Glossary search



n. ~ 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 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.


An archivist's work with records of enduring value may be at any stage in the records life cycle, from creation onward. In the United States, archivists are typically associated with collections of inactive records. However, the European tradition includes management of active records as well, which in the United States is often the responsibility of a separate records manager. In the United States, archivists may be called manuscript curators, especially if they are responsible for collecting and administering collections of historical records acquired from individuals, families, or other organizations.

In some organizations, an archivist may be responsible for management of active, inactive, and archival records. In other organizations, an archivist may be responsible only for those records transferred to the archives. In a large repository, a practicing archivist may specialize in only one or a few archival functions noted above. A teaching archivist may not be currently responsible for collections but is familiar with the theory and practice of archival functions.

(Adkins 1997, p. 9) The archival profession in the United States began with the establishment of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in 1934. Before that, historians and librarians had shared a common concern for the preservation of archival records and manuscripts, but there were few individuals who called themselves archivists.
(Appraisal Methodology 2000) Macro-appraisal asserts that archivists – not researchers or creators – are society's professional agents appointed by law to form its collective memory. By virtue of their appraisal decisions, archivists actively shape the documentary legacy of their own time.
(Craig and O'Toole 2000, p. 125) Archivists have a dual personality. On the one hand they are cognizant of the utilitarian role of records in administration and the law. From this perspective they view the meaning of documents as largely fixed by explicit procedure, albeit procedure in a context. On the other hand, they are sensitive to the historical changes in records and the contingent circumstances in which they thrived. From this perspective archivists are uneasy about notions of fixed meanings and welcome the changing insights of historically based scholarship.
(Greene, et al., 2001) Anyone who works as a keeper of stuff in a corporate environment cannot afford to worry too much about the fine distinctions between Record Manager, Librarian, Archivist and Document Control Manager. The key is to keep what the corporation needs. Need is difficult to define, but people in corporations know when you have something, or have organized something, in a way they find useful for the task at hand. If you keep stuff no one needs, it is quite likely your collection will be trashed, given away or simply die from lack of use.
(Henry 1998, p. 313) Addressing the problems of volume and complexity of electronic records, some writers began formulating new ideas for dealing with such records. Influenced by the ideas of David Bearman, these writers called for a 'new paradigm' to deal with electronic records. They argued that archivists should change their focus, from the content of a record to its context; from the record itself to the function of the records; from an archival role in custodial preservation and access to a nonarchival role of intervening in the records creations process and managing the behavior of creators.