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BCC Archives: Glossary

What is an Archive?

1. Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records.

2. The division within an organization responsible for maintaining the organization's records of enduring value.

3. An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations; a collecting archives.

4. The professional discipline of administering such collections and organizations.

5. The building (or portion thereof) housing archival collections.

6. A published collection of scholarly papers, especially as a periodical.

Introduction to Archival Terminology

Glossary (The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

This glossary of commonly used archival terms is based in part on and draws several definitions from "A Basic Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers," compiled by Frank B. Evans, Donald F. Harrison, and Edwin A. Thompson (The American Archivist 37 [July 1974]: 415-433). The glossary includes most important archival terms with specialized meanings. Terms that are adequately described in dictionaries; technical manuscript, records management, and preservation terms; and terms relating to automated data processing are not included.

ACCESS
The archival term for authority to obtain information from or to perform research in archival materials.

ACCESSION
(v.) To transfer physical and legal custody of documentary materials to an archival institution.
(n.) Materials transferred to an archival institution in a single accessioning action.

ACCRETION
An addition to an accession.

ACQUISITION
The process of identifying and acquiring, by donation or purchase, historical materials from sources outside the archival institution.

ADMINISTRATIVE VALUE
The value of records for the ongoing business of the agency of records creation or its successor in function.

APPRAISAL
The process of determining whether documentary materials have sufficient value to warrant acquisition by an archival institution.

ARCHIVAL INSTITUTION
An institution holding legal and physical custody of noncurrent documentary materials determined to have permanent or continuing value. Archives and manuscript repositories are archival institutions.

ARCHIVAL VALUE
The value of documentary materials for continuing preservation in an archival institution.

ARCHIVES
(1) The noncurrent records of an organization or institution preserved because of their continuing value.
(2) The agency responsible for selecting, preserving, and making available records determined to have permanent or continuing value.
(3) The building in which an archival institution is located.

ARCHIVES ADMINISTRATION
The professional management of an archival institution through application of archival principles and techniques.

ARCHIVIST
The professional staff member within an archival institution responsible for any aspect of the selection, preservation, or use of archival materials.

ARRANGEMENT
The archival process of organizing documentary materials in accordance with archival principles.

COLLECTING POLICY
A policy established by an archival institution concerning subject areas, time periods, and formats of materials to seek for donation or purchase.

COLLECTION
(1) An artificial accumulation of materials devoted to a single theme, person, event, or type of document acquired from a variety of sources.
(2) In a manuscript repository, a body of historical materials relating to an individual, family, or organization.

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT
The process of building an institution's holdings of historical materials through acquisition activities.

CONTINUOUS CUSTODY
(1) In contemporary U.S. usage, the archival principle that to guarantee archival integrity, archival materials should either be retained by the creating organization or transferred directly to an archival institution.
(2) In British usage, the principle that noncurrent records must be retained by the creating organization or its successor in function to be considered archival.

CUBIC FEET (or METERS)
A standard measure of the quantity of archival materials on the basis of the volume of space they occupy.

DEED OF GIFT
A legal document accomplishing donation of documentary materials to an archival institution through transfer of title.

DEPOSIT AGREEMENT
A legal document providing for deposit of historical materials in physical custody of an archival institution while legal title to the materials is retained by the donor.

DESCRIPTION
The process of establishing intellectual control over holdings of an archival institution through preparation of finding aids.

DISPOSITION
The final action that puts into effect the results of an appraisal decision for a series of records. Transfer to an archival institution, transfer to a records center, and destruction are among possible dispositions.

DISPOSITION SCHEDULE
Instructions governing retention and disposition of current and noncurrent recurring records series of an organization or agency. Also called a RECORDS CONTROL SCHEDULE.

DOCUMENT
Recorded information regardless of form or medium with three basic elements: base, impression, and message.

DONATED HISTORICAL MATERIALS
Historical materials transferred to an archival institution through a donor's gift rather than in accordance with law or regulation.

EVIDENTIAL VALUE
The value of records or papers as documentation of the operations and activities of the records-creating organization, institution, or individual.

FIELD WORK
The activity of identifying, negotiating for, and securing historical materials for an archival institution.

FINDING AID
A description from any source that provides information about the contents and nature of documentary materials.

HOLDINGS
All documentary materials in the custody of an archival institution including both accessioned and deposited materials.

INFORMATIONAL VALUE
The value of records or papers for information they contain on persons, places, subjects, and things other than the operation of the organization that created them or the activities of the individual or family that created them.

