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Accessing archival terminology and abbreviations

Archivists use specialist terms in the course of their work. This glossary consists of definitions drawn from the International Council on Archives Multilingual Archival Terminology Database and Irish Guidelines for Archival Description (Society of Archivists, Ireland 2009). For the purposes of this document, definitions were selected which reflected the understanding of archival terms in the Irish context.

Access

The ability to make use of material from a fonds or collection, subject to rules and conditions.

Accession

Records sent to the National Archives to ensure their permanent preservation and access.

Accession number

The unique number or code assigned to permanently identify an accession.

Accrual

Record(s) added to an existing collection.

A second or subsequent accession to an existing collection. For example, each year the National Archives accepts accruals from the Department of the Taoiseach as this department continues to create records in the course of its work.

Accuracy

The degree to which data, information, documents or records are precise, correct, truthful, free of error or distortion, or pertinent to the matter.

Acquisition

Materials received by a repository as a unit; an accession.

The process of identifying and acquiring, by donation or purchase, historical materials from outside sources, including government departments, agencies and the courts as well as private donations.

Administrative context

The structure, functions and procedures of the organisational environment in which records were created.

Administrative value

The usefulness of records or archives for the conduct of current and/or future administrative business.

Agency

An arm of the State such as a government department or court office that creates records. Each agency from which records are accessioned is given a specific prefix and identifying code. See Department of State.

 

Annotation

A note added or attached to an original record.

Appraisal

The process of determining the length of time records should be retained.

Archive

A record of enduring or legal value that provides evidence of the activities of a person or institution.

An agency or institution responsible for the preservation and access to records of enduring value that warrant permanent preservation as archives.

Archival description

The process of analysing, organising, and recording details about the formal elements of a record or collection of records, such as creator, title, dates, extent, and contents, to facilitate the work’s identification, management, and understanding.

Archival repository

A place of deposit for archival records.

Archivist

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.

Arrangement

The process of organising records with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical or intellectual control over the materials.

Audit trail

Information in records that track a transaction from beginning to end, making it possible to review whether it was done according to relevant policies and standards.

Documentation of all the interactions with records within an electronic system in which any access to the system is recorded as it occurs.

Authenticity

The quality of a record that is what it purports to be and that is free from tampering or corruption.

Authentic copy

A reproduction that has been officially certified, especially so that it may be admitted as evidence. See Certified copy.

Authentic record

A record that is what it purports to be and that is free from tampering or corruption.

Authority Control

The process of establishing the preferred form of a heading, such as proper name or subject, for use in a catalogue, and ensuring that all catalogue records use such headings.

Backup

A copy of all, or portions, of software or data files on a system kept on storage media, such as tape or disk, or on a separate system so that the files can be restored if the original data is deleted or damaged.

Biographical note

Part of a catalogue record or finding aid that places the materials in context by providing basic information about the materials’ creator or author.

Born digital

An original record created in digital format. A paper record scanned to an electronic system is not born digitally. See Retrospective scanning.

Capture

A deliberate action which results in the registration of a record into a recordkeeping system. For certain business activities, this action may be designed into electronic systems so that the capture of records is concurrent with the creation of records.

Case files

A collection of documents (a file) relating to a particular investigation or in support of some administrative action.

Central registry

A unit of a Department of State responsible for the creation, control and maintenance of current records and/or semi-current records.

Certified copy

An official copy of a document(s) with an accompanying letter and seal of authentication issued by the National Archives for records required for legal purposes.

Certifying Officer

An individual appointed under the National Archives Act, 1986, Regulations, 1988 3(1) by the Secretary General, or equivalent, of a Department of State to oversee the implementation of the National Archives Act, 1986 and Regulations, 1988 within their Department of State.

Chain of custody

The succession of offices or persons who had custody of a body of documents from its creation to its acquisition by the National Archives.

Chronological date

The date (and, possibly, the time of day) of a record, included in the record by its author, or by the electronic system on the author’s behalf, in the course of its compilation.

Class

A group of documents or an identifiable sub-division of a series, record group or archive having common characteristics or the same archival value. Sometimes this term is used to mean series.

