Category Archives: Vocabulary

“Start an Archives”? Don’t you mean “Start an Archive”? — A note about terminology

When you want to start an archives, you’ll spend a lot of time talking about terminology.

Community archives are often started by people from many different backgrounds and experiences. This variation has many benefits. It also has a notable downside: the need to establish a coherent vocabulary.

‘Archives’ is a word that has become increasingly difficult to define. In computing, we often use ‘archive’ as a verb, as in the compressing of files for future use. In common vernacular we use ‘archive’ or ‘archives’ as a noun, for any material that will kept for long time.

In this blog, and the with projects that motivate it, ‘archives’ is defined as a collection of material created by particular individuals, organization or movements, and that are maintained with attention to provenance and original order. The material has value added when it is properly described and arranged to facilitate research use. And the material is intended to be kept in perpetuity.

This definition follows that of the glossary of the Society of American Archivists.

A coherent vocabulary is important when starting an archives, but it is a means to an end. I have found it useful to advocate this usage of the word ‘archives’ (and the use of the ‘s’ at the end). I have found it more helpful, however, to collect, preserve and promote the material history of organizations and causes that I believe in. When one want to start an archives, it’s the material that matters, not the title of the project .

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