Glossary of Archival Terminology
Access: The ability to locate relevant information through the use of catalogs, indexes, finding aids, or other tools (SAA Glossary, “Access”).
Accession: The goal of accessioning is to establish initial control over a group of records. That control needs to be accomplished for administrative, physical care, and access purposes. Archivists must invest the time necessary for this initial stage of work, as it can be used to inform decisions regarding additional steps to be taken and to establish the priority for future descriptive work on the records (Roe, p. 45).
Acquisition: the subsequent step, after selection, of ensuring that selected material is added to the Collection.
Archival Records: Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs that are preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator.
- A place in which public records or historical documents are deposited and preserved. Archives also refers to the material preserved (source unknown).
- 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 thte 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 (Ritzenthaler, p. 487).
Archivist: An individual who assesses, collects, organizes, preserves, maintains control over, and provides access to information determined to have long-term value (source unknown).
Arrangement: The process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical and intellectual control over the materials (DACS, p. 202).
Bequest: A gift of property made through a will.
Collection: A group of materials determined by custodianship and drawn from a variety of sources – as opposed to an archival fonds or grouping determined by a common context of creation (Monks-Leeson, p. 38).
Context: Context is defined as “the circumstances, setting or facts surrounding an event.” Another way to think of context is as a story. Context, like stories, is made up of relationships. Another way to think of relationships is as linkages.
Creator: A person, family, or corporate body that created, assembled, accumulated, and/or maintained and used records in the conduct of personal or corporate activity. A creator can also be responsible for the intellectual content of a single item (DACS, p. 203).
Custodial History: This element provides information on changes of ownership or custody of the material being described, from the time it left the possession of the creator until it was acquired by the repository, that is significant for its authenticity, integrity, and interpretation (DACS, p. 59).
De-accessioning/disposal: The process by which an archives, museum, or library permanently removes accessioned materials from its holdings. This may mean immediate destruction, short-term or permanent retention, or transfer to another archives.
Deed of Gift: A signed, written instrument containing a voluntary transfer of property title with no monetary consideration. A deed of gift frequently takes the form of a contract establishing conditions governing the transfer of title and specifying any restrictions on access or use (Oetting).
Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS): A set of rules for describing archives, personal papers, and manuscript collections. The descriptive standard can be utilized for all types of archival material. In 2004, DACS was adopted by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) as an official SAA standard (Hackbard-Dean, p. 30).
- Archival description is the process of capturing, collating, analyzing, and organizing any information that serves to identify, manage, locate, and interpret the holdings of archival institutions and explain the contexts and records systems from which those holdings were selected (Walch, definition written by WGSAD 1988).
- The creation of an accurate representation of a unit of archival material by the process of capturing, collating, analyzing, and organizing information that serves to identify archival material and explain the context and records system(s) that produced it (DACS, p. 204).
Documenting: The act or process of substantiating by recording actions and decisions (source unknown).
Encoded Archival Description (EAD): an XML standard for encoding archival finding aids, maintained by the Library of Congress in partnership with the Society of American Archivists (Hackbard-Dean, p. 30).
Ephemera: Materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use (SAA Glossary, “Ephemera”).
Evidential Value: Records that have evidential value document, in the historical sense, the existence and achievements of organizations, and are useful for ensuring accountability within organizations and for writing organizational administrative histories (source unknown).
- 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records. – 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials. It functions much like the preface for a book in that it reveals the origin, background, contents, and arrangement of a collection (SAA Glossary, “Finding Aid”).
- A representation of, or a means of access to, archival materials made or received by a repository in the course of establishing administrative or intellectual control over the archival materials (DACS, p. 204).
- The processor’s link with the researcher (source unknown).
- Explains the content of the collection and how it is arranged (source unknown).
