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An archives is an accumulation of historical records, or the physical place they are located. Archives contain primary source documents that have accumulated over the course of an individual or organization's lifetime, and are kept to show the function of that person or organization. Professional archivists and historians generally understand archives to be records that have been naturally and necessarily generated as a product of regular legal, commercial, administrative or social activities. They have been metaphorically defined as "the secretions of an organism", and are distinguished from documents that have been consciously written or created to communicate a particular message to posterity.
In general, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.
A person who works in archives is called an archivist. The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science. The physical place of storage can be referred to as an archives, or repository.
When referring to historical records or the places they are kept, the plural form archives is chiefly used. The computing use of the term 'archive' should not be confused with the record-keeping meaning of the term.
First attested in English in early 17th century, the word archive // is derived from the French archives (plural), in turn from Latin archīum or archīvum, which is the romanized form of the Greek ἀρχεῖον (arkheion), "public records, town-hall, residence, or office of chief magistrates", itself from ἀρχή (arkhē), amongst others "magistracy, office, government" (compare an-archy, mon-archy), which comes from the verb ἄρχω (arkhō), "to begin, rule, govern".
The word originally developed from the Greek ἀρχεῖον (arkheion), which refers to the home or dwelling of the Archon, in which important official state documents were filed and interpreted under the authority of the Archon. The adjective formed from archive is archival.
The use of keeping official documents is very old. Archeologists have discovered archives of hundreds (and sometime thousands) of clay tablets going back to the third and second millennia BC in sites like Ebla, Mari, Amarna, Hattusas, Ugarit, Pylos. These discoveries have been fundamental to know ancient alphabets, languages, literatures and politics.
Archives were well developed by the ancient Chinese, the ancient Greeks, and ancient Romans (who called them Tabularia). However, they have been lost, since documents were written on organic materials like papyrus and paper. On the contrary, many archives founded since Middle Age by churches, kingdoms and cities survive and often have kept their official status uninterruptedly till now. They are the basic tool for historical research on these ages.
Modern archival thinking has many roots in the French Revolution. The French National Archives, who possess perhaps the largest archival collection in the world, with records going as far back as A.D. 625, were created in 1790 during the French Revolution from various government, religious, and private archives seized by the revolutionaries.
Historians, genealogists, lawyers, demographers, filmmakers, and others conduct research at archives. The research process at each archive is unique, and depends upon the institution that houses the archive. While there are many kinds of archives, the most recent census of archivists in the United States identifies five major types: academic, business (for profit), government, non-profit, and other. There are also four main areas of inquiry involved with archives: material technologies, organizing principles, geographic locations, and tangled embodiments of humans and non-humans. These areas help to further categorize what kind of archive is being created.
Archives in colleges, universities, and other educational facilities are typically housed within a library, and duties may be carried out by an archivist. professors may also run a smaller archive. Academic archives exist to preserve and celebrate the history of their school and academic community. An academic archive may contain items such as the administrative records of the institution, papers of former professors and presidents, memorabilia related to school organizations and activities, and items the academic library wishes to remain in a closed-stack setting, such as rare books or thesis copies. Access to the collections in these archives is usually by prior appointment only; some have posted hours for making enquiries. Users of academic archives can be undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff, scholarly researchers, and the general public. Many academic archives work closely with alumni relations departments or other campus institutions to help raise funds for their library or school. Because of their library setting, a degree certified by the American Library Association is preferred for employment in an academic archive in the United States.[verification needed]
Archives located in for-profit institutions are usually those owned by a private business. Examples of prominent business archives in the United States include Coca-Cola (which also owns the separate museum World of Coca-Cola), Procter and Gamble, Motorola Heritage Services and Archives, and Levi Strauss & Co. These corporate archives maintain historic documents and items related to the history and administration of their companies. Business archives serve the purpose of helping their corporations maintain control over their brand by retaining memories of the company's past. Especially in business archives, records management is separate from the historic aspect of archives. Workers in these types of archives may have any combination of training and degrees, from either a history or library background. These archives are typically not open to the public and only used by workers of the owner company, though some allow approved visitors by appointment. Business archives are concerned with maintaining the integrity of their company, and are therefore selective of how their materials may be used.
Government archives include those maintained by local and state government as well as those maintained by the national (or federal) government. Anyone may use a government archive, and frequent users include reporters, genealogists, writers, historians, students, and people seeking information on the history of their home or region. Many government archives are open to the public and no appointment is required to visit.