Classification

Systematic identification and arrangement of business activities and/or records into categories according to logically structured conventions, methods and procedural rules represented in a classification system to aid business use, continued access and appropriate retention and disposal.

Classification scheme

A plan for the systematic identification and arrangement of business activities and records into categories according to logically structured conventions, methods and procedural rules.

Classification system

A system in which related material is filed under a major subject and its subheadings.

Closed file

A file containing records generated by a process that has been completed and to which additional information is not likely to be added; a cut-off file.

A file that is restricted and which is not on open access to researchers in the reading room.

Collection

An artificial assemblage of documents accumulated on the basis of some common characteristic without regard to the provenance of those documents. Not to be confused with an archival fonds.

Completeness

The property of having every necessary step concluded.

Conservation

The repair or stabilisation of archives to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible.

The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future through examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.

Context

The framework in which a record is created, used, and maintained.

Conversion

Process of changing records from one medium to another or from one format to another.

Copy

A duplication, in whole or in part, of an original document. See Plain copy.

Copyright

A property right that protects the interests of authors or other creators of works in tangible media (or the individual or organisation to whom copyright has been assigned) by giving them the ability to control the reproduction, publication, adaptation, exhibition, or performance of their works.

Covering dates

The dates of the oldest and most recent items in a collection, series, or file.

Creator

The Department of State, agency, corporate body or individual that is responsible for the creation, accumulation or maintenance of records.

Current record

Records regularly used for the conduct of the current business of an agency, institution, or organisation and which, therefore, continue to be maintained in their place of origin; active records.

Custody

The responsibility for the care of documents based on their physical possession. Custody does not always include legal ownership or the right to control access to records.

Data

Facts, ideas, or discrete pieces of information, especially when in the form originally collected and unanalysed.

Database

A structured assembly of logically related data designed to meet various applications but managed independently of them.

Data element

A unit of information as defined within an information system, typically corresponding to a field in a database record or printed form.

Data integrity

The fact that data are not modified either intentionally or accidentally without proper authorisation.

Deaccession

The process by which an archive formally removes material from its custody. An archive may deaccession material because the material has been reappraised and found to be unsuitable for its holdings, the legal owner has requested permanent return of the materials, or the institution has agreed to transfer the materials to another repository.

Departmental record

A Departmental record is defined in section 2(2) of the National Archives Act, 1986 and includes books, maps, plans, drawings, papers, files, photographs, films, microfilms and other micrographic records, sound recordings, pictorial records, magnetic tapes, magnetic discs, optical or video discs, other machine-readable records, other documentary or processed material made or received, and held in the course of its business, by a Department of State.

Department of State

A Department of State is defined in section 1(2) of the National Archives Act, 1986 as all government departments, all court offices, bodies listed in the schedule to the Act and any ‘body which is a committee, commission or tribunal of enquiry appointed from time to time by the Government, a member of the Government or the Attorney General’.

Deposit

To place of documents in the custody of an archives without transfer of legal title.

Description

See Archival description.

Digital preservation

An essential and necessary component of digital archiving ensuring longevity of an electronic object. Digital preservation covers the processes and operations involved in ensuring the technical and intellectual survival of authentic electronic records over time (such as the ongoing monitoring, migration and storage of records and managing the metadata which describes the origin and successive treatment of the record).

Digital record

A record in electronic form. See Born digital.

Diplomatics

The discipline which studies the genesis, forms and transmission of archival documents, and their relationship with the facts represented in them and with their creator, in order to identify, evaluate, and communicate their true nature.

Disaster plan

Policies, procedures, and information that direct the appropriate actions to recover from and mitigate the impact of an unexpected interruption of operations, whether natural or man-made.

Disposal

The transfer of records, especially non-current records, to their final state, either destruction or transfer to the National Archives. Disposal of departmental records without the authorisation of the Director of the National Archives is a breach of section 7 of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Disposition

The range of processes associated with implementing records retention, destruction or transfer decisions which are documented in disposition authorities or other instruments.

