Section 1: Definitions

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Section 0: Introduction

Section 2: Collecting and accessioning

We have tried to minimise the use of jargon in this guidance, but inevitably some unfamiliar terms will be used.  Simple definitions of such terms are provided below:

  • Accessioning – the act of recording the provenance of an item or collection that is being transferred to your care.
  • Accessions Form – a pro forma for recording details of a newly acquired collection, its source, ownership and conditions. It should be signed by the donor/depositor and staff as a formal record of the transfer. One copy should be given to the donor/depositor as a formal receipt.
  • Accessions Register – a formal, permanent, record of all archival material coming into the care of your organisation, containing the key information about content and ownership.
  • Archive (Office) – a specialist collecting institution, run by a local authority, government body, university, business, charity, or other organisation, usually with professionally qualified archivists on staff, and with purpose-built storage and research facilities. Sometimes called a Record Office, though this is now less common.
  • Archive Service Accreditation – a scheme for defining and recognising good practice and agreed standards for archives across the UK. Comparable to the UK Museum Accreditation Scheme. The Standard and Guidance set out best practice for the sector and can form useful planning tools, and something to gradually work towards, even if you are not yet in a position to apply for Accreditation.
  • Archives – collections of documents which have been selected for permanent preservation because of their value as evidence or as a source for historical or other research. Such records are created by the activities of organisations and people; they serve an active purpose while in current use and some of them are later selected and preserved as part of an archival collection. Archives can be in physical formats such as volumes, plans and photographs, or can exist purely in a digital form. Unlike published material, archives are usually unique and irreplaceable.
  • Archives Hub – a JISC supported project to provide cross-searchable online catalogues from a range of Higher Education, Business, and Special Repository archives. See https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/ .
  • Archives Sector Development – a department of The National Archives responsible for providing advice and support to external organisations and groups holding archives.
  • Archives & Records Association UK & Ireland [ARA] – the lead professional body for archivists, archive conservators and records managers: https://www.archives.org.uk/ .
  • ARCHON number – a unique code assigned to organisations listed in the online Find an Archive directory. This code is key to using the Manage Your Collections in Discovery facility.
  • Arrangement – the act of sorting a collection in a meaningful manner to reflect its original order or the functions of its creating body. In collections with no structure it may be appropriate to arrange items in thematic or chronological sequences. The catalogues of a well-arranged collection should be easy to navigate by researchers and staff.
  • Arts Council England [ACE] – the government appointed lead body for the museums sector in England, responsible among other things, for the UK Museum Accreditation Scheme and a number of funding steams. See https://www.artscouncil.org.uk  There are different arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  • Association of Independent Museums [AiM] –a membership network for independent museums, galleries and heritage organisations across the UK: https://www.aim-museums.co.uk/ .
  • Aviation Heritage UK – a Subject Specialist Network in the museum sector; the national body for the preservation of aviation related items. See https://aviationheritageuk.org/ .
  • Benchmarks in Collections Care –a downloadable self-assessment checklist, produced by the Collections Trust, which sets out clear, realistic and measurable levels of performance for the care of collections.
  • Bequest – an item or collection that has been left to your organisation under the terms of a will. It is, in effect, a gift/donation.
  • Box list a quicker method of processing a large collection by producing a list which indicates the general contents of each box of material, so that potentially useful items can be more easily identified and located.
  • BS 4971:2017, Conservation and care of archive and library collections [ISBN: 978 0 580 94654 7] – one of the two key standards for the storage and care of archive collections, used alongside BS EN 16893:2018. These standards replace the earlier BS 5454:2000 and PD 5454:2012 to which you may still see references.
  • BS 5454:2000, Recommendations for the storage and exhibition of archival documents – a superseded standard to which you may still see references.
  • BS EN 16893:2018, Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Specifications for location, construction and modification of buildings or rooms intended for the storage or use of heritage collections [ISBN: 978 0 580 90371 7] – one of the two key standards for the storage and care of archive collections, alongside BS 4971:2017. These standards replace the earlier BS 5454:2000, and PD 5454:2012 to which you may still see references.
  • Catalogue – a detailed list of items within a collection, organised in a structured and meaningful way, and providing individual reference numbers so that individual items can be easily located.
  • Cataloguing – the act of describing the contents of an item or collection in a structured and meaningful way, which conveys the essence of the documents without fully transcribing them. Also see Listing.
  • Collecting Policy – a formal policy, which can be a simple statement, that clearly sets out what you are interested in collecting to supplement your collections, and, ideally, what you are not interested in collecting. This should be publicised for the benefit of potential donors and other organisations in the sector. It should reflect the aims of your Mission Statement.
  • Collection – the highest level of cataloguing, comprising all the records received from a single source. Sometimes referred to as a Fonds. For complex collections Sub-Fonds or Section can be used to reflect the high-level organisational structure, such as sites, departments, or constituent companies.
  • Collection Level Description – a short summary of the material contained in a collection, including information such as creator, subject matter, and covering dates. This can be created using the Accession Register entry. It does not allow individual items to be easily identified or located, but does signal the existence of a collection in your care.
  • Collections Management System [CMS] – specialist software developed for use in the archives or museums sectors, often embedding core documentation standards, and having interlinked modules for functions such as accessions, catalogues and conservation. Some systems allow images to be attached to database entries, and some can display searchable catalogues online. See https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/archives/cms-dams-options-for-archives.xls for a comparison of the features of different systems.
  • Collections Trust – an organisation which provides standards and advice for the museums sector: https://collectionstrust.org.uk/ .
  • Conservation – specialist care of collections by intrusive methods such as repairing tears and dealing with damp, mould or pest damage, in order to repair or stabilise items for use or display.
  • Creator – a mandatory element when cataloguing under ISAD(G). Record the name and life-dates of the person or organisation predominantly responsible for the creation and assembly of the material. Generally this only will need to be recorded once in relation to the whole archival group. Equivalent to Object Production organisation/people/person in Spectrum.
  • Crisis Management Team – a cross sector team which co-ordinates efforts to preserve business records in cases of liquidations, administrations, takeovers and other circumstances where business records may be in danger.
  • Data Protection Act, 2018 – UK legislation replacing the Data Protection Act, 1998, and making additional provisions around areas not covered by the General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR]. The law covers how you collect, store and use personal information relating to living persons. For summary guidance on how the Data Protection Act and GDPR relate to archives, please see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/legislation/archives-data-protection-law-uk/ .
  • Date of Creation – a mandatory element when cataloguing under ISAD(G). These are the dates when the documents in the unit being described were originally created or the date that an event or image was captured. Equivalent to a number of Date fields in Spectrum.
  • De-Accessioning – a formal process for ethically transferring or otherwise disposing of collections or items that do not fit in with your Collecting Policy.
  • Deposit / Loan – an item or collection that is transferred to your care, but ownership has been retained by the Depositor. Deposits can be indefinite, they can be for a set number of years, reviewable at the end of the period, or they may be temporary, perhaps for the duration of a special event or exhibition, or so that they can be copied. Deposits have always been more common in the archives sector than in the museum sector.
  • Depositor – a person or organisation making a deposit or loan of archival material. They remain the owners of the collection and should be liaised with if it is being published, used in exhibitions, or disposed of. Efforts should be made to maintain up-to-date contact details of depositors.
  • Digital Asset Management System [DAMS] – specialist software for storing and accessing digital records, such as document files, CAD plans, emails and photographs. See https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/archives/cms-dams-options-for-archives.xls for a comparison of the features of different systems.
  • Digital Preservation Coalition [DPC] – an organisation concerned with resilient long-term access to digital content and services. See https://www.dpconline.org/ .
  • Discovery – the online catalogue of The National Archives. External organisations can host their catalogues on Discovery, using the Manage Your Archives on Discovery facility. Discovery also incorporates a resource known as the National Register of Archives [NRA], which includes references to significant collections held by archives throughout the UK and beyond.
  • Disaster Plan – a document identifying physical risks to an archive, containing key contacts, and setting out responsibilities and actions in the event of a disaster such as flood or fire.
  • Donation – See Gift.
  • Donor – person or organisation making a gift of archival material.
  • File – an intellectual rather than a physical description – the usual level for cataloguing a volume, file, or bundle of papers. Small groups of organisationally-or intellectually-related loose documents, photographs or plans are sometimes be catalogued at this level rather than at Item level.
  • Encoded Archival Description [EAD] – an international standard, closely linked to ISAD(G), and using XML format files. The standard uses tags to distinguish the different parts of an electronic finding aid, in a way that can be interpreted and processed by different computer systems.
  • Extent of the unit of description – a mandatory element when cataloguing under ISAD(G). This should be given in the most meaningful way; for example, five boxes, or two feet or 1 file. In many cases this is only given once for the whole archival group. Equivalent to Number of Objects and Physical Description in Spectrum.
  • Find an Archive – an online directory of archive-holding bodies throughout the UK, and beyond, hosted by The National Archives. Every organisation listed is provided with a unique code, called an ARCHON number.
  • Fonds – See Collection.
  • Functional Analysis – an intellectual tool that looks at the role or roles of a record creator or creators, and analyses how the documents reflect the ways in which these roles were fulfilled. 
  • General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] – EU legislation, adopted in the UK, which covers how you collect, store and use personal information relating to living persons. For summary guidance on how GDPR and the Data Protection Act, 2018, relate to archives, please see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/legislation/archives-data-protection-law-uk/ .
  • Gift / Donation – an item or collection where the ownership is transferred to your organisation. The donor may still retain copyright on some material.
  • Gloves – see Nitrile Gloves.
  • Institute of Conservation [ICON] – the professional body for the conservation of cultural heritage: https://icon.org.uk/
  • ISAAR (CPF) – the International Standard Archival Authority Record For Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families, 2nd edition (2004). A standard developed by the International Council on Archives for creating archival authority records for significant record creators, enabling easier linking of collections.
  • ISAD(G) – the General International Standard Archival Description – Second edition, collaboratively produced by the International Council on Archives as a standard for archival cataloguing. At its core lie six mandatory elements of description [Reference, Title, Creator, Date of Creation, Extent of the unit of description, and Level of Description].
  • Item – the smallest unit used for cataloguing purposes, below File, such as a single document, photograph or plan.
  • JISC [originally the Joint Information Systems Committee] – a membership organisation, supporting the Higher Education, Further Education and Skills sectors in all things digital. They have produced useful research-based guidance relating to digitisation and digital archives, and host the Archives Hub. See https://www.jisc.ac.uk .
  • JPEG [Joint Photographic Experts Group] –the most common type of compressed digital image file. They are good for working copies of images, and for putting images online, but trade quality for size, and can lose detail when repeatedly used. For this reason TIFF or JPEG 2000 files are better for preservation copies.
  • JPEG 2000 – a type of compressed digital image file that is good for preservation copies. Also see TIFF.
  • Level of Description – an intellectual classification which helps to form the hierarchical arrangement of a collection and catalogue, grouping related material together logically. See Collection, Section, Series, File and Item. The Level of Description is often a required field in specialist cataloguing software systems, and is also required for Manage Your Collections in Discovery. Equivalent to Record Type in Spectrum.
  • Listing – a quicker and less thorough alternative to Cataloguing. Akin to creating an Inventory in museums practice.
  • Loan – See Deposit.
  • Manage Your Collections in Discovery – a free initiative by which simple EXCEL catalogues from external organisations can be created and hosted on The National Archives’ on-line Discovery catalogue.
  • Mission Statement – a formal summary of the core purpose, aims and values of your organisation, which should be agreed by your governing body. This can then be used to provide context for your Collecting Policy and other activities.
  • Museum Development Officer –a member of staff of one of the regional museum development programmes, funded in England by Arts Council England. The organisation of each team differs, but they usually concentrate support on those museums that have achieved or are actively preparing a submission for the UK Museum Accreditation Scheme. There are slightly different arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. See https://museumdevelopmentnetwork.org/ .
  • NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation –one method of self-assessing your organisation’s state of preparedness for the challenges of digital preservation. See https://ndsa.org/activities/levels-of-digital-preservation/ .
