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Archival Institutions

November 6th, 2005 · No Comments · Terms & Definitions

An archival institution is an organization or organizational unit that manages archival materials as its primary business function. It’s main purpose is to acquire, preserve and provide access to collections of archival materials.

Examples of archival institutions include the Rijksarchief of the Netherlands, the City of Vancouver Archives or the Greenpeace Archives. Visit the UNESCO Archives Portal to see more examples of archival institutions from around the world.

The term ‘Archives’ is also frequently used but this term can be confused for the archival materials themselves or the physical place where they are stored rather than the institution that is managing them.

The term ‘archives’, as a matter of fact, has acquired many meanings and definitions. Professional archivists are still bitter about the term being subjegated by the technologists to use in narrow contexts such as a mailing list archives or a blog archives (that is to say nothing about the adjective ‘archival’ being used as a noun by vendors to mean something like long-term storage and preservation).

The main reason for defining archival institutions here is that, within the context of my research topic, I want to make a distinction between organizations that are professionaly managed and funded to provide access to archival materials and those collections that are managed by private individuals as personal digital archives (whether that is on their home computer or with the assistance of external services and tools).

I am therefore, not so concerned about distinguishing between archival institutions, libraries and museums which often goes along the lines of:
1) archives collect primary, unpublished materials in documentary form (e.g. papers, records, documents)
2) libraries collect published and produced works (e.g. books, movies, music)
3) museums collect three-dimensional, non-documentary artifacts (e.g. objects)

These ‘memory’ institutions have always been closely related in function and form, even more so now in the digital world. There are some real and some arbitrary differences between them but I am not concerned or interested in addressing these as the theoretical framework of my research is concerned with any type or format of digital information that acts as memory and evidence.