INTRINSIC VALUE
The archival term for those qualities and characteristics of permanently valuable records that make the records in their original physical form the only archivally acceptable form of the records.

LEGAL CUSTODY
Ownership of title to documentary materials.

LIFE CYCLE OF RECORDS
The concept that records pass through a continuum of identifiable phases from the point of their creation, through their active maintenance and use, to their final disposition by destruction or transfer to an archival institution or records center.

LINEAR FEET (or METERS)
A standard measure of the quantity of archival materials on the basis of shelf space occupied or the length of drawers in vertical files or the thickness of horizontally filed materials.

MACHINE-READABLE RECORDS
Records created for processing by a computer.

MANUSCRIPT
A handwritten or typed document, including a letterpress or carbon copy, or any document annotated in handwriting or typescript.

MANUSCRIPT
See PERSONAL PAPERS.

MANUSCRIPT CURATOR
The professional staff member within a manuscript repository responsible for any aspect of the selection, preservation, or use of documentary materials.

MANUSCRIPT REPOSITORY
An archival institution primarily responsible for personal papers.

NONRECORD MATERIAL
Material that is not record in character because it comprises solely library or other reference items, because it duplicates records and provides no additional evidence or information, or because its qualities are nondocumentary.

ORIGINAL ORDER
The archival principle that records should be maintained in the order in which they were placed by the organization, individual, or family that created them.

PERSONAL PAPERS
A natural accumulation of documents created or accumulated by an individual or family belonging to him or her and subject to his or her disposition. Also referred to as MANUSCRIPTS.

PRIMARY VALUES
The values of records for the activities for which they were created or received.

PROCESSING
All steps taken in an archival repository to prepare documentary materials for access and reference use.

PROVENANCE
(1) The archival principle that records created or received by one recordskeeping unit should not be intermixed with those of any other.
(2) Information on the chain of ownership and custody of particular records.

RECORD COPY
The copy of a document which is designated for official retention in files of the administrative unit that is principally responsible for production, implementation, or dissemination of the document.

RECORD GROUP
A body of organizationally related records established on the basis of provenance with particular regard for the complexity and volume of the records and the administrative history of the record-creating institution or organization.

RECORDS
All recorded information, regardless of media or characteristics, made or received and maintained by an organization or institution. [The Federal Records Act definition of "records" can be found at: 44 USC Sec. 3301.]

RECORDS CENTER
A records storage facility established to provide efficient storage of inactive records. Legal title to records deposited in a records center is retained by the originating agency.

RECORDS MANAGEMENT
The profession concerned with achieving economy and efficiency in the creation, use, and maintenance of current records.

REFERENCE MATERIALS
Nonaccessioned items maintained by an archival institution solely for reference use.

REFERENCE SERVICE
The archival function of providing information about or from holdings of an archival institution, making holdings available to researchers, and providing copies, reproductions, or loans of holdings.

RESPECT DES FONDS
See PROVENANCE.

REVIEW
The process of surveying documentary materials in an archival institution to determine whether the materials may be open for access by researchers or must be restricted in accordance with law, a donor's requirements, or an institution's regulations.

SANCTITY OF ORIGINAL ORDER
See ORIGINAL ORDER.

SCHEDULE
(v.) To establish retention periods for current records and provide for their proper disposition at the end of active use.
(n.) See DISPOSITION SCHEDULE.

SECONDARY VALUES
The values of records to users other than the agency of record creation or its successors.

SERIES
A body of file units or documents arranged in accordance with a unified filing system or maintained by the records creator as a unit because of some relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use.

SUBGROUP
A body of related records within a record group, usually consisting of the records of a primary subordinate administrative unit or of records series related chronologically, functionally, or by subject.

Archives & Libraries

Libraries in towns (public libraries) or universities (academic libraries) can generally be defined as “collections of books and/or other print or nonprint materials organized and maintained for use.”* Patrons of those libraries can access materials at the library, via the Internet, or by checking them out for home use. Libraries exist to make their collections available to the people they serve.

Archives also exist to make their collections available to people, but differ from libraries in both the types of materials they hold, and the way materials are accessed.

More Archival Terminology

Note

by Maygene F. Daniels (1984)

The following glossary, developed by the then National Archives and Records Service in 1984 for A Modern Archives Reader: Basic Readings on Archival Theory and Practice, is provided on this website as an aid to persons unfamiliar with common archival terms. These definitions are not legally binding and do not represent NARA policy. The updated and more comprehensive A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, compiled by Lewis J. Bellardo and Lynn Lady Bellardo, was published in 1992 and may be purchased from the Society of American Archivists.