Minnesota  State Archives

Managing Your Government Records: Guidelines for Archives and Agencies


Below you will find definitions for many of the terms that were used in these guidelines. In addition, the following resources are glossaries that focus on archival, library, and information science terms.  Use these resources to learn more about general archival terminology used in these guidelines. 

* A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  (Hosted by the Society of American Archivists.) 

* Glossary of Recordkeeping Terms (Hosted by the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section.)

* Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS)

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- A -


The quality of being responsible, answerable. Accountability also refers to the obligation to report, explain, or justify an event or situation.

Acid-Free Paper

Paper having a pH of 7.0 or greater. Unless treated with an alkaline substance capable of neutralizing acids, paper that is acid-free at the time of manufacture may become acidic through contact with acidic material or atmospheric pollutants.

Administrative Value

Records that have administrative value support the ongoing, day-to-day administrative affairs of the records creator, and are used in conducting routine business and assisting the creating agency in performing its current and future work. See also Record Value.


A picture taken on a plate of prepared glass. Light colors are represented in silver, while shades are produced by a dark background which is visible through the un-silvered portions of the glass.


The process of evaluating records to determine their value and ultimate disposition based upon their administrative, legal, historical and fiscal use; their evidential and informational content; their arrangement and condition; their intrinsic content; and their relationship to other records. See also Record Value.


A place in which public records or historical documents are deposited and preserved. Archives also refers to the material preserved.


A function of a record's preservation. Authenticity also refers to a measure of a record's reliability over time. See also Trustworthiness.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- B -


To copy files to a second medium as a precaution in case the first medium fails.


A substitute or alternative. A backup usually refers to a disk or tape that contains a copy of the data.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- C -

Catalog Record

A finding aid that contains a descriptive summary of a set of records. The summary commonly contains information such as record storage location, author, title, history, and contents summary. See also Finding Aid.

Collection Policy

A written statement that defines a repository's collection scope and specifies the subject and format of materials to be collected. Collection policies guide the process of appraisal.

Confidential Data

Data generally not open to the individual concerned, but are open to the public 30 years after the creation of the data and 10 years after the death, or presumed death, of the individual. See also Restricted Records.

Controlled Vocabularies and Thesauri

Data value standards that control the terminology used for describing information. See also Description Standard.

Convenience Copies

Non-record copies of correspondence, completed forms, and other documents kept solely for ease of access and reference. Convenience copies are typically copies of official copies.


The act of moving a file from one software format to another.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- D -


An image made on a light-sensitive, silver-coated metallic plate.

Data Model

A diagram that shows the various subjects about which information is stored, and illustrates the relationships between those subjects.

Data Warehouse

A computer based-information system that is home for "secondhand" data that originated from either another application or from an external system or source. A data warehouse is a read-only, integrated database designed to answer comparative and "what-if" scenarios. Unlike operational databases that are set up to handle up-to-date transactions, a data warehouse is analytical, subject-oriented, and structured to aggregate transactions as a snapshot in time.

Deed of Gift

A signed, written instrument containing a voluntary transfer of property title with no monetary consideration. A deed of gift frequently takes the form of a contract establishing conditions governing the transfer of title and specifying any restrictions on access or use.


The act of removing magnetism from a device. When applied to magnetic storage medium such as floppy disks and tapes, data is erased.

Description Standard

A standard that promotes the use of common data values, data structures, data content, and data interchange. Description standards enhance the sharing of information between people, departments, and organizations.

Digital Image

The file produced through the process of imaging, whereby a document or photo is scanned by computer and converted from a human-readable format to a computer-readable, digital format.

Disaster Preparedness

The state in which an agency is prepared for disaster. Preparedness involves a plan for avoiding and recovering from a disaster. See also Disaster Recovery.

Disaster Recovery

The retrieval and preservation of records damaged or distressed by an unexpected catastrophic occurrence such as fire or flooding. The recovery process includes repairing buildings and restoring an agency's critical business functions.


The act of disposing a set of records. This may mean immediate destruction, short-term or permanent retention, or transfer to an archives.


The disposal of a set of records. This may mean immediate destruction, short-term or permanent retention, or transfer to an archives.


The act or process of substantiating by recording actions and decisions. Documentation also refers to the records required to plan, develop, operate, maintain, and use electronic records. Documentation includes system specifications, file specifications, codebooks, file layouts, user guides, and output specifications. See also Documentation Strategy and Record Description.

Documentation Strategy

A plan that describes how documentation will be carried out. See also Documentation.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- E -


Short for electronic mail. E-mail systems allow for the creation and transmittal of electronic messages and files across and between networks.

Electronic Records

Records created, generated, sent, communicated, received, or stored by electronic means. See also Government Records.

Encoded Archival Description (EAD)

A data structure and data interchange standard that applies to inventories and registers. EAD is compatible with XML. EAD-formatted inventories can be opened and viewed by web page browsers.

Evidential Value

Records that have evidential value document, in the historical sense, the existence and achievements of organizations, and are useful for ensuring accountability within organizations and for writing organizational administrative histories. See also Record Value.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- F -

Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign)

Passed by the federal government in June of 2000, E-Sign confirms that electronic signatures and electronic records generally satisfy legal requirements for written signatures and paper records. E-Sign is similar but less comprehensive than the Uniform Electronic Records Act (UETA). See also Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA).

Finding Aid

A document that lists or describes the content of a record making the record more readily accessible to the user. Common finding aids include guides, inventories, catalogs, calendars, lists, indexes, and location inventories and registers. See also Catalog Record, Inventory, and Index.

Fiscal Value

Records that have fiscal value are often needed for audit purposes. Federal and state requirements determine retention periods for records with fiscal value. See also Record Value.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- G -

Government Records

Defined as state and local records that are created in accordance with state law or in connection with public business transactions. Examples include correspondence, maps, memoranda, papers, photographs, reports, writings, recordings, e-mail, and other data, information, or documentary material.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- H -

Historical Value

Records that have historical value provide information about the past. They often document the development of government and its policies, provide unique evidence of the lives and activities of people, describe social and economic conditions, and record the development of community and business. See also Record Value.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)

The authoring language used to create documents for the World Wide Web. HTML defines the structure and layout of a web document by using a variety of tags and attributes. See also XML.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- I -


The process in which a document or photo is scanned by computer and converted from a human-readable format to a computer-readable, digital format.


A listing of all information held in a collection. An index guides you to the finding aid most suitable for a particular search. See also Finding Aid.

Information System

An electronic system for creating, generating, sending, receiving, storing, displaying, and processing information.

Informational Value

Records that have informational value pertain mostly to the external activities that an agency has been engaged in, and are useful for researching people, significant historical events, and social developments. See also Record Value.


A decentralized global network connecting millions of computers.

Intrinsic Value

Records that have intrinsic value have unique characteristics that make them interesting and worthy of retention. A record can have intrinsic value because of its association with famous people, famous author, coverage of historical events, exhibit potential, signatures, or attached seals. See also Record Value.


A finding aid that contains a detailed description of record sets. Inventories are typically more detailed than record catalogs, and contain information such as title, inclusive dates, quantity, arrangement, relationships to other series, description of significant subject content, and appendixes. See also Finding Aid.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- L -

Legal Value

Records that have legal value deal with matters related to law. Examples include agreements, civil and criminal case files, contracts, leases, and naturalization papers. See also Record Value.

Location Inventory

A finding aid used for organizing the location of records within a storage facility. A location inventory may contain maps, locator guides, indexes, and lists. See also Finding Aid.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- M -

Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC)

A data interchange standard that defines catalog information fields and field data type for all types of records. See also Description Standard.

Meta Tag

A special HTML tag that provides information about a web page. Unlike normal HTML tags, meta tags do not affect how the page is displayed. Instead, they provide information such as who created the page, how often it is updated, what the page is about, and what keywords represent the page's content. Many search engines use this information when building their indexes.


Commonly defined as data about data. Metadata describes: how, when, and by whom particular information was collected; how the information is structured; and other descriptive information. The key purpose of metadata is to facilitate and improve the management and retrieval of information.


A card-sized transparent sheet of film with micro-images arranged in a grid pattern. Sometimes abbreviated as fiche. See also Microform.


Fine-grain, high-resolution film containing micro-images. See also Microform.


Any form containing greatly reduced images, or micro-images. Examples of film-type microforms include microfilm, microfiche, and aperture cards.


The process of moving digital files from one information system or medium to another.

Minnesota Department of Administration, Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD)

A Minnesota government agency that assists other government agencies and private organizations in understanding and complying with a variety of laws that constitute policy decisions about data practices, records management, and access to government data and to other types of data and information. IPAD also provides assistance to the legislature in the development of statutes relating to data access and disposition.

Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA)

Found in Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13. Governs access to government records. The basic tenet of this act is that government records are presumed public and open to everyone unless the data in the records are classified as not public. See also Restricted Records.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- N -


A photographic image with reversed polarity or, if colored, tonal values that are complementary to those of the original.

Non-Proprietary Technology

A system that is easily accessible due to the use of standards. Non-proprietary technology exhibits an open architecture, allowing the system to be easily connected to devices and programs made by third-party manufacturers.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- O -

Official Record

The copy of the record held by the office of record. Any other copies of the record can be destroyed when they are no longer required.

Offsite Storage

A storage facility located separately from the main storage facility. Offsite storage is ideal for infrequently-used collections, master copies, copies of inventories and collection locators, and disaster plans.

Operating System

The program that controls the basic operations of a personal computer. Windows, UNIX, and Linux are all examples of operating systems.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- P -


A commercial software package used by museums and historical societies to help manage their collections.

Permanent Record

A record that must be permanently retained.

Photocopying Policy

A written policy describing photocopying hours, cost, response time, and what can and cannot be photocopied.


An image recorded on light-sensitive material.

