National Archives of Costa Rica

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The National Archives of Costa Rica is a decentralized institution of the Ministry of Culture and Youth. It is the governing body of the national archival system; it manages Costa Rica’s documentary heritage and helps to control the notarial practice in the country. Its purposes are to preserve and to diffuse the country’s documentary heritage, to guarantee access to information, to favor the transparency in the administrative task and to support the decision making.

The institution has three national archives namely: Historical, Notarial and Interval (recording center), as well as National Commission of Document Selection and Elimination. Also, Preservation Department’s work stands out.

Since 1936, the institution has been publishing the National Archives Magazine.

The institution was created in 1881. Around 126 people work there, and it is located between the cantons of Zapote and Curridabat at the province of San José.

The National Commission of Document Selection and Elimination of Costa Rica is an advisory body of the General Direction of National Archives, created by the law 7202 in October 24, 1990, and its legal base is in the law’s chapter IV.

The most important function of this committee is to dictate regulations about documents’ selection and elimination, according to its scientific and cultural value. Another function is to settle consultations about documents’ elimination of the producing entities. This is made by the information provided by the entities such as conservation of term tables or requests of partial elimination of documents. In addition, there are valuation reports presented by the professionals of the External Archive Department Services.


Since the colonial age, there were rules issued by the authorities from Spain to regulate the official documents’ preservation, such as real identification cards (there were obligatory rules issued by the king in the West Indies) and real provisions (document used by the royal audience to execute a real identification card to the province’s governors and other lower authorities) which help to prove some established norms with documents during that period.

One of these norms was that papers had to be locked with three keys. There were different renowned community’s people in charge to take care of those papers and to guarantee documents’ preservation.

In 1660, the ensign Juan López de Ortega started a collecting campaign of town’s documents. He threatened with harsh punishments those citizens who kept documents for themselves. With the independence was achieved in 1821, the authorities continued with the healthy custom of preserving documents to dictate different laws that safe permanency of administrative and judicial documents.

However, Costa Ricans’ interest of preserving history was made firm in the 19th century by León Fernández Bonilla. He created the National Archives on July 23, 1881 during Salvador Lara’s government. The first National Archives was located in a rented house. From 1883 to 1889 it was in a National Palace’s office. Then it changed its residence to Saint Thomas University, and it was there until 1957. On this date it was moved to Maria Cristina’s building. Finally, in 1993 it was moved to a modern building located in Zapote; now it is surrounded by green area, free of pollution and it joins all the requirements of current archive specifications.

According to Jose Francisco Murillo’s research about the National Archives of Costa Rica, there are three important stages on this institution’s developing. The first stage was between 1881 and 1888. It was called settlement and restatement because there were disorganized, incomplete and damaged documents. Also, there were a few people working and the building was not adequate.

From 1889 to 1957 the second stage took place when the National Archives of Costa Rica was located at Saint Thomas University. During this time the documentary funds’ organization started functioning, as well as the creation of index card system to consult it. The first National Archives’ regulation was dictated in 1902, and it established technical guidelines to classify and to organize documents. In 1934 an archive’s stamp seal to provide an adequate building for National Archives was created. Then fifty years later (in 1993), the first building’ stage opened. In 1936 National Archives’ Magazine was published to diffuse documentary funds that it preserved and history researches.

The restatement period (1969–1990) is characterized by the endorsement given by governmental authorities that principally came from Organization of American States (OAS) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This support allowed overseas training for National Archives’ staff, mainly in Argentina and Spain. The staff acquired new concepts that allowed them to obtain a fresh vision of archivist task.

Also, Administrative Board was created by the law 5574 in September 17, 1974 with new functions, mainly to provide a proper building to National Archives. Moreover, they created a permanent financing source by a check tax and the obtained resources from archive stamp seals.

The fourth stage called consolidation started in 1990 could be possibly created by National Archives System’s law 7202. This institution got a legal framework by that law, this became the largest Historical Archives in the country and the National Archives System’s governing body.

Also, it could make the wished dream from 1934 come true, which was to obtain a modern building with the required conditions to preserve Costa Rica’s documentary heritage. At this stage, National Archives of Costa Rica has reached to stand out at the national and international levels, mainly in International Council on Archives (ICA) and in the Association of Latin American Archives (ALA).

