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Glossary of Archival Terms


Access: the ability to discover, view, and make use of an item

Archives: materials created or collected by a person, family, organization, or community and preserved because of their continuing value; also a place where archival materials are physically or digitally stored (see Repository) | Learn more about archives

Archivist: a person responsible for collecting, preserving, and providing access to archival materials


Born-digital: items originally created in a digital format, such as websites, emails, social media posts, and digital photos | Born-digital items are different from analog or physical items that may be digitized, such as letters or photographs


Collective memory: the shared pool of memories, knowledge and information of a social group that is significantly associated with the group's identity

Collection: group of materials related to a particular person, family, organization, community, topic or theme

Community: group of individuals who share a collective geographic space, experience, or level of ownership of the content being shared

Community archives: (see also Participatory archive) archives that incorporate community participation and ownership; self-documentation of shared experiences, events, and identities

Contemporary: existing or occurring at the present time

Contributor: (see Donor) someone who donates material to an archive or contributes material to an online archive | In archives and libraries, this can also be someone who helped create a work (when there is more than one creator)

Contributor agreement: (see Donor agreement) a written agreement between a donor and an archive, that says what an archive can and cannot do with the donation

Copyright: a legal right protecting the interests of creators by granting them control over the use of their work

Creative Commons: a type of copyright license that provides ways for creators to give others the right to share and use their work

Creator: the person, group, or organization that created an item


Digital archive: (see also Participatory archive) an online collection of born-digital or digitized archival items; also a crowdsourced collection of materials documenting a particular topic or event

Digital preservation: all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials despite technological change

Digitize: to convert non-digital materials (such as newspapers, letters, or artwork) into digital form (via scanning or digital photography)

Document: n. an item that contains evidence or information; v. to create a record of something such as a time period or event

Donor: (see Contributor) someone who donates material to an archive or contributes material to an online archive

Donor agreement: (see Contributor agreement) a written agreement between a donor and an archive, that says what an archive can and cannot do with the donation

Dublin Core: a set of fifteen "core" elements (properties) for describing digital or physical resources


File type: a specific type of computer file, which can be proprietary or universal | Examples include JPEG and PNG (image files) MP3 and WAV (audio files) and PDF (application file)

Format: the file format, physical medium, or dimensions of a resource


Historical value: the importance or usefulness of an item for understanding the past

History: the study of the past, particularly human affairs


Link rot: when a hyperlink no longer takes you to the web page or resource it was supposed to point to


Memory: knowledge of the past

Metadata: information used to describe other information, for example: a title used to describe a book; metadata is essential for the discovery and management of archival materials


Oral history: an interview conducted to record a person’s memories of the past and historical events


Participatory archive: (see also Digital archive) an archival collection or site in which community members contribute materials and knowledge, usually in an online environment

Primary source: material that contains firsthand information about people, places, events, and time periods--as recorded by the people who experienced them | Examples include letters and diaries, oral histories, photographs, and social media posts

Public domain: material not protected by copyright; creative work under public ownership and open to use by anyone without permission


Record: an item constituting a piece of evidence about the past, especially an account kept in writing or some other permanent form

Repository: (see also Archives) a physical or digital location used for the long-term storage of archival material


Social history: field of history that studies the lives and activities of everyday people.

Social memory: a concept used to explore the connection between social identity and historical memory


Visual literacy: the ability to understand, read, and use images and to think and learn in terms of images