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Using Special Collections: Glossary

Archival Terminology

Though libraries and archives are similar in the types of resources and services they provide, it is helpful to understand how archives differ. Knowing certain terms archivists use will help guide your research, help you know what to ask for, and what you are looking at. 


Materials consisting of three or more forms of documents created, assembled, accumulated, and/or maintained and used by a person or family. 


Materials consisting of three or more forms of documents created, assembled, accumulated, and/or maintained and used by a government agency or private organization such as a business or club. 


Describes an intentionally assembled collection. Also called artificial collections. 

Archival processing

The arrangement, description and housing of archival materials for storage and use by patrons.


(1) The origin or source of something.

(2) Information regarding the origins, custody, and ownership of an item or collection.


(1) The process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical or intellectual control over the materials.

(2) The organization and sequence of items within a collection.


The process of analyzing, organizing, 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.

Finding aid

(1) A tool that facilitates discovery of information within a collection of records.

(2) A description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials.

Original order

The organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records.


A group of similar records that are arranged according to a filing system and that are related as the result of being created, received or used in the same activity.