In the United States, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains central archival facilities in the District of Columbia and College Park, Maryland, with regional facilities distributed throughout the United States. Some city or local governments may have repositories, but their organization and accessibility varies widely. State or province archives typically require at least a bachelor's degree in history for employment, although some ask for certification by test (government or association) as well.
In the UK the National Archives (formerly known as the Public Record Office) is the government archive for England and Wales. The English Heritage Archive is the public archive of English Heritage. The National Archives of Scotland, located in Edinburgh, serve that country while the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast is the government archive for Northern Ireland.
A network of county record offices and other local authority-run archives exists throughout England, Wales and Scotland and holds many important collections, including local government, landed estates, church and business records. Many archives have contributed catalogues to the national "Access to Archives" programme and online searching across collections is possible.
In France, the French Archives Administration (Service interministériel des Archives de France) in the Ministry of Culture manages the National Archives (Archives nationales), which possess 406 km. (252 miles) of archives as of 2010 (the total length of occupied shelves put next to each other), with original records going as far back as A.D. 625, as well as the departmental archives (archives départementales), located in the préfectures of each of the 100 départements of France, which possess 2,297 km. (1,427 miles) of archives (as of 2010), and also the local city archives, about 600 in total, which possess 456 km. (283,4 miles) of archives (as of 2010). Put together, the total volume of archives under the supervision of the French Archives Administration is the largest in the world.
Most intergovernmental organisations keep their own historical archives. However, a number of European organisations, including the European Commission, choose to deposit their archives with the European University Institute in Florence.
A prominent Church Archives is the Vatican Secret Archive. Archdioceses, dioceses and parishes also have archives in the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. Very important are monastery archives, because of their antiquity, like the ones of Monte Cassino, Saint Gall and Fulda. The records in these archives include manuscripts, papal records, local Church records, photographs, oral histories, audiovisual materials, and architectural drawings.
Most Protestant denominations have archives as well, including the Presbyterian U.S.A Historical Society, The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, the United Methodist Archives and History Center of the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
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Non-profit archives include those in historical societies, not-for-profit businesses such as hospitals, and the repositories within foundations. Non-profit archives are typically set up with private funds from donors to preserve the papers and history of specific persons or places. Often these institutions rely on grant funding from the government as well as the private funds. Depending on the funds available, non-profit archives may be as small as the historical society in a rural town to as big as a state historical society that rivals a government archives. Users of this type of archive may vary as much as the institutions that hold them. Employees of non-profit archives may be professional archivists, para-professionals, or volunteers, as the education required for a position at a non-profit archive varies with the demands of the collection's user base.
Web archiving is the process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web and ensuring the collection is preserved in an archive, such as an archive site, for future researchers, historians, and the public. Due to the massive size of the Web, web archivists typically employ web crawlers for automated collection.
Similarly, software code and documentation can be archived on the web, as with the example of CPAN.
Some archives defy categorization. There are tribal archives within the Native American nations in North America, and there are archives that exist within the papers of private individuals. Many museums keep archives in order to prove the provenance of their pieces. Any institution or persons wishing to keep their significant papers in an organized fashion that employs the most basic principles of archival science may have an archive. In the 2004 census of archivists taken in the United States, 2.7% of archivists were employed in institutions that defied categorization. This was a separate figure from the 1.3% that identified themselves as self-employed.
Another type of archive is the Public Secrets project . This is an interactive testimonial, in which women incarcerated in the California State Prison System describe what happened to them. The archive's mission is to gather stories from women who want to express themselves, and want their stories heard. This collection includes transcripts and an audio recording of the women telling their stories.
The archives of an individual may include letters, papers, photographs, computer files, scrapbooks, financial records or diaries created or collected by the individual – regardless of media or format. The archives of an organization (such as a corporation or government) tend to contain other types of records, such as administrative files, business records, memos, official correspondence and meeting minutes.
The International Council on Archives (ICA) has developed a number of standards on archival description including the General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G). ISAD(G) is meant to be used in conjunction with national standards or as a basis for nations to build their own standards. In the United States, ISAD(G) is implemented through Describing Archives: A Content Standard, popularly known as "DACS". In Canada, ISAD(G) is implemented through the Canadian Council of Archives: Rules for Archival Description, also known as "RAD" .
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