Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

University Archives: Common Archives Terms

The Delaware State University Archives is home to the historic records of the University community.

Glossary of Terms


This glossary of commonly used archival terms is based in part on and draws several definitions from "A Basic Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers," compiled by Frank B. Evans, Donald F. Harrison, and Edwin A. Thompson (The American Archivist 37 [July 1974]: 415-433). The glossary includes most important archival terms with specialized meanings.


ACCESS: The archival term for authority to obtain information from or to perform research in archival materials.

ACCESSION: (v.) To transfer physical and legal custody of documentary materials to an archival institution. (n.) Materials transferred to an archival institution in a single accessioning action.

ACCRETION: An addition to an accession.

ACQUISITION: The process of identifying and acquiring, by donation or purchase, historical materials from sources outside the archival institution.

APPRAISAL: The process of determining whether documentary materials have sufficient value to warrant acquisition by an archival institution.

ARCHIVAL INSTITUTION: An institution holding legal and physical custody of noncurrent documentary materials determined to have permanent or continuing value. Archives and manuscript repositories are archival institutions.

ARCHIVAL VALUE: The value of documentary materials for continuing preservation in an archival institution.

ARCHIVES: (1) The noncurrent records of an organization or institution preserved because of their continuing value. (2) The agency responsible for selecting, preserving, and making available records determined to have permanent or continuing value. (3) The building in which an archival institution is located.

ARCHIVIST: The professional staff member within an archival institution responsible for any aspect of the selection, preservation, or use of archival materials.

ARRANGEMENT: The archival process of organizing documentary materials in accordance with archival principles.

COLLECTING POLICY: A policy established by an archival institution concerning subject areas, time periods, and formats of materials to seek for donation or purchase.

COLLECTION: (1) An artificial accumulation of materials devoted to a single theme, person, event, or type of document acquired from a variety of sources. (2) In a manuscript repository, a body of historical materials relating to an individual, family, or organization.

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT: The process of building an institution's holdings of historical materials through acquisition activities.

CUBIC FEET: A standard measure of the quantity of archival materials on the basis of the volume of space they occupy.

DEED OF GIFT: A legal document accomplishing donation of documentary materials to an archival institution through transfer of title.

DESCRIPTION: The process of establishing intellectual control over holdings of an archival institution through preparation of finding aids.

DISPOSITION: The final action that puts into effect the results of an appraisal decision for a series of records. Transfer to an archival institution, transfer to a records center, and destruction are among possible dispositions.

DOCUMENT: Recorded information regardless of form or medium with three basic elements: base, impression, and message.

FINDING AID: A description from any source that provides information about the contents and nature of documentary materials.

HOLDINGS: All documentary materials in the custody of an archival institution including both accessioned and deposited materials.

INFORMATIONAL VALUE: The value of records or papers for information they contain on persons, places, subjects, and things other than the operation of the organization that created them or the activities of the individual or family that created them.

INTRINSIC VALUE: The archival term for those qualities and characteristics of permanently valuable records that make the records in their original physical form the only archivally acceptable form of the records.

LINEAR FEET (or METERS): A standard measure of the quantity of archival materials on the basis of shelf space occupied or the length of drawers in vertical files or the thickness of horizontally filed materials.

MANUSCRIPT: A handwritten or typed document, including a letterpress or carbon copy, or any document annotated in handwriting or typescript.

ORIGINAL ORDER: The archival principle that records should be maintained in the order in which they were placed by the organization, individual, or family that created them.

PERSONAL PAPERS: A natural accumulation of documents created or accumulated by an individual or family belonging to him or her and subject to his or her disposition. Also referred to as MANUSCRIPTS.

PROCESSING: All steps taken in an archival repository to prepare documentary materials for access and reference use.

PROVENANCE: (1) The archival principle that records created or received by one recordskeeping unit should not be intermixed with those of any other. (2) Information on the chain of ownership and custody of particular records.

RECORD GROUP: A body of organizationally related records established on the basis of provenance with particular regard for the complexity and volume of the records and the administrative history of the record-creating institution or organization.

RECORDS: All recorded information, regardless of media or characteristics, made or received and maintained by an organization or institution.

REFERENCE MATERIALS: Nonaccessioned items maintained by an archival institution solely for reference use.

REFERENCE SERVICE: The archival function of providing information about or from holdings of an archival institution, making holdings available to researchers, and providing copies, reproductions, or loans of holdings.

SERIES: A body of file units or documents arranged in accordance with a unified filing system or maintained by the records creator as a unit because of some relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use.

SUBGROUP: A body of related records within a record group, usually consisting of the records of a primary subordinate administrative unit or of records series related chronologically, functionally, or by subject.