1 All new NPG staff are given an introduction to the archive at the compulsory welcome day for new starters to the Gallery.

4.2 New staff can receive in depth training from the Archivist depending on the relevance to the incoming post holder’s role; this is determined by their line manager. Inductions for long standing members of staff occur at the commencement of new projects which may use the archive in research or outreach activities.

4.3 Registered packets (portrait acquisition files) are available for consultation by curatorial, conservation and collections staff between 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Staff are asked to record removal of registered packets in a log book and to return material by 5pm. Other members of staff can request to look at registered packets in the Public Study Room by contacting a member of the Archive and Library team.

4.4 All other archive records are available to staff through arrangement with the Archivist who will retrieve requested material and make available to staff in the Public Study Room. Archive staff aim to fulfil staff access requests on the same day if possible, although this is subject to the availability of archive staff, the records being catalogued and in sound condition for production. Where material is uncatalogued the archive team will undertake research to identify relevant records.

4.5 Staff are able to access electronic archive records by request through the reading room folder on the NPG I: Drive.

5.0 Finding aids

5.1 Access to the archive catalogue ( is available via a dedicated visitor PC in the study room and via wifi on users personal laptops and tablets. Paper lists are given to users when necessary.

5.2 Catalogues of records closed to the public for data protection or business confidentiality are made available internally to National Portrait Gallery staff.

6.0 Remote access

6.1 The NPG Archive recognises that not all stakeholders are able to visit the study room in person and is committed to providing a level of access to remote users.

6.2 The NPG Archive will answer all enquiries relating to the archive received by telephone, email or letter within 20 working days of receipt.

6.3 Archive staff will inform enquirers on holdings and answer enquiries relating to archive collections held by the Gallery and the history of the National Portrait Gallery.

6.4 Access to selected material is available online through the Calm view catalogue, project web pages and online exhibitions in the form of digitised images or transcriptions. Provision of this depends on resources available and legal obligations such as copyright law.

7.0 Publication

7.1 Any requests to publish images of archive records are directed to the Gallery’s Rights & Images team and may be liable to a fee.

7.2 Citation guidelines for publication are available on request for anyone wishing to quote from material in the NPG archive.

8.0 Communication

8.1 NPG Archive and Library staff endeavour to treat all users with respect and courtesy and to treat all users equally. The NPG Archives are committed to providing access to all irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religious or political preferences.

8.2 The NPG archive encourages users to contribute suggestions, comments and complaints about the service through survey and comment forms and by talking to staff. When possible the archive will act on suggestions, comments and complaints to improve services and will communicate any changes to staff and users.

9.0 Outreach

9.1 The NPG archive is committed to promoting the records in its care and to making them available to a wide range of audiences.

9.2 The archive provides group visits for educational purposes, interest groups and NPG patrons and supporters.

9.3 The archive allows records to be used in both internal and external exhibitions and displays depending on both the satisfactory condition of material and suitable environmental and security conditions. For external exhibitions and displays the loan out procedures described in the NPG Collections Information and Access Policy (2018) are followed.

9.4 Archive staff encourage the use of archive material in social media produced by the NPG Communications team and for the archive to be included in features written for the NPG website.

9.5 Archive staff use the NPG intranet to promote activities, share guidance and to engage with internal stakeholders.


This policy will be reviewed every five years.

July 2021