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Research Services: How are Archives Organized?

Archival Organization

Key Concepts:
  • Unlike libraries, which organize material by subject, archival collections are organized by the person, family, or organization who created or accumulated them. In archives' lingo, this is known as the principle of provenance or respect des fonds
    • Under respect des fonds, materials with different origins (or provenance) are kept separate from each other to help preserve the context of their creation and use. 
  • Archival materials are organized hierarchically.
    • Fonds: the entire body of records created or accumulated by an organization, family, or individual that represents the function of the creator. This top-level can sometimes go by other names, such as collection or record group.
    • Series: groups of similar records that have an underlying filing system (alphabetical, chronological, etc.) and are related to each other in form (letters, memos, bulletins, etc.) or function (department records, financial records, etc.). 
    • Collections can be broken down even further into subseries, files, and items, depending on the collection's needs. 
Key Takeaway: Knowing how archives are organized can help you locate material and understand how records relate to one another

Example Organization of an Archival Collection