Frequently asked questions
- Access to archival records
- Managing our archives
- Central Preservation Library for Government Publications (CPL)
- Visit to Government Records Service (GRS)
- Copyright and reproduction
- Public programme
- Online catalogue
- Microfilm service
- Reference services
Access to archival records
Are all records open to the public?
Access to public records kept by GRS is managed through the Public Records (Access) Rules 1996. In general, members of the public are allowed access to public records which have been in existence for not less than 30 years or the contents of which have at any time been published or wholly disclosed to the public. For details, see Our holdings > Access our holdings
Can I borrow archival records from the PRO?
Archival records are for on-site inspection only.
How do I submit the written application to GRS for access to closed records?
Please open a user account in GRS website and submit on-line application by following the procedures stated in our User Guide.
How long does it take to process the application for access to closed records in GRS?
Upon receiving the written applications, GRS will consultthe records transferring agency on the access status of the records in question. Applicants may be asked to provide additional information to help process their access request. GRS will give the applicants a reply/response within 20 working days after receiving the applications. If the case is complicated (such as involving a large quantity of archival records or several agencies to be consulted), a longer time may be needed to process the application.
How can I inspect the closed records after having GRS' approval?
After permission is granted, please log in your account and reserve the records approved for access by following the procedures stated in our User Guide.User Guide. (Note: Applicants are advised to make reservation as records may not be ready for inspection to those drop-in on GRS.)
Do I need to submit the Application for Access to Information form for accessing PRO holdings?
Application for Access to Information applies only to the access request to GRS's current records. It is not to be used for making access request to PRO archival records or holdings. Access to archival records kept in PRO is handled according to the Public Records (Access) Rules 1996.
For details, see Our holdings > Access our holdings - Access to archival records
Managing our archives
What is “records appraisal” and what kind of records will likely be selected for permanent preservation in PRO?
“Records appraisal” is an important process for ascertaining the archival value of records. Records likely to be selected for permanent retention should possess one of the following qualities:
- document or reflect the organisation, functions and activities of the government agencies;
- document the formation process, implementation and outcome of significant policies, decisions, legislation and actions of the Government;
- document the impact of the decisions, policies and programmes of the Government upon the physical environment, community, organisations and individuals;
- document the interaction between the public and the Government as well as between the physical environment and the Government;
- document the legal rights and obligations of individuals, groups, organisations and the Government; or
- contain significant or unique information or aged documents that can enrich the understanding about the history, physical environment, society, culture, economy and people of Hong Kong.
What preparation work will be taken to facilitate information retrieval and access after the records have been transferred to PRO?
Our preparation work includes records arrangement, accessioning and description.
Records will be arranged according to their origin and original order. Then they will be grouped into different record series based on certain criteria such as their security grading, function, subject matter, filing system and physical format.
Before putting the records in the repository, we will sort, list, stamp and box the archival records. Basic information about the records will be input into the online catalogues. Items with damage will be sent to the Preservation Service Office for treatment.
We describe the records according to international standards (such as International Standard Archival Description [General]) and prepare different kinds of finding aids to facilitate users in identifying the required records from our voluminous archival holdings. Descriptive information of the archival records will be input into our Integrated Information Access System which provides easy and convenient on-line search.
What are the levels of arrangement for archival records held by PRO?
We arrange archival records according to their origins (i.e. creator) and original order.
Consequently, the records will be organised into 5 levels:
1. Fonds/Collection - government/private records belonging to the same creator
2. Records Series - records sharing similar functions, subjects, classification system, physical format and security grading, etc.
3. Deposit - consignment of records transfer from the creator
4. File - an organised unit of documents grouped together by the creator
5. Item - the smallest indivisible unit of archival records
Central Preservation Library for Government Publications (CPL)
What kinds of publications are collected by CPL?
CPL acquires and preserves valuable publications and printed materials of bureaux and departments of the HKSAR Government.
Can I borrow CPL materials for off-site inspection?
All CPL materials are held in closed stack. For preservation reasons, CPL materials are for on-site inspection only.
Visit to Government Records Service (GRS)
How do I get to GRS? Is there any parking?
We are sorry that no parking space is available for the public at the Hong Kong Public Records Building. You are advised to use the parking facilities near the Hong Kong Public Records Building or take the public transportation.
Do I need to make an appointment with your office before I come to view the records?
No appointment is required.
Copyright and reproduction
Can I download images from your website and use them in publications, exhibition or broadcasting, etc.?
If you intend to use the downloaded images from our website for purposes other than private study or research, you are required to seek prior approval from us by sending in a written application giving the details of yourself, the required images with reference number and the purpose of use. For details, see Our holdings > Use and reproduce our holdings
I live outside Hong Kong. Can I still make an order to reproduce the materials?
We entertain requests for reproduction of holdings from overseas. After we receive your request, we will provide you with a quotation of reproduction charges and postage fee. We accept bank draft (with “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” as the payee) and telegraphic transfer payment (TT Payment). All payments should be made in Hong Kong currency. After the payment is settled, we will post the copies to you. For details, see Our holdings > Use and reproduce our holdings - Fees and payments
Can I use my personal photographic device to take photographs of the PRO holdings in the Search Room?
For details, see Our holdings > Use and reproduce our holdings - Using personal photographic device in Search Room
Can I use my personal photographic device to take photographs of digital holdings in Search Room of the Public Records Office?
