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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.


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.


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 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.

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.

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.


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.

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’.


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


See Archival description.


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.

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.


A general term used to designate more than one type of manuscript material.

A collection of personal or family documents; personal papers.

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).


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

Public record(s)

See Departmental record.