  • Nitrile gloves –disposable gloves which help to keep items (and hands) clean, and are particularly recommended when handling photographic items. They are far less likely than latex gloves to cause allergic reactions. Cotton gloves are not recommended for use with archive collections as they can make it difficult to turn pages or carry out similar fine tasks, and they soon get dirty.
  • Original order – unlike books, archives often lack full meaning or significance as individual items. Their true meaning often arises from their relationships with other documents and the people or organisations that created and used them. Where possible, archives should be kept in the order in which they were originally created or used. This original order allows custodians to protect the authenticity of the records and provides essential information as to how they were created, kept and used. Sometimes this original order has been lost through poor handling or re-sorting. 
  • Packaging – storing items within suitable materials to minimise exposure to dirt and light, help minimise environmental fluctuations, and help protect against accidental damage.
  • PD 5454:2012, Guide for the storage and exhibition of archival materials – a superseded standard to which you may still see references.
  • Photographic Collections Network –a Subject Specialist Network in the museum sector, for photographic collections and archives. See https://www.photocollections.org.uk/ .
  • Preservation – care of collections by non-intrusive methods such as packaging, environmental controls, and the creation of surrogate copies.
  • Provenance – the history of ownership related to a group of records or an individual item in a collection; the creators and any subsequent owners of the records and how the records relate to each other. Provenance provides essential contextual information for understanding the content and history of an archival collection. Records which were created, assembled, and/or maintained by an organisation or individual should be represented together, and distinguished from those of any other organisation or individual. It is important to record details of where a collection came from, such as the creating company or individual, or how it was amassed.
  • Purchase – an item or collection purchased by your organisation, using internal funds and/or grant assistance. If an item is purchased for you by someone else, it will then be either a Deposit/Loan or a Gift/Donation from the actual purchaser.
  • Reading Room – See Search Room.
  • Record – a synonym for document.
  • Record Office – equivalent to an Archive Office,though the title is less commonly used now than in the 20th Century.
  • Records Manager – a role found in larger organisations and businesses. The Records Manager is responsible for creating a Retention Schedule, in compliance with legislation and administrative needs, identifying which items should be retained permanently and which can be confidentially destroyed after a number of years. They will often be responsible for safely storing and retrieving non-current items away from office areas. Ideally, they will pass significant items to the archives when they are no longer required for business purposes.
  • Reference – a mandatory element when cataloguing under ISAD(G). Any description should include a reference, often in the form of a code but it can be a name, which is a unique identifier for the unit being described. The reference usually gives not only a unique identifier but is usually the principal way in which the hierarchical organisation of the arrangement is made clear. Equivalent to Object Number in the Spectrum standard.
  • Regional and Networks Team – the team within Archives Sector Development at The National Archives, which liaises directly with archive-holding bodies and related networks, and which includes the Sector Development Managers.
  • Relative Humidity [RH] – the amount of water vapour present in air expressed as a percentage of the amount needed for saturation at the same temperature. It is important to monitor RH as persistently high levels can result in mould outbreaks on archival material.
  • Retention Schedule – a document which sets out how long certain types of internal records should be retained before being transferred to the Archives, re-assessed, or destroyed. Its complexity will depend on the nature and size of your organisation. Some records will be included for legal reasons (financial regulations, GDPR etc), while others depend on how much those records are required for day-to-day administrative purposes. For more information, developed for charities and voluntary organisations, please see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/archives/management-framework-for-retention-and-transfer.pdf  
  • Rules – a series of instructions relating to the use of archives in the Search Room or Reading Room, suited to the specific circumstances of your organisation, and primarily designed to protect the documents. They can include clauses relating to what personal items are allowed or not allowed in the room, how to handle items carefully, and any conditions for use and re-use of information. Many organisations make researchers’ signed agreement to the rules a condition of using the facilities. It is particularly important to explain the rules to new users, particularly those who have not previously used archives elsewhere, so that they can appreciate why rules such as “no pens” are in place.