Document

Recorded information regardless of medium or characteristics.

Draft

A rough or preliminary form of a document, sometimes retained as evidence.

Electronic record

A record that is stored electronically, regardless of the media or whether it is in the original format in which it was created, as opposed to stored in hard copy (i.e. on paper).

Ephemera

Materials, usually printed documents, created for a specific, limited purpose, and generally designed to be discarded after use.

Evidence

Evidence refers to the records of a business transaction which can be shown to have been created in the normal course of business activity and which are inviolate and complete. They are evidence of how an agency or person conducted their business, including decisions, actions, non-decisions and inactions.

Evidential value

The quality of records that provides information about the origins, functions and activities of their creator.

File

An organised unit of documents grouped together either for current use by the creator or in the process of archival arrangement, because they relate to the same subject, activity, or transaction. A file is usually the basic unit within a record series. A file can be physical or electronic. For example, a personnel file or a grant application containing an application form and supporting documentation.

Finding Aid

A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the records and that assists users to gain access to and understand the records.

Fonds

The entire body of records of an organisation, family, or individual that have been created and accumulated as the result of an organic process reflecting the functions of the creator.

Guide

A broad description of the holdings at one or more archives, typically at the collection level.

Hypertext

A method of presenting digital information that allows related files and elements of data to be interlinked, rather than viewed in linear sequence; usually differentiated from the normal text in a document by a different colour, by underlining, or by both.

Imaging

The process of copying documents by reproducing their appearance through photography, micrographics or scanning.

Information

Recorded data.

Informational value

The usefulness or significance of records based on their content, independent of any intrinsic or evidential value.

Intellectual control

The control established over archival material by documenting in finding aids its provenance, arrangement, composition, scope, informational content and internal and external relationships.

Intellectual property rights

An idea, secret, mark or expression that has property rights created through intellectual and/or discovery efforts of a creator and that are generally protectable under patent, trademark, copyright or other law.

Item

The smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit, e.g. a letter, memorandum, report, photograph, sound recording.

Item level description

The smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit (e.g., a letter, memorandum, report, or photograph). Items accumulate to form classes or series.

Interoperability

The ability of different systems to use and exchange information through a shared format. Standards facilitate interoperability.

Legal custody

The responsibility for the care of documents based on their physical possession. Custody does not always include legal ownership, or the right to control access to records.

Legal value

Usefulness of a record in complying with statutes and regulations, as evidence in legal proceedings, as legal proof of business transactions or to protect an individual’s or a Department of State’s rights and interests.

Level of arrangement

The hierarchical, intellectual, and physical divisions used in archives management, including repository, record group, fonds, collection, subgroups, series, subseries, file, and item.

Level of description

The position of the unit of description in the hierarchy of the fonds.

Location index

A finding aid, in manual or electronic format, providing the physical location in the repository of all holdings.

Machine-readable record

Records in a medium or format that requires a mechanical device to make it intelligible to humans.

Manuscript

A handwritten or typed document. A typed document is more precisely called a typescript; documents of manuscript character usually having historical or literary value or significance.

Medium

The physical material, container, and/or carrier in or on which information is recorded (e.g. parchment, paper, magnetic tape).

Metadata

Data describing context, content and structure of records and their management through time.

Metadata element

A discrete component of metadata.

Metadata schema

A framework that specifies and describes a standard set of metadata elements and their interrelationships that need to be recorded to ensure the identification of records and their authenticity. Schemas provide a formal syntax (or structure) and semantics (or definitions) for the metadata elements.

Microfiche

A flexible transparent sheet of film bearing a number of micro images arranged in horizontal rows and vertical columns with a header.

Microfilm

The use of photographic processes to produce very small images of original material on a film base. Preservation microfilming is undertaken to minimise handling and use of fragile records and enhance their preservation and accessibility.

Migration

The act of moving records from one system to another, while maintaining their authenticity, integrity, reliability and usability. Migration involves a set of organised tasks designed to periodically transfer digital material from one hardware or software configuration to another, or from one generation of technology to another.

