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Archives Service: Glossary of Archival Terminology

An active collecting repository, the Library Archives Service collects and administers archival collections generated from outside UCC which complement the research and teaching needs of University College, Cork.

Glossary for archival terminology and abbreviations 

This glossary consists of definitions drawn from the International Council on Archives Multilingual Archival Terminology Database and Irish Guidelines for Archival Description (Society of Archivists, Ireland 2009). 


Access Status 

The availability of records/archives for consultation as a result both of legal authorisation and the existence of finding aids. 


Materials received by a repository as a unit; an accession. 

The process of identifying and acquiring, by donation or purchase, historical materials from outside sources including private individuals, organisations, societies or businesses. 


Administrative/Biographical History  

The administrative or biographical history of the creator. Includes 

information on the origin, progress, development and work of the organisation 

or on the life and work of the individual(s) responsible for the creation of the 




A note added or attached to an original record. 


Archival description 

The process of analysing, organising, 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. 


Archival repository 

A place of deposit for archival records. 



A record of enduring or legal value that provides evidence of the activities of a person or institution. 

An agency or institution responsible for the preservation and access to records of enduring value that warrant permanent preservation as archives. 



An individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control to protect the materials’ authenticity and context. 




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. 


Closed File 

A file that is restricted and which is not on open access to researchers in the reading room. 



1. A group of materials with some unifying characteristic. 2. Materials assembled by a person, organization, or repository from a variety of sources; an artificial collection. 



A duplication, in whole or in part, of an original document. 



A property right that protects the interests of authors or other creators of works in tangible media (or the individual or organisation to whom copyright has been assigned) by giving them the ability to control the reproduction, publication, adaptation, exhibition, or performance of their works. 


Covering dates 

The dates of the oldest and most recent items in a collection, series, or file. 



The date, month and/or year of the record creation. 



To place documents in the custody of an archives without transfer of legal title. 



To gift documents in the custody of an archives with transfer of legal title. 



Informal documents of transitory value, sometimes preserved as samples or specimens. Advertisements, calling cards, notices, and tickets are examples of ephemera. 



The size or volume of material e.g. number of pages in a letter. 



An organised unit of documents grouped together either for current use by the creator or in the process of archival arrangement, because they relate to the same subject, activity, or transaction.  


Finding Aid 

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



The entire body of records of an organisation, family, or individual that have been created and accumulated as the result of an organic process reflecting the functions of the creator. 



The smallest intellectually indivisible archival unit (e.g., a letter, memorandum, report, or photograph). Items accumulate to form classes or series. 


Level of Description 

The position of the unit of description in the hierarchy of the fonds. 



A handwritten or typed document. A typed document is more precisely called a typescript; - manuscripts - documents of manuscript character usually having historical or literary value or significance. The term is variously used to refer to archives, to artificial collections of documents acquired from various sources usually according to a plan but without regard to provenance, and to individual documents acquired by an archives because of their significance. 



The physical material, container, and/or carrier in or on which information is recorded (e.g. parchment, paper, magnetic tape). 


Ordered for Viewing  

This record can be requested for research purposes when visiting Special Collections & Archives. 



A general term used to designate more than one type of manuscript material. A collection of personal or family documents; personal papers. 


Paper Vellum 

Modern "paper vellum" is made of synthetic plant material and gets its name from its similar usage and high quality. It is used for various purposes including tracing, technical drawings, plans and blueprints. 


Personal papers 

Documents created, acquired or received by an individual during his or her affairs and preserved in their original order (if such order exists). 



The organisation or individual that created, accumulated and/or maintained and used records in the conduct of business prior to their transfer to a records centre or archives. 



Information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business. 


Reference Number 

Each unit of description must have a unique reference code/number. 

The unique reference code identifies a unit of description and provides a link to the description it represents. 

Depending on its context, the reference code can include a country code, repository code, and codes indicating fonds, subfonds, series, subseries, file, and item levels. 



Documents arranged systematically or maintained as a unit because they relate to a particular function or subject, result from the same activity, have a particular form, or because of some other relationship arising out of their creation or, arising out of their receipt and use. 


Sub fonds 

A subdivision of a fonds containing a body of related records corresponding to administrative subdivisions in the originating agency or organisation or to geographical, chronological, functional or similar groupings of the material itself. 


Sub series 

A body of documents within a series readily distinguished from the whole by filing arrangement, type, form or content. 



A word or phrase that identifies a unit of description. 



Vellum is prepared animal skin or membrane, typically used as writing material. It is often distinguished from parchment, either by being made from calfskin, or simply by being of a higher quality. Vellum is prepared for writing and printing on single pages, scrolls, and codices. 



A collection of pages bound together.