Who we are and what we do

On this page

National archives

National archives collect and preserve materials that help document and interpret the country’s history.

They include different types of records such as:

  • letters
  • diaries
  • government and business documents
  • photographs
  • audio recordings
  • maps
  • artwork

These records might represent private or public citizens; private, public, and volunteer organizations; or government departments, committees, and commissions.

One of the national archives’ key roles is to give the public access to these records by organizing, cataloging and describing the holdings in ways that make them easy to find and view.

National libraries

National libraries act as permanent collections of information for the country. In addition to published books, libraries collect rare and early editions of books and related print material.

In our national library, important information about the country’s history is made available to Canadians through the collection and preservation of books, periodicals (magazines and newspapers), music and much more.

One of the national library’s key roles is to give the public access to these materials by acquiring, cataloging and describing the holdings to make them easy to find and view. Much of the collection can be consulted on site.

What's the difference?

For the most part, archives hold unpublished materials such as private records, or records that are not normally otherwise shared with the public. Individual archival holdings may include some previously published documents like newspaper clippings, organizational histories, or annual reports. Libraries mostly contain published materials like books, magazines and newspapers.

LAC's archival collection

We collect a wide variety of record types, including print, audio and visual files. We have archives from the Government of Canada as well as from other organizations and individuals who have national significance to Canada. We do not collect everything. We try to collect archives that will help us know the story of Canada over time.

Common items that we collect include:

  • correspondence, diaries
  • annual reports, meeting minutes
  • operational records of federal government departments
  • maps, plans and related records
  • photographs, drawings, art work
  • films and other audio-visual records
  • military service files

Archives may also collect what is called ephemera, which refers to items that were used briefly like protest posters, flyers or ticket stubs.

The National Library collection

Libraries collect a variety of items, including print, audio and visual materials.

Common items that we collect include:

  • books
  • serials (magazines, newspapers, newsletters)
  • movies
  • music scores
  • music
  • theses and dissertations
  • annual reports
  • microfiche or microfilm
  • published atlases, maps, or plans

Library and Archives Canada archival collection does not include

There are certain records that we do not hold. These include:

  • Records about life events like birth, adoption, marriage, divorce (after 1968) and death, which are kept by provincial governments
  • Records that are held in other memory institutions, like provincial or local archives, or churches.


Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection is the shared documentary heritage of Canadians. Our collection, assembled over the past 150 years, includes the following:

  • over 20 million books published in various languages
  • more than 250 linear kilometres of government and private textual records
  • over 3 million architectural drawings, plans and maps
  • about 5 billion megabytes of information in electronic format
  • 30 million photographic images, including prints, negatives, slides and digital photos
  • more than 90,000 films
  • more than 550,000 hours of audio and video recordings
  • over 425,000 works of art
  • approximately 550,000 items constituting the largest collection of Canadian sheet music in the world
  • national newspapers from across Canada, from dailies to student and community newspapers