Definitions of Archival Terms

Accession – A group of records or archives from the same source, with the same provenance, accepted into an archive repository's holdings at the same time. The process of formally accepting the material is called accessioning. Materials are ascribed a unique, permanent accession number that aims to get material under basic archival control.

Acid-Free – In chemistry, materials that have a pH of 7.0 or higher. Sometimes used incorrectly as a synonym for alkaline or buffered. They may be produced from virtually any cellulose fiber source (cotton and wood, among others), if proper measures are taken during manufacture. Active acid from bleaching, aluminum sulfate from sizing, or pollutants in the atmosphere may lead to the formation of acid unless the paper or board has been buffered with an alkaline substance. PH neutral means the material exhibits neither acid nor alkaline qualities (7.0). Acid in material leads to its chemical degradation and eventual disintegration.

Acquisition – The process of taking materials into your collection through transfer, donation of purchase or the body of records so acquired.

Appraisal – The process of determining value and thus the disposition (retention or destruction) of records based on their current administrative, legal, and fiscal use, evidential and informational value, arrangement and condition, intrinsic value, and relationship to other records

Archival Survey – A formal project conducted to determine the scope of materials in an institution or community


  1. Material relating to the history of an institution that are kept for permanent preservation because of their evidential or informational value (i.e. documents photographs, books, maps, blueprints etc.)
  2. The location at which archival materials are maintained
  3. The organization that cares for archival materials i.e. the people, archivist, the manuscript curator

Artifact – Non-archival materials (objects) retained because of their value. They are generally maintained by a curator rather than an archivist.

Artificial Collection – A collection of materials with different provenance, gathered from different sources by the archivist or collection manager. Most often found in historical societies, this type of collection is useful for focusing on particular topics and gathering together items donated individually. However, natural collections should not be split to create artificial ones.

Collection – The contents of an archives or a specific large group of materials within that Archives

Collection Development Policy – Document that defines what an institution collects and what it does not. Sets a direction for the collecting focus of the organization by expanding on the mission statement.

Conservation – The process of repairing damaged archives and artifacts or restoring them to their original condition.

Deaccession – The process of formally removing items from a collection

Encapsulation – The process of encasing a document in a sealed polyester envelope that provides special support for brittle materials.

Encoded Archival Description (EAD) – A standardized format for information storage. This format is used to place databases describing archival material on the Internet.

Ephemera – Items that are created for a specific event or activity, are often mass-produced, and are not intended to survive indefinitely. (i.e. a handbill, newspaper, menu, etc.)

Evidential Value – In archival appraisal, the worth of a record based on its reflection of the organization and function of the institution or body that created it. Records possessing evidential value provide authentic and adequate "evidence" of an organization's activities, policy, and arrangement.

Finding Aids – Indices to a collection that help establish intellectual control over the archives. Basic finding aids include descriptive inventories, guides, accession registers, card catalogues, shelf lists, and automated databases.

Historical Value – The worth of archival material based on the importance an item or collection to the historical record; the importance of material determined by the information it provides about a community or event

Informational Value – In archival appraisal, the worth of a record based on the information it contains.

Institutional Archives – The records collected to document the history of an institution such as a government body, business, or non-profit organization.

Intrinsic Value – The worth of material based on monetary or sentimental value

Intellectual Control – The management of archives through descriptive documents resulting from the process of arrangement and description.

Lignin-Free – Paper that has been processed to remove the acids found in wood-pulp. A term for paper based supplies that are preservation safe. Materials should be noted as "acid-free / lignin free". Photographic supplies should pass PAT standards.

MARC AMC – (Machine Readable Cataloging for Manuscripts and Archives) The original standard format used to create automated databases describing archives.

Mission Statement – Defines the purpose of an institution or program

Mylar D® (polyester) – A Dupont trade name for a clear, flexible polyester plastic sheet that is often used to cover photographic prints.

Natural Collection – A collection of materials arranged on the principles of "Provenance" and "Sanctity of Original Order"

Nitrate-Based Film - Film base for emulsions popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Composed of cellulose nitrate, a somewhat dangerous compound known for its flammability and explosive properties. Requires special storage conditions including a buffered paper environment and/or cold storage.

Personal Papers – Materials relating to an individual, often housed in a "Special Collections"

Physical Control – The management of archives through their physical organization resulting from processing and taking into account the archival principle of the five levels of arrangement.

PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – A plastic, often abbreviated as PVC. It is not as chemically stable as some other plastics, since it can emit damaging hydrochloric acid as it deteriorates, and therefore has limited application in the preservation of books, photographs, and paper. Some plastics called vinyl may be polyvinyl chloride.

Polyethylene – A chemically stable, highly flexible, transparent or translucent plastic with a low melting point. Used in preservation to make sleeves for photographic materials, when made with no surface coatings or additives.

Polypropylene – A stiff, heat resistant, chemically stable plastic. Common uses in preservation are sleeves for photographs, slides or film; containers. Polypropylene has better clarity than polyethylene and less static charge than polyester.

Preservation – Measures taken to prevent or delay degradation of archival materials. These measures involve using safe (acid and lignin free) storage supplies and providing safe housing for materials.


  1. the origin of a collection, documents the life of the collection i.e. donor, previous owners of the collection
  2. the archival strategy of not intermingle records from different creators or donors. The "creator" is an organization or individual who created, accumulated, and/or maintained and used the records in the conduct of their business or personal life.

Preservation Survey – A formal project that assesses the state of materials within a collection by evaluating the materials' housing environment, the storage materials in which the archives are kept, and the condition of the materials themselves

Records – Documents in any form containing information created by an organization or individual during the course of the their daily activities.

Record Group – A large grouping of materials within a collection, i.e. The records created by the city may be considered a record group.

Record Lifecycle

  1. A term most often used in the field of records management, refers to the original purpose for which a record is created and its subsequent uses. A record is most actively used soon after its creation. With the passage of time, the primary purpose for which a document is created elapses or users need to access the document less frequently.
  2. The phases of the record life cycle include: Creation, Use, Maintenance (Storage, Retrieval, Protection) Disposition (Transfer to less expensive temporary storage area, Destruction, Transfer to archives)

Records Management – Function that controls the creation, maintenance, and disposition of information. Records Management involves controlling the creation of forms and deciding what types of records need to be generated by departments. The Records Management function also controls the flow of paper through the creation of an inventory and schedules that detail how long paper should be kept and when it should be moved to alternate storage.

Sanctity of Original Order – The archival strategy of maintaining records from full collections in the order that they were kept by the creator.

Scope and Content – Description of a collection or its parts.

Secondary Sources – Non-original and mass-produced materials such as photocopies and published items including news clippings, books, and articles. These materials are generally separated from archival resources for preservation purposes and to reduce supply costs.


  1. Records with the same provenance that have a similar theme, resulted from the same activity, or have similar formats
  2. Within a record group, a body of materials that has a similar theme

Special Collections – Groups of personal papers, such as those generally found in an historical society, usually relating to an individual or family.

Vital Records – Those records essential to the continued functioning of an organization