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Getting Started with Archives: Glossary

This guide serves as an introduction to locating and evaluating collection description, and beginning archival research at NYPL


Archives terminology

Collection: a set of materials which are organized together because of a shared characteristic

Series or subseries: a set of material within a collection organized together because of a shared characteristic

Creator: the person, group, or organization responsible for bringing a collection together

Papers: documents accumulated by a person or family in the natural course of their affairs

Records: documents accumulated by person, group, or organization in the conduct of their business

Autograph collection: a set of documents intentionally acquired because of the prominence of their authors

Provenance: the origin of a set of materials

Finding aid: a document which describes the provenance and organization of an archival collection (also called a collection guide)

Container list: part of a finding aid which lists the physical arrangement of materials

Correspondents list: part of a finding aid which partially lists individual authors of correspondence in a collection

Granularity: the level of detail to which all or part of a collection is processed and described in the finding aid

Container list abbreviations

b. = box (can range in size from a couple inches to a linear foot)

f. = folder (can contain one or several archival items)

of. = oversize folder

v. = volume (any bound, unboxed item, such as a scrapbook, a register, a printed book)

r. = reel (microfilm)

t. = tube (large, rolled item, such as architectural plans)

sr. = sound recording (usually an audiocassette)

er. = electronic record (digital files which need to be accessed on special computer station)

di. = disk image (a use copy of computer software)

[Unit ID] = a set of numbers which identifies an audiovisual document