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(also archive), n. ~ 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.


In the vernacular, 'archives' is often used to refer to any collection of documents that are old or of historical interest, regardless of how they are organized; in this sense, the term is synonymous with permanent records. That use is reflected by archives6, as used within the e-prints community and periodicals such as The Archives of Internal Medicine. Within the professional literature, archives are characterized by an organic nature, growing out of the process of creating and receiving records in the course of the routine activities of the creator (its provenance). In this sense, archivists have differentiated archives from artificial collections.

Many archivists, especially those in the United States who are influenced by the thinking of Theodore Schellenberg, follow an inclusive definition of archives, which encompasses a wide variety of documents and records. Schellenberg also distinguished between the primary and secondary value of the materials; only materials with secondary value, value beyond their original purpose, could be considered archival. For Schellenberg, archivists appraise records for transfer to the archives on the basis of their secondary, research, evidential, or informational value.

Other archivists follow the writing of Hilary Jenkinson, who argues that archives are 'documents which formed part of an official transaction and were preserved for official reference.' For Jenkinson, the records creator is responsible for determining which records should be transferred to the archives for preservation. Because Jenkinson emphasized that records are evidence of transactions, he did not recognize any collections of historical documents as archives, although he noted that collections of personal papers were of value to historians because they complemented archives.

'Manuscript repository' is sometimes used instead of archives3 to distinguish an organization that collects personal papers from an agency that collects the records of its parent organization.

Some United States archivists deprecate the use of the form 'archive' (without the final s) as a noun, but that form is common in other English-speaking countries. However, the noun 'archive' is commonly used to describe collections of backup data in information technology literature.

A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology