This is a list of common terms used in archival arrangement and description. These definitions are based on the 2005 Society of American Archivists publication, Archival Fundamentals, Series II from the Glossary written by Richard Pearce-Moses.

For additional definitions, see:


Access point:

(n) A name or term used as a heading to group or link related information together. We use name, subject, and place access points to link related archival descriptions together.


(n) Material transferred to a repository as one unit at one time.

(v) To take custody of material and document their receipt. Part of the accession process is assigning unique numbers to each accession.


(n) Materials added to an existing fonds or collection


See accession (n).

Administrative history:

(n) Information about the organization, association, or governing body that created or accumulated the records to provide context.

Archival description:

(n) Information about archival records or the process of recording information about archival records. This information often includes at minimum a reference code, title, creator, date(s), extent, and level of description as these are considered essential elements of description according to the General
International Standard Archival Description

Note: The Rules for Archival Description is the Canadian standard for archival description, which the BC Archives follows.


(n) Records acquired and preserved for their historic value

(n) A repository that collects records of historic value

(n) The professional discipline that focuses on collecting, preserving, and providing access to records of historic value.


(n) The process of organizing archival records according to their provenance and original order or, when original order is not apparent, imposing an organization on the records.

Biographical history:

(n) Information about the creator(s) or author(s) who created or accumulated the records to provide context.

Boolean operator:

(n) Words and symbols used to narrow or broaden data searches. The three main Boolean operators are AND, OR, NOT.


(n) A group of records that are either from various creators and were collected by an individual, organization, or governing body for a specific purpose or records with unknown creators that have been grouped together based on similar characteristics such as subject or format. This is the highest level of description.


(n) A level of description within the BC Archives' database to describe individual parts of an item. This is not a typical level of archival description.


(n) The person(s), organization, or governing body that is responsible for making or accumulating materials.

Custodial history:

(n) The succession of person(s), organizations, or governing bodies that were in possession of materials from the moment they were created.


See archival description (n) or physical description (n)

Physical description:

(n) Information about the physical quantity and type of materials. The quantity is measured in linear metres.


(n) A level of archival description that refers to a group of records related by use, topic, date, or sequence. Typically a file of records is housed in one folder.

Finding aid:

(n) A tool used to provide further description or access into a group of records. Some examples of finding aids are file lists, inventories, guides, location lists, etc.


(n) Refers to the entire body of records by a creator. This is highest level of archival description.

General material designation:

(n) A category used to identify the type(s) of records being described. These categories include textual records, graphic material, cartographic drawings, moving images, sound recordings, etc.


(n) A record that is physically whole unto itself. Items may consist of multiple pieces,

e.g., a single manuscript may have 100 pages but it is treated as one item as it would be incomplete if the pages were separated. This is the lowest level of description.

Original order:

(n) The arrangement that was imposed on records by the creator.


(n) The origin, source, custody, or ownership of materials.

Reference code:

(n) A unique combination of numbers and/or letters used to identify a record or group of records. Each level of description has its own unique reference code.

Scope and content:

(n) An element of archival description used to record information describing why the records were created, the types of records, and the information recorded in the records.


(n) A level of description that refers to a group of similar records that have been either kept together by the creator or imposed by the archivist.


(n) A level of description often used to differentiate creators within a fonds, i.e., to differentiate creators in a family fonds or departments within an organization.


(n) A level of description that may be used to further subdivide large series.