Genre: Genre can be defined as a pattern of communication that conforms to community norms. Genres are not fixed, but are constantly evolving and emerging. Examples of familiar genres range from speech utterances to publications, from text messages to databases, from blogs to formal reports (Archival Science, email to SAA listserv, “Archival Science: Special Issue on Genre,” 23 June 2011).
Gift: Legal ownership of records is transferred to The Black Archives.
Historical Value: Records that have historical value provide information about the past. They often document the development of government and its policies, provide unique evidence of the lives and activities of people, describe social and economic conditions, and record the development of community and business.
Informational Value: Records that have informational value pertain mostly to the external activities that an agency has been engaged in, and are useful for researching people, significant historical events, and social developments.
Intrinsic Value: records of intrinsic value have physical qualities that make it necessary to preserve the record in its original form. With records of intrinsic value, both the message and the medium merit preservation.
Loans: Custody and responsibility for the records is transferred for a fixed period to the Archives, whilst the depositor retains legal ownership. Specific agreements on the nature of the loan and any conditions of use or access will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Medium: The material support of a record’s content and form (DACS, p. 205).
Oral History: 1. An interview that records an individual’s personal recollections of the past and historical events. – 2. The audio or video recordings, transcripts, and other materials that capture and are associated with such an interview (SAA Glossary, “Oral History”).
Original Order: The principle that the order of the records that was established by the creator should be retained whenever possible to preserve existing relationships between the documents and the evidential value inherent in their order (DACS, p. 205).
- The relationships between records and the organizations or individuals that created, assembled, accumulated, and/or maintained and used them in the conduct of personal or corporate activity (DACS, p. 206).
- In archival theory, the principle that archives of a given records creator must not be intermingled with those of other records creators (Oetting, p. 1)
Record: Data or information that has been fixed on some medium; that has content, context, and structure; and that is used as an extension of human memory or to demonstrate accountability (DACS, p. 206).
Research Value: The usefulness or significance of materials based on their content, independent of any intrinsic or evidential value (SAA Glossary, “Informational Value”).
Selection: The process of choosing appropriate items to add to the Collection.
Series: Documents arranged in accordance with a filing system or maintained as a unit because they result from the same accumulation or filing process, the same function, or the same activity; have a particular form or subject, or because of some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use (DACS, p. 206).
- The product of consensus. For products of official standards organizations, like the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), there are explicit procedures including formal review periods and balloting by voting members of the organization. Guidelines are more often compiled and adopted by committees of a professional organization. There are a few exceptions to the “group effort” products. Some of the cataloging manuals, for instance, are the result of an individual’s analysis and explication of current practice (Walch).
- Standards are generally acknowledged to take three forms, from very restrictive and specific to relatively permissive and general in application. Technical standards are the most rigid, conventions are more flexible and accommodate more variation in local practice, and guidelines provide a broad set of practice and/or service criteria against which to measure products of programs (Walch).
Transfer: The process of moving records as part of their scheduled disposition, especially from an office to a records center, or from a records center to an archives. Transfer may involve a change in custody without a change in title (SAA Glossary, “Transfer”).
Hackbard-Dean, Pam, and Susan Potts. Arrangement and Description of Manuscripts Collections. Coral Gables, FL: SAA Workshop, March 18-19, 2010.
Monks-Leeson, Emily. “Archives on the Internet: Representing contexts and provenance from repository to website,” The American Archivist 74, no. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2011).
Oetting, Edward C.. Guidelines for Processing Manuscript Collections. University Archives, S.U.N.Y. at Albany, April 1980.
Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn, and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.
Roe, Kathleen D.. Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005.
Society of American Archivists. Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008.
Society of American Archivists. “Glossary of Archival Records and Terminology.” http://www.archivists.org/glossary/ (accessed November 2, 2010).
Walch, Victoria. “Standards for Archival Description: A handbook, Chapter 1: Evolution of standards for description in the United States.” Society for American Archivists, http://www.archivists.org/catalog/stds99/chapter1.html (accessed November 2, 2010).