University Library

Glossary of terms

The definitions of the following terms and concepts come directly from the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy or the Society of American Archivists Glossary.  Researchers may find it useful to become familiar with terms librarians and archivists frequently use.
Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records.
“A group of materials with some unifying characteristic,” often related either to the topic, the creator, or the assembler. Collections can be assembled by a person, organization, or repository. Collections can be referred to as “papers” or “records” in the context of a repository. 
Collection Development
The function within an archives or other repository that establishes policies and procedures used to select materials that the repository will acquire, typically identifying the scope of creators, subjects, formats, and other characteristics that influence the selection process.
“The individual, family, group, or organization that is responsible for a source's production, accumulation, or formation.” Creators of primary sources include artists, authors, and manufacturers. An individual who accumulates and compiles a collection of primary sources may also be seen as the creator (of the collection), even when they did not create the sources themselves. 
Finding Aid
A description of papers, records, or a manuscript collection that provides information about the materials, including arrangement and organization, historical or biographical background, a summary of the contents of a collection, and location of materials. These descriptions are used to locate relevant items within the collection. A finding aid is written through the process of arrangement and description, in which an archivist organizes materials and details their content.
The amount of intervention and contextualization between the user and the source. There are many kinds of mediation, whether through added content, translation, or the distance of a copy from the original source. For example, a primary document published in a compilation which includes an introduction about the writer and the event about which they were writing is more mediated than a publication which does not have an introduction. Librarians and archivists also provide mediation for documents through finding aids and catalog records, as well as their organization and arrangement of materials.
Provenance is a fundamental principle of archives, referring to the individual, family, or organization that created the items in the collection.
Umbrella term referring to a cultural heritage organization that collects, preserves, and makes collections accessible, generally for research.  
A repository may be independent or part of a larger organization including businesses, institutions, governments, libraries, museums, and historical societies.  
Gaps or missing pieces in the historical record, often caused by those who were unable to write their own records, or whose records were not considered valuable or were suppressed by the dominant culture. Should be distinguished from merely lack of holdings in a particular repository. Sometimes also referred to as “archival silences.”
Special Collections / Archives
These terms each have multiple meanings, and are often used interchangeably. “Archive” is also a variation, used in a general way to describe things that are being intentionally kept.
1. A general term for a department, unit, library, or other physical place which stores and provides secure access to rare and unique materials, including archives, manuscripts, rare books, or other original materials. A special collections department is an example of a type of repository.
2. The materials or collections within a department, unit, or library containing rare and unique materials.