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Archives and Records Management: Glossary


The list below is intended to introduce the reader to some of the terms frequently used by archivists and records managers. For further definitions relating specifically to records schedules refer to our guide on developing records retention and disposition schedules.


  • Access: The permission to locate and retrieve information for use within legally established restrictions of confidentiality and privacy.
  • Accession: A group of records or archives from the same source taken into archival custody at the same time. Accession can also mean the process of formally accepting and recording the receipt of records into archival custody. Accessioning provides basic physical and intellectual control over material coming into archives.
  • Acquisition: An addition to the holdings of an archival repository or records center.
  • Active records: Records that continue to be used with sufficient frequency to justify keeping them in the office of creation; current records.
  • Appraisal: The process of evaluating records to determine which are to be retained as archival material, which are to be kept for specified periods and which will be destroyed.
  • Archives: A place such as a building, room or storage area where archival material is kept or an organization (or part of an organization) responsible for appraising, acquiring, preserving and making available archival material or records that are appraised as having archival value.
  • Arrangement and Description: The intellectual and physical process of putting archives and records into order in accordance with accepted archival principles, particularly those of provenance and original order. Description is the process of recording information about the nature and content of records. The description identifies such features as provenance, format, contents, and administrative and recordkeeping contexts, and presents them in standardized form.
  • De-accession: The process by which an archives, museum, or library permanently removes accessioned materials from its holdings.
  • Disaster Preparedness: A range of activities aimed to reduce the risk of damage that might occur to records as a result of any disaster situation. Disasters can range in scale from minor flooding arising from leaking water pipes to major fire damage arising from a natural disaster. It encompasses planning, training, maintenance of relevant documentation, procurement of services, equipment and supplies, and salvage activity.
  • Disposal (also “Disposition”): The authorized destruction, deletion or transfer of records in line with the university’s retention and disposition schedule.
  • Disposition Schedule (also “Retention Schedule”): The control document recording an inventory of record series and determines when each series is destroyed or archived, i.e., its retention period (also known as retention schedule)
  • Inactive records: Records that are no longer used in the day-to-day course of business, but which may be preserved and occasionally used for legal, historical, or operational purposes.
  • Record (also “University record”): All information created or received by University employees undertaking University business and maintained as evidence of that activity. Records have many formats, including paper, digital or audiovisual. Records provide proof of what happened, when it happened, and who made decisions; a record may certify a transaction, become a receipt, set policy, or establish guidelines or procedure. Records need to be maintained according to the University’s records retention and disposition schedules. In contrast, a non-record is recorded information that is incidental to operations and of temporary value to your office (e.g., duplicate copies of correspondence, duplicate copies of records used for short term reference purposes, blank forms, and transitory messages used primarily for the informal communication of information, etc.). Retain non-records only as long as they are operationally needed.
  • Records management: The field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposal of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records.
  • Records Series: A group of records (regardless of format) that result from the same activity or document the same type of transaction. Record series should be able to be grouped under a common title and should have a common retention and disposal plan.
  • Retention: The official length of time required to maintain a record after which it may be subject to disposal.
  • Semi-active records: Records that are seldom used in day-to-day operations and that are appropriate for offsite storage.
  • Vital records: Emergency operation records immediately necessary to begin recovery of business after a disaster, as well as rights-and-interests records necessary to protect the assets, obligations, and resources of the university, as well as its employees; essential records.