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Glossary and Notes


Definitions for the following terms used often in this guidebook are taken from the following sources: the SAA Dictionary of Archives Terminology referred to below as the SAA Glossary,1 the Norfolk Record Office,2 and the Plain English Campaign.3 If a definition has no citation, it means it has been framed by the writers of this guidebook.


  • Materials physically and officially transferred to a repository as a unit at a single time.
  • The process of seeking and receiving materials from any source by transfer, donation, or purchase.

(SAA Glossary)


  • Materials physically and legally transferred to a repository as a unit at a single time; an acquisition.
  • To take legal and physical custody of a group of records or other materials and to formally document their receipt.
  • To document the transfer of records or materials in a register, database, or other log of the repository's holdings.

(SAA Glossary)


  • The ability to locate relevant information through the use of catalogues, indexes, finding aids, or other tools.
  • The permission to locate and retrieve information for use (consultation or reference) within legally established restrictions of privacy, confidentiality, and security clearance. (SAA Glossary)


  • The process of identifying materials offered to an archives that have sufficient value to be accessioned.
  • The process of determining the length of time records should be retained, based on legal requirements and on their current and potential usefulness.
  • The process of determining the market value of an item; monetary appraisal. (SAA Glossary)


A list of material within a collection that describes the collection of the items held within it and shows how the items are related to each other. A catalogue is a map of the archive that helps a researcher move from a general overview of the collection to a specific item within it. (Norfolk Record Office)

Custody (Physical)

Possession, care, and control, especially for security and preservation. Physical custody may be, but is not always, coupled with legal custody. (SAA Glossary)

The ownership and the responsibility for creating policy governing access to materials, regardless of their physical location. (SAA Glossary)


The process by which an archives, museum, or library permanently removes accessioned materials from its holdings. (SAA Glossary)

Digital obsolescence

The risk of data loss because of inabilities to access digital assets, due to the hardware or software required for information retrieval being repeatedly replaced by newer devices and systems, resulting in increasingly incompatible formats. (SAA Glossary)


An individual or organization who gives property or money to another without reciprocal compensation. (SAA Glossary)

Fair dealing

The users’ rights to use a work without permission or payment under copyright law.

Fair use

Exemptions within copyright law that allow limited use of a work for specific purposes set out in the law.


In the record-keeping context in organisations, a function is a distinct category of activity that an organisation undertakes in its business.


The quality of being whole and unaltered through loss, tampering, or corruption. This is distinct from archival integrity which is the idea that all records emerging from a single function or activity must be preserved undivided and unaltered to preserve information of its context as evidence. (SAA Glossary)


The ability of different systems to use and exchange information through a shared format. Interoperability implies that the information does not need to be transformed during exchange; the different systems can use the data in its native format. (SAA Glossary)


Information about data that promotes discovery, structures data objects, and supports the administration and preservation of records. Metadata may be embedded or external. It may be applied at a variety of levels of granularity and during different periods in the life cycle of data. It is typically demarcated and standardized, and it often provides context. (SAA Glossary)

Open Access

  • The principle that access to archival resources should not be restricted unnecessarily.
  • A model of access to created works and data that seeks to eliminate barriers for readers such as subscription fees and physical media, and barriers to reuse such as copyright restrictions and licensing fees. (SAA Glossary)

Original Order

The organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records. (SAA Glossary)

Record Creator

  • The organisation or organisation function within which a record is created.
  • People or groups from whom a record emerges.
  • Person(s) who author a record (independent of an employment context)


The right to own something. (Plain English Campaign)


Public Interest: The term public interest occurs frequently in this document. Public interest is not a legally defined concept, and in practice, what counts as ‘public interest’ can be highly contested. An action may be deemed to be in public interest when the social good emanating from it is significantly higher than individual gain. Archivists often need to make decisions on balancing actions which may have some repercussions for certain individuals or groups against a larger ‘public interest’. For example, making available certain personal information that infringes an individual’s privacy may be counter-weighed against the importance of that information being available to the public. Public interest is an important test for making case-by-case decisions on processing sensitive data in archives and opening it for access. Public interest is also a legally accepted position for processing sensitive or personal data in countries in which data protection regimes are in force. It is important to recognise at this stage that at various times in history, public interest has been used to oppress minorities and the marginalised. Public interest must serve to further the cause of transparent governance, social justice and equitable representation.

Historical Value: Historical value is defined variously as the intrinsic worth of a record as evidence, documentation, or witness. A record is said to have value when it captures information of enduring relevance to a people, organisation, or humanity. What is relevant, however, can vary enormously from perspective to perspective. Many organisations believe ephemera to be records of no enduring value. Others dedicate entire collections to ephemera for what they reflect of the people and the times that produced them. What is of 'intrinsic' value to one person, organisation or people may be worthless to another. Nothing, in effect, is in fact intrinsic and the determination of intrinsic value is a highly subjective assessment.

Historical value is often assessed and defined by those with financial, political, and cultural capital. It also reflects the priorities of recordkeepers at a particular time in history. A global movement on Displaced Archives petitioning for the return of archives seized from ex-colonies of imperialist powers or lost during war, highlight this conundrum. As empires receded, any documents were destroyed after being deemed irrelevant, and sometimes deliberately to keep them from causing embarrassment to colonising governments or officials in the new colonies. Countries like Kenya, Cyprus, Uganda, Algeria consider many critical records of their history lost to this action. Although the displacement or loss of these archives may appear to be considered acts of historical malice, much of the destruction in fact happened as a routine bureaucratic procedure. It is therefore advisable to build strong preventative measures against wanton destruction and define and appraise collections for long term preservation with intention. Many international bodies have guidelines on selection of materials for long term preservation. Some of these are linked in the Further Reading section.

  1. Society of American Archivists. (n.d.). SAA Dictionary. Retrieved from
  2. Norfolk Records Office. (n.d.). Cataloguing—Archives. Retrieved from
  3. Plain English Campaign. (n.d.). A to Z of legal phrases. Retrieved from