Political archives can be broadly defined, and the definition varies by institution. Generally, political papers can include congressional papers; papers of state and local political figures; political parties; organizations and individuals concerned with public policy; journalists; and diplomats.
Congressional archives are more narrowly defined. They consist of records and personal papers that document the history and activities of the United States Congress. The National Archives and Records Administration’s Center for Legislative Archives collects and preserves the official administrative and legislative records of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The personal papers of individual senators and representatives, broadly called congressional collections or papers, are the private property of members of Congress. Many members choose to donate their papers to repositories where their records are preserved and made available to the public. These typically include legislative files, constituent services files, political campaign and leadership files, personal papers, and office management files.
The information resources documenting the legislative branch of the Federal Government are important for understanding the role Congress plays in making the Nation’s laws and representing the views of the people. They can also help researchers and the public better understand a plethora of legal, social, and economic issues.
Personal congressional papers most often are named for the member of Congress who created them, but congressional papers have more in common with organizational records than those of an individual. Congressional papers document an office—or, more often, offices—and the work of sometimes hundreds of staff members who worked in those offices over several years. Because of this, they are often extremely large in size. It is common for them to contain hundreds or thousands of boxes of papers and several Terabytes of digital records. It can take years for a repository to fully process a collection.