This paper offers an introductory discussion on how archives contain and disseminate information, considered within the context of what is hidden and revealed during the process of creating archival collections. Here, the view is put forth that archival collections can be conceptualized as works, and acts of archival access and use, as acts of reading. The archivist, in evaluating and making accessible archival collections, helps to determine what archival information will remain hidden, and what will be revealed, within a body of records, and how the user will read the archival work.

Archives can be described as assemblages. As objects, they are made up of bodies of records, structures for containing records, and structures for representing and facilitating access to records. They are also defined by policies and practices that determine how they are to be processed, appraised, arranged, and described. The creators of records and the archivist both contribute to the artifactual identity of archival collections. Creators generate the archival content, which is later augmented by the archivist’s contribution of archival structures and interpretations, if the records are selected for retention within an archival repository. The records creator and the archivist are collaborators in the creation and construction of archival collections.

In considering the nature of hiddenness in archives, I offer the perspective that conceptualizing archival use as an act of reading can be helpful in positioning archives as works that are constructed and maintained so that they may be read. This perspective can also aid in better understanding the role of the archivist in constructing archival objects, and in facilitating archival reading and reception. This can allow for a consideration of what can, and what cannot, be read within archival collections.