SAA’s new Dictionary of Archives Terminology has superseded this Glossary as of 4/29/2020.

Glossary search


The first two editions of the glossary were, from their titles, "For Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers." This glossary targets a wider audience of anyone who needs to understand records because they work with them. It attempts to build a bridge between records, information technology, and business communities by interpreting archival concepts for people in other disciplines, while at the same time explaining those other disciplines to archivists and records professionals.

This glossary is based primarily on archival literature in the United States and Canada, in that order. In a few instances, terms, definitions, and citations from other English-speaking communities are included when relevant. This glossary includes terms that relate to the types of records that someone is likely to encounter when reading archival literature or when working with a fairly typical collection of records, and it emphasizes terms relating to electronic records. It also incorporates terms from the literature of preservation, law, and micrographics, as well as common form and genre terms from architectural and technical drawings, motion picture and video, photography, and sound recording. It includes some words that are no longer in common use, but which are useful when reading older literature; for example, Spindex. The glossary does not include many words specific to affiliated professions, such as rare books or printing.

In general, words with no archival connotation were excluded. While aisles are common in archives, any good dictionary will provide an adequate definition of the term. A few entries are common words or phrases which function as guide terms to illustrate the relationships between other terms. For example, box needs no definition but is included as a bucket term to group cross-references to related terms, such as Hollinger box, Bankers Box, and Phase box. Similarly, the phrase "preservation methods and techniques" is used to point to other entries scattered throughout the alphabet.

The glossary contains more than 2,000 defined entries and more than 600 lead-in terms, and nearly 700 citations from some 280 sources. Some 2,500 cross-references (not counting lead-in terms) in the syndetic structure illustrate relationships between terms.

Key to the Entries


heading, part of speech, variants, and definition index, n. (indexes, indices, pl.) ~ 1. An ordered list of headings that points to relevant information in materials that are organized in a different order. – 2. Publishing · A portion of a book, usually located in the back, that provides an ordered list of subjects covered in the book, with pointers where those subjects are discussed. – 3. Printing · A typographical ornament in the shape of a fist with the index finger extended.
syndetic structure RT: catalog, controlled vocabulary, general index, indexing
notes An index [1] provides no explanation about the information it points to beyond its location. It is distinguished from a catalog, which provides additional information to help determine its relevance. An index may be created on cards, with separate cards for each entry to allow easy interfiling. It may also be on paper, or in a database or word processing file. An index [2] usually uses page numbers for the pointers, but some works may use section numbers.
citations †64 (Burlington Agenda 2001, p. 295): A superficial examination of a printed index would reveal that search engines available at this writing [2001] could retrieve many of its references from the full text of a work, but it is also clear that they could not build the web of relationships and analysis provided by a good back-of-the-book index, nor the navigational support provided by such an index.



Headings in the glossary are alphabetized in word-by-word order. An accented character is sorted after its unaccented equivalent, a digit is filed before a character, and internal punctuation (hyphen, slash, apostrophe) is treated as a space. All sort orders are imperfect, and the use of word-by-word order requires one to know how a term is written to be able to find it. Data base and database sort differently, as do email and e-mail. However,word-by-word order tends to place variant forms in reasonable proximity. The letter-by-letter sort traditionally used by dictionaries is disorienting to many people because they are more familiar with word-by-word order from other contexts; further, a letter-by-letter sort scatters variant forms throughout the alphabet. For example, A/V sorts after attribute and B reel sorts after break. If a multiword phrase is not found, look for it as a single phrase. Conversely, if a single word is not found, look for a compound form.

Headings are singular nouns, with some exceptions. Entries describing a class of material are entered under the plural form (corporate records). Some adjectival and verb forms are defined if there is a significant shift in meaning (write and writing).

Abbreviations and acronyms are almost always entered under the full form, with a reference under the short form (SAA points to Society of American Archivists). However, proper names formed from abbreviations are entered under their short form (the Association of Records Managers and Administrators is entered under the current form of its name, ARMA International). In a few cases where the short form is consistently used instead of full form, this convention is reversed (American Standard Code for Information Interchange points to ASCII).


Parts of Speech, Variants, and Definition

The definition begins with any variants followed by the part of speech, usually a noun, and then by any abbreviations, acronyms, or other forms for different parts of speech.

Definitions are in the same part of speech as the heading, and readers are left to infer definitions for other parts of speech. Other parts of speech or variant forms are explicitly defined if there is a significant shift in meaning. Definitions specific to a discipline or context are preceded by a qualifier in small caps. Definitions are intended to be terse so that they can be substituted for the heading in a sentence.


Syndetic Structure

References indicate the relationships between the term and other terms. Note that not all relationships pertain to all senses. When the association between senses and relationships is significant, the definition or notes provide clarification.


DF Distinguish from A heading that is similar, and that is identical but often confused.
BT Broader term A heading for a more general concept.
NT Narrower term A heading for a more specific concepts.
RT Related term A heading that is closely associated.
Syn Synonyms A heading with very nearly the same meaning.
See   A heading with a fuller discussion of the entry.


Note that not all relationships pertain to all senses. When the association between senses and relationships is significant, the definition or notes provide clarification. References to entries that would sort in close proximity are, with a few exceptions, omitted.



Notes provide a gloss on the definitions, providing background and additional information. Superscripts in the notes relate a note to a specific definition. In the absence of a superscript, the note applies to all senses of the word.



In many cases, citations from the literature are included to give a more complete understanding of the heading. The citations are not intended to define the terms, but to give voice to diverse opinions underlying the concepts around the heading. Sometimes those voices may be contradictory. As such, the citations should not be interpreted to represent professional consensus.

Citations had to be succinct and salient. Some obvious and authoritative sources are missing from an entry because they did not contain an easily extracted citation.

The citations are usually exact quotes, including variant spellings, punctuation, and capitalization. In a few instances, wording was silently altered so that the quote would make sense out of context. For example, the phrase "as discussed above" might be omitted. Significant alterations are flagged using square brackets or an ellipsis. Bulleted lists have been run together. Similarly, paragraphs are run together, and a paragraph mark (¶) is inserted to indicate the new paragraph. Notes in the original text have been omitted, unless they are a substantive part of the citation.

Like notes, superscripts tie citations to specific definitions.

Each citation begins with a reference to its source. A dagger (†) precedes the source number in the Bibliography, followed by a short description of the source. The description is often formed from a familiar mnemonic that may save readers the need to consult the bibliography; for example, appm for Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts, or cfr for Code of Federal Regulations. If a work has no such mnemonic, the short citation is based on the name of the individual or organization responsible for the content or on the first few words of the title. The year of publication, when known, follows the short citation. Finally, any page number or section ends the reference.



Notes and citations occasionally contain links to resources on the web. Links were checked shortly before the glossary went to press. Active links are indicated as 'available.' Links to resources that are no longer active were not so marked.While links are notoriously unstable, resources are more persistent. If a URL is broken, a search on the web for key words in the note or citation or for the URL in the Internet Archives will often locate the resource.