Glossary search


Broader Term: 
Distinguish From: 

(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.

(APPM2 1989, 1.0A) The preserved documentary records of any corporate body, governmental agency or office, or organization or group that are the direct result of administrative or organizational activity of the originating body and that are maintained according to their original provenance.
(Berner 1983, p. 7) The fateful separation of the historical manuscripts tradition field from the public archives field began in 1910 at the AHA's Conference of Archivists, when the application of library principles was attacked as inapplicable to public archives. The differences that developed meant that the historical manuscripts tradition would remain linked to techniques of librarianship. Public archives, meanwhile, would develop along lines derived from European archival institutions where theory and practice had long been the object of scholarly discourse and refinement.
(Cox 1994, p. 9) Archives are records with ongoing evidential value to the organization and society. Documents are all efforts to use data and information to capture knowledge. Records constitute transactional records within organizations.
(D Levy 2001, p. 96) In an informal and possibly unselfconscious way, we maintain a personal archive, a treasure chest of cherished artifacts and the memories they hold for us. The word 'archives' comes from the Latin arca, originally meaning a place to store things, a box or chest. (In English, we still find ark used in this way, in phrases like 'Noah's Ark' and 'the Ark of the Covenant.')
(Doyle 2001, p. 353) [Leonard] Rapport urged us to consider archives not as permanently valuable, but as worthy of continued preservation – a conceptual shift that justifies the reappraisal of current holdings and revision of the standards by which archivists appraised those records in the first place.
(Henry 1998, p. 315) The value of archives is cultural and humanistic, not just bureaucratic. Archival programs that collect records or personal papers, which may contain electronic media, find the new definition of record [as evidence of a business transaction] bewildering. Personal papers may never show 'evidence' of 'business transactions,' but such archival sources provide a wealth of information needed for society's memory.
(Hirtle 2000, p. 10) In the vernacular, the word archives has come to mean anything that is old or established. . . . A true archives is a contextually based organic body of evidence, not a collection of miscellaneous information. . . . The documents constituting a formal archives are further distinguished by the fact that they have to have been officially produced or received by an administrative body. Such documents become records. . . .
(Jenkinson 1966, p. 11) A document which may be said to belong to the class of Archives is one which was drawn up or used in the course of an administrative or executive transaction (whether public or private) of which itself formed a part; and subsequently preserved in their own custody for their own information by the person or persons responsible for that transaction and their legitimate successors. To this Definition we may add a corollary. Archives were not drawn up in the interest or for the information of Posterity.
(Kaplan 2000, p. 147) The pervading view of archives as sites of historical truth is at best outdated, and at worst inherently dangerous. The archival record doesn't just happen; it is created by individuals and organizations, and used, in turn, to support their values and missions, all of which comprises a process that is certainly not politically and culturally neutral.
(Lubar 1999, p. 14) We use an archives to remember things after they happen. But if we think of the records in archives as points of inscription, as sites of cultural production, we realize that they serve, if not to remember things before they happen, to remember things as they happen. Indeed, the process of 'archivization' makes things happen by allowing us to make sense of what is happening.
(Maher 1998, p. 255) What is most troubling in these pseudo-repositories is their lack of the professional and theory-based application of the seven major archival responsibilities. That is, what defines the professional core of archival work is the systematic and theoretically based execution of seven highly interrelated responsibilities – securing clear authority for the program and collection, authenticating the validity of the evidence held, appraising, arranging, describing, preserving, and promoting use.
(Miller 1990, p. 20) The documents in archival collections relate to each other in ways that transcend the information in each document. The archival whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the relationships are as important as the particulars.