Mode of transmission

The method of transmission of a record (e.g., by fax).

Multi-level description

A finding aid or other access tool that consists of separate, interrelated descriptions of the whole and its parts, reflecting the hierarchy of the materials being described.

Non-current record

Records that are no longer used in the day-to-day course of business, but which are preserved and occasionally used for legal, historical or operational purposes. See Current records, Semi-current records.

Official record

A complete, final and authorised copy of a record, especially the copy bearing an original signature or seal. See Departmental record.

Open file

A file to which documents continue to be added.

A file on open access to researchers in the reading room.

Original

The first complete and effective version of a record that is designated as the official record.

Permanent value

The administrative, fiscal, legal, intrinsic, evidential and/or informational values, which justify the indefinite or permanent preservation of records as archives.

Personal papers

Documents created, acquired or received by an individual in the course of his or her affairs and preserved in their original order (if such order exists).

Physical control

The control established over the physical aspects (such as format, quantity or location) of documents in the physical custody of an archives. Physical control does not necessarily imply legal title.

Physical form

The overall appearance, configuration, or shape, derived from a document’s characteristics and independent of intellectual content.

Plain copy

A duplicate of an original document used for information purposes only. A plain copy may have no legal standing. See Certified copy.

Policy

A high-level overall plan, containing a set of principles, embracing the general goals of the Department of State, and used to base decisions.

Policy file

A file documenting the development and implementation of a high-level overall plan and set of principles.

Preservation

Processes and operations that minimise chemical and physical deterioration over time and prevent loss of information. This includes storing, protecting and maintaining records in an optimum manner and may include reformatting if required. See Conservation.

Preservation framework

The whole of the external archival and institutional controls expressed as a coherent synthesis of requirements for preservation of (digital) records.

Preservation microfilming

Microfilm made using materials and techniques to ensure continued access to materials that are in poor condition or to protect the originals from repeated handling.

Presumption of authenticity

An inference as to the fact of a record’s authenticity that is drawn from known facts about the manner in which that record has been created and maintained.

Primary value

The worth that records/archives possess, by virtue of their contents, for the continued transaction of the business that gave rise to their creation.

Private archives

Records or archives of non-governmental provenance deposited in, or purchased by, the National Archives.

Procedural context

The business procedure in the course of which a record is created.

Procedure

Instructions, exhibits, and/or other methodologies to follow in order to complete tasks in a predictable and orderly way.

Proprietary

In reference to hardware technology, software applications and/or file formats, the state of being privately owned and controlled.

Provenance

Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of record(s).

Public record(s)

See Departmental record.

Public Record Office of Ireland

An institution established under the Public Record Office (Ireland) Act, 1867 for the permanent preservation of public records and to facilitate their access to researchers. The Public Record Office of Ireland was amalgamated with the State Paper Office to form the National Archives, under the terms of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Record

See Departmental record.

Record attribute

A defining characteristic of a record or of a record element (e.g., the name of the author).

Record of state

See Departmental record.

Record identity

The distinct character of a record, identifiable through the attributes that uniquely characterise it and distinguish it from other records.

Record integrity

Quality of being whole and unaltered from loss, tampering or corruption.

Recordkeeping

The systematic creation, use, maintenance and disposition of records to meet administrative, programmatic, legal and financial needs and responsibilities.

Recordkeeping system

Coordinated policies and procedures that enable records to be collected, organised and categorised to facilitate their management, including preservation, retrieval, use and disposition.

Records continuum

The records continuum is the whole extent of a record’s existence. It refers to a consistent and coherent regime of management processes from the time of the creation of records (and before creation, in the design of recordkeeping systems), through to their disposal or preservation and use as archives.

Records creator

See Creator.

Reference code

A number or code assigned to uniquely identify a record or fonds.

Reference copy

A copy of a record kept for easy access to the information it contains, as opposed to its intrinsic or evidential value.

Register

A document, usually a volume, in which regular entry is made of data of any kind by statutory authority or because the data are considered of sufficient importance to be exactly and formally recorded.

The process of formally recording information in a register.

