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Archives Jargon Demystified: A Glossary of Common Archival Terms

(definitions borrowed or adapted from the Society of American Archivists online glossary)

Accession: Materials physically and legally transferred to a repository (an archives or library) as a unit at a single time; an acquisition.

Appraisal: 1. The process of identifying materials offered to an archives that have sufficient enduring value to be accessioned. 2. The process of determining the length of time records should be kept, based on legal requirements and their current and potential usefulness. 3. The process of determining the market value of an item; monetary appraisal.

Archives: (also 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 (defined in glossary); 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; repository. 6. A published collection of scholarly papers, especially as a periodical.

Archivist: 1. An individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control (defined in glossary) to protect the materials’ authenticity and context. 2. An individual with responsibility for management and oversight of an archival repository or of records of enduring value.

Arrangement: 1. The process of organizing materials with respect to their history and the order determined by the creator, to protect their context and to understand what materials are contained in the collection. 2. The organization and sequence of items within a collection.

Box List: A list of a collection’s boxes, usually including a brief description of the contents.

Collection number: The archival version of a library call number. The identification number for the collection, assisting archivists in locating the collection.

Creator: The individual, group, or organization that is responsible for something's production, accumulation, or formation.

Description: The process of creating a finding aid (research guide) or other tools that improve discovery of and access to collections, that allow individuals to browse information about collections to facilitate access, and that improve security by creating records of collections and by minimizing the amount of handling of original materials.

Finding aid: 1. A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of materials. 2. A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials (i.e. they have working knowledge of what is in the collections) and that assists users to find and understand the materials held in the archives.

Folder List: A list of a collection’s boxes, including folder titles and numbers.

Manuscripts: 1. A handwritten document.  2. An unpublished document.  3. An author's draft of a book, article, or other work submitted for publication.

Original Order: The organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records.

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

Provenance: 1. The origin or source of something. 2. Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection – the lineage of the materials.

Records: 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.

Restricted Materials: Limitations on an individual’s access to or use of materials due to legal limitations (i.e. personnel or student records) or at the donor’s request (i.e. personal information about still-living third-parties). Users may occasionally receive permission to view restricted materials from the donor for donor-requested restrictions.

Scope and Content Note:  A statement summarizing the characteristics of the materials in a collection, the functions and activities that produced them, and the types of information contained therein.

Series: A group of similar records that are arranged according to a filing system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity; a file group; a record series.

Subseries: A body of documents within a series readily distinguished from the whole by filing arrangement, type, form, or content.