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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.


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


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.


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.



A note added or attached to an original record.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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


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).


Recorded information regardless of medium or characteristics.


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.


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.


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

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.


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

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.


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.

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.

Private archives

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


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.

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.

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.


A word or phrase that identifies a unit of description.