Users are permitted to use their personal photographic device to take photographic images of contents of digital records displayed in computer monitors subject to the following conditions:
- Submit request form to the PRO reference services counter and obtain PRO staff's approval before using any personal photographic device in the Search Room;
- User undertakes to observe the Copyright Ordinance.
How much does it cost for making copies of your holdings?
For details, see Our holdings > Use and reproduce our holdings - Fees and payments
Do I have to pay for group visit?
This service is free of charge.
How many people can GRS receive in one group visit?
We can entertain up to 40 people in a group visit. The minimum group size is 20 people. If there are more than 40 people in the group, you are advised to split the group and apply for 2 sessions. For details, see Visit us > Group visit
Will PRO entertain request for thematic workshops/seminars for students?
PRO entertains request for workshops/seminars for students with interest in specific type of PRO holdings. We could explore the feasibility of conducting a topical workshop or seminar and work out the details with you. Please email us your request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have all the records in PRO been uploaded in the Internet catalogue?
Similar to the practice of overseas archives, we have uploaded the information on all archival records to the Internet catalogue except for those containing personal data or sensitive content (e.g. security and external affairs). For archival records listed in the Internet catalogue, we are unable to make all of them accessible online because of the large volume of records involved, concerns over copyright and personal data privacy, etc. We have an on-going project to digitise popular archival records for public access through the Internet. Archival records marked with a “Camera” icon can be viewed online by clicking on the icon. For details, please see Our holdings > Search our holdings
What is the Government Microfilm Centre?
The Government Microfilm Centre (GMC) was established in 1997 to provide top quality microfilming services for bureaux and departments. Operated under the Preservation Services Office of Government Records Service, GMC is the first microfilming production centre in Hong Kong to adopt ANSI/AIIM standards in all aspects of microfilming production and process control to ensure usability, durability and court admissibility of microfilm records. It is also the first microfilming operation in Hong Kong to be certified under the ISO 9001: 2008 standard of quality management system as of June 2011.
What kinds of services does Government Microfilm Centre provide?
The Government Microfilm Centre offers a wide range of professional services including:
- Advice on microfilming applications, procedures and indexing design;
- Advice on disposal schedules for the records selected for filming;
- Microfilming of source documents on 16 mm roll film format;
- Microfilming processing and duplication services on polyester based silver halide film which is the specified film type for long term preservation;
- Microfilm quality control services;
- Provision of microfilm storage facilities conforming to international standards; and
- Disposal of filmed source documents and microfilm according to established disposal schedules.
How are services requested from Government Microfilm Centre?
To request services from Government Microfilm Centre, officers of bureaux and departments could simply complete the form GMC 1 (Return for Microfilming Services) and fax to 2142 5759.
What is preservation?
Preservation is action taken to retard or prevent deterioration of or damage to cultural properties, e.g. archives, by control of their environment and/or treatment of their structure in order to maintain them as nearly as possible in an unchanging state. (ICOM Copenhagen 1984)
Why is it sometimes not possible to access the original archive?
Archives deteriorate due to the following external factors:
- Unstable or inappropriate temperature
- Unstable or inappropriate relative humidity
- UV radiation or too high light intensity
- Air pollutants
- Mould growth
Most of these causes of deterioration are reduced in the controlled environment of the repositories of Hong Kong Public Records Building.
Repeated handling of the same archive item is one of the major causes of deterioration in the collection. Therefore items with high frequency of use and high value are surrogated (or duplicated) through microfilming or digital imaging. These microfilm or digital surrogates will be used and accessed by users, instead of the originals.
Can you offer guidance and assistance to me in identifying research materials?
PRO staff introduces users to the online catalogue and finding aids, etc for assisting users in identifying archival records and holdings kept in the archival repository. However, we do not:
- supply a list of holdings on a specific topic;
- answer questions which require analysis and personal view, or conduct research for users personal research, homework, thesis and assignment;
- translate terms and articles;
- conduct research on any topic.
For details, see Our holdings > Before beginning your search - Assistance to users
Can I reserve holdings before coming to your office?
You can only borrow and reserve totally up to 10 records (including file level and item level of archival holdings whose access status is “open” and library materials) through online catalogue "@PRO". Reserved item(s) will only be kept at the Reference Services Counter for one working day specified by you. A reservation can be placed from one working day (before 12:00 noon Hong Kong Time) to one month in advance. For details, please refer to Our holdings > Access our holdings - Request and reserve our holdings
How can I search the records of PRO effectively?
Please note the following tips for effective searching.
In “Online Catalogue”, you may type keyword(s) in “Search” field to locate relevant holdings. In “Advanced Search”, search results can be confined by selecting the holding types, the source and covering year of the holdings, etc. “Keyword(s)” search in “Advanced Search” covers search by titles and description of our holdings; whereas “Title” search covers search by titles of holdings only. Searching by keyword(s) will return more hits than searching by titles in most cases. Our holdings are described in their original language. You are advised to use English to conduct searching in the online catalogue as most of the titles of archival records are in English.
For examples, if you are looking for records about the future of Hong Kong, you may use various keywords such as Future of Hong Kong, Negotiation, Sino-British Agreement, Sino-British Joint Liaison Group, Joint Declaration, Basic Law, 香港前途, 聯合聲明, 基本法, etc. If you are looking for records about 1967 disturbances, you may use keywords such as Bomb(s), Confrontation, Communist, Disturbance(s), Leftwing, Prisoners, Riot(s),暴動, etc. For details, see Our holdings > Search our holdings and Topical guides