Registry

A division within an organisation responsible for the recording, control and maintenance of records.

Registry system

The policies and procedures that govern the recording, control and maintenance of records within an organisation through the use of formal registers, lists and indexes.

Regnal years

From 1189 official documents in England and Wales were dated using the regnal year. Each regnal year begins on the anniversary of the day the sovereign succeeded to the throne (e.g. 1509 was the year Henry VII acceded to the throne of England and may be cited as ‘1 Hen. 8’).

Reliability

Qualities of a record that demonstrate its trustworthiness over time.

Reproduction

The process of generating a copy.

Respect des fonds

The principle that the records of a person, family or corporate body must be kept together in their original order, if it exists or has been maintained, and not be mixed or combined with the records of another individual or corporate body.

Respect for original order

The principle that archives of a single provenance should retain the arrangement, including the reference numbers, established by the creator in order to preserve existing relationships and evidential significance and the usefulness of finding aids of the creator.

Retention and disposal schedule

A comprehensive document that identifies and describes an organisation’s records, usually at the series level, indicating the length of time each series should be retained and the point at which it should be permanently preserved as archives and transferred to the National Archives or disposed of in accordance with the provisions of section 7 of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Retrospective scanning

The digitisation of records originally in paper format and ingestion into an electronic document management system.

The disposal of original paper records, including those scanned retrospectively, without the authorisation of the Director of the National Archives is a breach of section 7 of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Sampling

The process of selecting items from a collection to represent the collection as a whole.

Seal

A die/matrix, usually of metal, engraved in intaglio with the device or design used to produce a seal by the application of pressure. Dies may be of one-sided design only or in pairs producing dissimilar designs simultaneously in each seal.

A piece of wax, lead, or other material upon which an impression in relief from a seal has been made, attached to a document, or applied to the face thereof, originally serving as a means of authentication; also used to close a document.

Secondary value

The capacity of documents to serve as evidence or sources of information for persons and organisations other than their creator. See Primary value.

Selection

The process of identifying materials to be preserved because of their enduring value, especially those materials to be physically transferred to an archives.

Series

Documents arranged in accordance with a filing system or maintained as a unit because they result from the same accumulation or filing process, or the same activity; have a particular form; or because of some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt or use. A series is also known as a records series.

Signature

A name, initials or other distinctive mark made by an individual.

State Paper Office

An institution established in 1702 for the permanent preservation of the records of the British administration in Ireland. The State Paper Office was amalgamated with the Public Record Office of Ireland to form the National Archives, under the terms of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Sub fonds

A subdivision of a fonds containing a body of related records corresponding to administrative subdivisions in the originating agency or organisation or to geographical, chronological, functional or similar groupings of the material itself.

Sub series

A body of documents within a series readily distinguished from the whole by filing arrangement, type, form or content.

Supporting record

Records that are not required to be made but are created to document and explain some action.

Thirty year rule (30 year rule)

The period of time before Departmental records can be transferred to the National Archives and released to the public.

Title

A word or phrase that identifies a unit of description.

Transfer

Change of custody, ownership and/or responsibility for records (movement) moving records from one location to another.

The transfer of departmental records from Departments of State to the National Archives for release to the public under section 8 of the National Archives Act, 1986.

Trusted recordkeeping system

The whole of the rules that control the creation, maintenance, use and disposition of the records of the creator and provide a circumstantial probability of the authenticity of the records, and the tools and mechanisms used to implement those rules.

Trusted preservation system

The whole of the rules that control the preservation and use of the records of the creator and provide a circumstantial probability of the authenticity of the records, and the tools and mechanisms used to implement those rules.

Unbroken custody

A traceable and uninterrupted line of care, control and usually possession of a body of records from creation to preservation that can serve as a means of protecting the authenticity of the record.

Unit of description

A document or set of documents in any physical form, treated as an entity, and, as such, forming the basis for a single description, e.g. fonds, record group, archive group, collection, subgroup, series, item.

Volume

A collection of pages bound together.

Withholding

The retention of Departmental records by Departments of State as stipulated in section 8 of the National Archives Act, 1986.