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A Glossary of Selected Archival Terms

The definitions of the following selected terms are from A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers by Lewis J. Bellardo and Lynn Lady Bellardo (Chicago: The Society of American Archivists), 1992.

Accession: n. ~ 1. Materials physically and legally transferred to a repository as a unit at a single time; an acquisition. – v. ~ 2. To take legal and physical custody of a group of records or other materials and to formally document their receipt. – 3. To document the transfer of records or materials in a register, database, or other log of the repository's holdings.

Accession Number: The unique number assigned serially to an accession.

Acquisition: An addition to the holdings of a records center, archives, or manuscript repository, whether received by transfer under an established and legally based procedure, by deposit, purchase, gift, or bequest.

Acquisition Policy: An official statement issued by an archives or manuscript repository identifying the kinds of materials it accepts and the conditions or terms which affect their acquisition. It serves as a basic document for the guidance of archival staff and organizations and persons interested in depositing their records or papers.

Administrative records:  (also administrative support records), n. ~ A document that has been preserved because it facilitates the operations and management of an agency, but which does not relate directly to programs that help the agency achieve its mission.

Appraisal: n. ~ 1. The process of identifying materials offered to an archives that have sufficient value to be accessioned. – 2. The process of determining the length of time records should be retained, based on legal requirements and on their current and potential usefulness.

Archival: adj. ~ 1. Of or pertaining to archives. – 2. Records · Having enduring value; permanent. – 3. Records media · Durable; lacking inherent vice; long-lived; see archival quality. – 4. Storage conditions · Not causing degradation. – 5. Procedures · Following accepted standards that ensure maximum longevity. – 6. Computing · Information of long-term value that, because of its low use, is stored on offline media and must be reloaded, or that is in a form that must be reconstructed before use.

Collection: n. ~ 1. A group of materials with some unifying characteristic. – 2. Materials assembled by a person, organization, or repository from a variety of sources; an artificial collection.

Collections: ~ 3. The holdings of a repository.

Container List: n. ~ The part of a finding aid that indicates the range of materials in each box (or other container) in a collection.  A container list may include the title of the series and a description of the first and last items in the container, omitting descriptions of materials between, or it may merely list the series in each box. A container list may contain shelf locations. A container list is distinguished from a folder list, which includes a description of each folder in the container.

Current Records: n. ~ Records that continue to be used with sufficient frequency to justify keeping them in the office of creation; active records.  The frequency of use that makes records current is subjective. The distinction between active and inactive records attempts to relate the costs of storing records in the office against the costs of retrieving them from off-site storage. If records continue to be active, the cost of frequent retrieval from off-site storage will negate any savings in office storage.

De-accession: ~ The process by which an archives, museum, or library permanently removes accessioned materials from its holdings.

Donor: n. ~ An individual or organization who gives property or money to another without reciprocal compensation.

Finding Aid: The descriptive tool, published or unpublished, manual or electronic, produced by a creator, records center, archives, or manuscript repository to establish physical control and intellectual control over records and or archival materials. Basic finding aids include local regional, or national descriptive databases; guides; inventories; registers; location registers; catalogs; special lists; shelf and container lists; and indexes.

Holdings: n. ~ The whole of a repository's collections.

Inventory: n. ~ 1. A list of things. – 2. Description · A finding aid that includes, at a minimum, a list of the series in a collection. – 3. Records management · The process of surveying the records in an office, typically at the series level.

Material: n. ~ 1. The substance of which something is made. – 2. A thing; a resource1, 3. – 3. An object having physical or intellectual substance.

Oral History: n. ~ 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.

Papers: n. ~ 1. A collection. – 2. A collection of personal or family documents; personal papers. – 3. Government  Records indicating an individual's identity or status. Papers1 is used generically to encompass materials in a variety of formats, including manuscripts, typescripts, clippings, photographs. 'Papers' connotes materials in sheets. It is sometimes used in the title of a collection, even though that collection includes bound works such as scrapbooks or diaries, and may even contain even three-dimensional artifacts. – Papers2 can be equally as encompassing in format but connotes materials associated with an individual or family, apart from official records of a business or organization.

Primary Source: n. ~ Material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness.  Primary sources emphasize the lack of intermediaries between the thing or events being studied and reports of those things or events based on the belief that firsthand accounts are more accurate. Examples of primary sources include letters and diaries; government, church, and business records; oral histories; photographs, motion pictures, and videos; maps and land records; and blueprints. Newspaper articles contemporaneous with the events described are traditionally considered primary sources, although the reporter may have compiled the story from witnesses, rather than being an eyewitness. Artifacts and specimens may also be primary evidence if they are the object of study.

Processing: n. ~ 1. The arrangement, description, and housing of archival materials for storage and use by patrons.

Program Records:  (also substantive records), n. ~ Records that relate to the substantive activities an organization undertakes to accomplish its mission or mandate; operational records2.

Provenance: n. (provenancial, adj.) ~ 1. The origin or source of something. – 2. Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection.

Record: n. ~ 1. A written or printed work of a legal or official nature that may be used as evidence or proof; a document. – 2. 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. – 3. Data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference. – 4. An instrument filed for public notice (constructive notice); see recordation. – 5. Audio · A phonograph record. – 6. Computing · A collection of related data elements treated as a unit, such as the fields in a row in a database table.– 7. Description · An entry describing a work in a catalog; a catalog record.

Sound Recording:  (also audio recording), n. ~ Any medium capable of capturing and reproducing an audible signal.  'Sound recording' is a generic term used to encompass a wide range of formats, including phonograph records, magnetic tape, compact discs, and computer files. The term does not include multimedia recordings that include sound, such as the soundtrack on a motion

Visual Materials: n. ~ A generic term used to collectively describe items of a pictorial nature, including prints, paintings, photographs, motion pictures, and video.