Primary Value

A record has primary value when the activity or transaction that resulted in its creation, such as legislation or statutory mandate, is current. See also Record Value.

Private Data

Data open only to the individual concerned and the creating agency. See also Restricted Records.

Public Data

Data open without restrictions to the public. See also Restricted Records.


To systematically and permanently remove data.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- R -


Recorded information including data in computer systems, created or received and maintained by an organization or person in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs and kept as evidence of such activity. See also Government Records.

Record Description

A means of providing useful information on the content and organizational structure of archival holdings. Record description results in the creation of finding aids such as catalog records, inventories and registers, and indexes. See also Documentation.

Record Value

Helps determine the length of retention or the disposition of records. Throughout the appraisal process it is determined whether records have primary, secondary, administrative, fiscal, legal, historical, evidential, informational, research, or intrinsic value. Records can have one or more of these values. See also Appraisal.

Recordkeeping System

A system that facilitates the act or process of creating, maintaining, and disposing of records.

Records Disposition Panel

Established by the Records Management Act, Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 138.17, this panel reviews and approves proposed records retention schedules and applications for authority to dispose of records. It is composed of the State and Legislative Auditors, the Attorney General, and the Director of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Records Management

The discipline and organizational function of managing records to meet operational business needs, accountability requirements, and community expectations. Records management strives for achieving economy and efficiency in the creation, use, maintenance, and disposition of records.

Reference Policies and Procedures

Documentation that helps to provide equal and easy access to government records. Each agency must create their own reference policies and procedures.


The measure of a record's authority. Reliability is determined solely by the circumstances of the record's creation. See also Trustworthiness.

Removable Storage Media

Media such as tapes, floppy disks, and CD-ROMs, that can be physically removed from the computer environment.


A place or room where archives are deposited or stored.

Research Policy

A written policy regarding the capacity in which staff or volunteers will serve researchers. The research policy often includes information on staff hours, availability for assistance, cost, and acceptable request formats.

Research Value

Most records have research value and are often used in investigations and scholarly studies. See also Record Value.

Restricted Records

Records that have limitations on their accessibility. Restrictions on accessibility are described in the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA). See also Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA).

Retention Period

The period of time that records need to be retained before their final disposal. Retention period is based on statutory requirements and an estimate of the frequency of current and future use.

Retention Schedule

A plan for the management of records including a list of record series, coverage dates, locations, formats, volume, data practices classifications, and retention periods. Retention schedules provide the legal authority for records retention and disposal.

Risk Analysis

A component of risk management that evaluates risks by examining the probability of loss or injury occurring and determining the amount of acceptable risk. Risk analysis also refers to a prioritization of risks.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- S -

Search Engine

A program that searches documents for specified keywords and returns a list of the documents where the keywords are found. Although search engine refers to a general class of programs, the term is often used to specifically describe programs like Alta Vista and Excite that enable users to search for documents on the World Wide Web.

Secondary Value

Records have secondary value when the activity or transaction that resulted in their creation is complete. Many records with secondary value are rich with historical information because of their content, who created them, and their uniqueness and usability. See also Record Value.

Source Code

Program instructions in their original form. Source code consists of the programming statements that are created by a programmer and then saved in a file. In the case of a web page, the source code consists of commands from a markup language such as HTML. These commands determine the look, content, and any interactive functions of the web page.

State Archives Department (State Archives)

A department of the Minnesota Historical Society that documents the history of Minnesota by identifying, preserving, and making accessible the evidential record of government activities and the historically valuable information created by government.


Those operations aimed at maintaining and preserving archives.

Storage Facility

Provides for the safe storage and easy retrieval of archived materials.

System Development Life Cycle

A systematic and orderly approach to solving business problems and developing appropriate information systems. Typical phases of system development life cycle include planning, analysis, design, implementation, and support.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- T -


A positive photograph made directly on an iron plate varnished with a thin sensitized film. Also called a ferrotype.


Refers to the reliability and authenticity of records. See also Reliability and Authenticity.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- U -

Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA)

An act that supports the use of electronic commerce by establishing that the electronic record of a transaction is as legally valid as that of a paper record. States that have not passed UETA are bound by the Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign). See also Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign).

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- W -

Web Page

A document, such as the home page of a web site, on the World Wide Web.

Web Site

A site (location) on the World Wide Web. Every web site contains a home page that the viewer sees when they enter a site. A web site also contains other pages or documents, and is owned and managed by an individual, company, or organization.

World Wide Web (WWW)

A system of Internet servers that support specially formatted documents. The documents are formatted in a language called HTML that supports links to other documents, as well as graphics, audio, and video files. See also HTML, Web Page, and Web Site.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 

- X -

XML (Extensible Markup Language)

A web language similar to HTML. XML offers greater flexibility than HTML, allowing its users to create their own customized tags, thus enabling the definition, transmission, validation, and interpretation of data between applications and organizations. These qualities make XML appealing as a tool for electronic commerce, electronic government services, data warehousing, and enterprise information portals. See also HTML.

Go to Table of Contents