  • Search Room [or Reading Room] – a workspace set aside or created for the consultation of documents and other archival materials, and in which users of these items can be invigilated (users of original archives should not be left unsupervised in case of theft, damage or other misuse of items). Suitable equipment should be available, such as an appropriately sized desk or table, seating, adequate lighting, power sockets for laptops, and a computer for viewing digital materials such as images and catalogues. For small organisations this may not be a separate room but could be a space in a shared office. Consider what else is held in the room, or takes place there, so that there are no accidental breaches of GDPR.
  • Section – an intermediate level of description between Collection / Fonds and Series, when cataloguing. It is interchangeable with Sub-Fonds. For complex collections Section or Sub-Fonds can be used to reflect the high-level organisational structure, such as sites, departments, or constituent companies.
  • Sector Development Manager – a member of staff of The National Archives, with responsibility for liaising with, advising, and supporting organisations holding archives. The Sector Development Managers are responsible for geographical regions within England, and also have specific areas of focus including, at the time of writing, Science and Technology, Transport, and Businesses, which all relate to aspects of the aviation and aerospace sector. For a list of contacts, please see https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archives-sector/our-archives-sector-role/contact-the-team/
  • Series – an intermediate level of description, between Collection and File / Item levels when cataloguing.  Used for groups of related material. For complex collections, these can be divided into Sub-Series, and Sub-Sub-Series.
  • Spectrum – the collection management standard for the UK museum sector, produced by the Collections Trust, and currently on version 5.0. The standard is freely available online at https://collectionstrust.org.uk/spectrum/ , together with useful documents showing how Spectrum relates to the Archives specific standards ISAD(G) and ISAAR (CPFP).
  • Standards – For archive standards see BS 4971:2017, BS EN 16893:2018, ISAAR (CPF) and ISAD(G).
  • STICK (Scottish Transport and Industry Collections Knowledge Network) – a Subject Specialist Network in the museum sector, encouraging wider engagement with transport and industrial collections in Scotland. See http://www.stickssn.org .
  • Sub-Fonds – see Section.
  • Subject Specialist Network [SSN] – a number of bodies in the museum sector, set up to provide advice and guidance on collections related to specific themes, the most relevant to the aviation and aerospace sector being Aviation Heritage UK, the Photographic Collections Network, STICK (Scottish Transport and Industry Collections Knowledge Network, and the War and Conflict Specialist Network. See https://www.subjectspecialistnetworks.org.uk/ for more information.
  • Terms of Deposit – the conditions under which you will accept new material into your collections. In this case “Deposit” is shorthand for all forms of acquisition. The terms should be made clear to potential donors and depositors to avoid the risk of later misunderstandings. You could, for instance, attach a copy to the Accessions Form.
  • The National Archives – a non-ministerial department, and the official archive and publisher for the UK Government, and for England and Wales. They are expert advisers in information and records management and are a cultural, academic and heritage institution. They fulfil a leadership role for the archive sector and work to secure the future of physical and digital records.
  • Thermo-hygrometer – a device, often now electronic, for measuring temperature and Relative Humidity.
  • Thermo-hygrograph – a device which records the levels of temperature and Relative Humidity on a chart, to show fluctuations over time.
  • TIFF [Tagged Image File Format] – a type of uncompressed digital image file which does not degrade with use. Such files are large, but are good for preservation copies, as are JPEG 2000 files.
  • Title – a mandatory element when cataloguing under ISAD(G). Unlike books, archival resources generally do not have given titles, and when they do, they can be misleading or inadequate. Archivists therefore usually supply titles, composing titles that uniquely and clearly identify the resource. This is particularly important for electronic descriptions which are being searched, rather than being browsed. Equivalent to Title in Spectrum.
  • UK Museum Accreditation Scheme – a measure of nationally agreed standards for Museums and Galleries. Administered in England by Arts Council England.
  • War and Conflict Subject Specialist Network – a Subject Specialist Network in the museum sector, open to not-for-profit organisations and groups who look at stories linked to conflict, from the First World War to the present day. See https://www.iwm.org.uk/partnerships/subject-specialist-network .

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Section 0: Introduction

Section 2: Collecting and accessioning

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