An official website of the United States government.

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites always use a .gov or .mil domain. Before sharing sensitive information online, make sure you’re on a .gov or .mil site by inspecting your browser’s address (or “location”) bar.

This site is also protected by an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate that’s been signed by the U.S. government. The https:// means all transmitted data is encrypted — in other words, any information or browsing history that you provide is transmitted securely.

Home / Guide Collections / Glossary of Archival Terms

Glossary of Archival Terms

For a comprehensive, searchable glossary of archival terminology, please visit A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology at the Society of American Archivists:


(1) The non-current 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 or part of a building where archival materials are located.


A professionally educated staff member within an archival institution responsible for any aspect of the selection, arrangement, description, preservation, or use of archival materials.


An artificial accumulation of materials devoted to a single theme, person, event, or type of document acquired from a variety of sources. A general term used to describe groupings of archival or manuscripts materials.


A listing of the contents of all the boxes that comprise a collection, folder by folder; this listing may also include indications of which materials have been moved to oversize boxes or map drawers.


A signed, written instrument containing a voluntary transfer of title to real or personal property without a monetary consideration. Deeds of gift to archives and manuscript repositories frequently take the form of a contract establishing conditions governing the transfer of title to documents and specifying any restrictions on access or use.


A written paper, recording, photograph, computer file, or other item that bears the original, official, or legal form of something and can be used to furnish evidence or information. Letters to an individual, business reports, architectural drawings, photographs, videos, and computer files are all examples of documents.


An organizing unit of documents grouped together for current use or in the process of archival arrangement.


A finding aid is a descriptive tool used to establish physical and intellectual control of archival materials. The finding aid outlines the materials located in a specific collection and can include guides, inventories, special lists, and container lists, as well as biographical and historical information about individuals and organizations.


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. For example, a moderately full folder file is typically 3/4 of an inch wide at the bottom. Approximately 16 such folders may equal one linear foot.


A grouping of documents created or accumulated by an individual or family, usually having historical or literary value or significance. Correspondence, notes, reports, financial records, meeting minutes, photographs, memorabilia, ephemera, and other primary and secondary materials commonly associated with the work or life of an historical figure or an organization are found within manuscript collections.


A box or folder level listing of what materials a new accession contains created when the new materials are accessioned into archives or manuscript repository. The preliminary inventory usually does not attempt to arrange items in a collection into series or other groupings.


The activities of accessioning, arranging, describing, and properly storing archival materials.


The "office of origin" or original source of the materials in a collection or the archival principle of not intermingling records from different creating bodies.

Credit for definitions:

University of Maryland Libraries

Bellardo, Lewis J. and Lynn Lady. A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, The Society of American Archivists, Chicago, 1992.