Historical Archives[edit]

Historical Archives is one of the National Archives’ Departments, and it is the largest of its kind in the country.

Its task is totally related to preservation and facilitation of Costa Ricans’ documentary heritage. The search room called José Luis Coto Conde, is one of the major public accountant spaces. In this place it is possible to consult more than 4.97 miles which are preserved in Historical Archives.

The information is organized in about 300 documentary funds; among them, fifteen are private, seventeen particular, 160 000 are pictures, and 47000 maps and plans.

There are not any kinds of documents; there are only the ones that have scientific and cultural value. This feature is given after a process by National Commission of Document Selection and Elimination. When a document has a scientific and cultural value, means that it fulfills a testimony function and shows Costa Rica’s development.

In documents’ preservation the Preservation Department plays a very important role because it establishes the deposits’ humidity, lighting, temperature, and cleaning.


Historical Archives offers the following services:

  • Documents’ facilitation and loan in the search room José Luis Coto Conde.
  • Reproduction service of pictures, maps, and plans as well as database records, videos and taping.
  • Pictures: they are available in different sizes; the smallest one is of 4 x 6 inches, negative, documents’ reproduction by digital camera.
  • Elaboration of years of service certifications in the public function until 1965.
  • Elaboration of literal transcription certifications of complex reading historical documents.

Notarial Archive[edit]

In the notarized exercise in Costa Rica the Notarial Archive plays an important and current role. As established the legislation in force, in both Notarial Code and Archivists, National Archives System’s law is responsible of gathering, organizing, preserving, and facilitating index and notarial and consular protocols since 1960.

In the external part of the institution, Notarial Archive has a tight relation with entities such as Notarial Superior Council (body in charge of organize Costa Rican notarized and where the National Archives’ Administrative Board has a representing), the Lawyers Association, the different registers of National Register, the Notarial Court and judicial offices in general.

The documentary heritage that shelters this archive is formed by two elements namely:

  1. Notarial and consular protocols from 1960 until now.
  2. Public Instruments Index from 1960 until now.

Interval Archive (recording center)[edit]

The Interval Archive was created in 2000 with the purpose of keeping the documentation with administrative and legal value, and facilitating to the public that need to consult it. In its deposits shelters Ministries and Vice-Ministries transferences, as well as some funds that are considered closed because of institutions disappearance or fusion, such as Costa Rican Anglo Bank.

Coordination of National Archives System[edit]

One of the functions the legislation assigns to the National Archives of Costa Rica is the coordination of National Archives System, which is formed by more than 300 archives of Costa Rican public institutions.

Also, in this labor context, the institution coordinates everything related to the documents transference.

The documents arise in a determined context and cross over different stages. In the conception of documents’ lifecycle, these are born with a utility in the subjects resolutions proper of their creation and function. With the pass of time they lose their administrative and legal validity and just some of them are permanently preserved because of their scientific and cultural value. At the same time, there are different types of archive stages, such as management, central or interval and historical.

The transference is the sum of activities in which produced and received documents by an office, in fulfillment of their functions, are organized to move into a high archive stage.

The rational flow points out that management archives send documents to the institutions’ central archives and these transfer them to the final archive stage. The transference terms of management archives to central archives and from these to National Archives General Direction, are established in the conservation of term tables. The documents will transfer according to the following terms:

  • Management Archives: The documents will stay in the producing administrative offices during five years, in average according to what it is established in the conservation of term tables.
  • Central Archive: When the previous stage is done, the documents with administrative and legal value will be transferred to each entity Central Archives and they will be there for around 15 years. After that, those that have scientific and cultural value will be transferred to National Archives General Direction, with previous determination of National Commission of Document Selection and Elimination.
  • Historical or final Archive: The documents that have minimum 20 antiquity years and they have scientific and cultural value; they will be transferred to be kept in permanently way by National Archives General Direction.

Preservation Department of National Archives of Costa Rica[edit]

In this Department restorations and bookbinding are made, as well as preservation and restoration tutorship of historical documents. Also, the course and workshop of documents warning preservation is taught.

External links[edit]