Archivists talk funny

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the terminology used in archives and the inherent problems and contradictions it can cause when those same terms are crossed with another field or discipline. Of personal interest are such terms as “preservation? and “conservation? and how these terms have very practical applications in archival work and also have implications in archival theory. Comparing and contrasting these definitions with their use in environmental protection sets up archives as a single field among many interested in the long-term use and access to rare and unique resources. That, however, can be the topic of a different post.

The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology addresses these issues of archival lexicon in an introductory essay. Yet, the reality can sometimes become all too apparent when the words used and the confusion over their definitions means a loss to the archival record.

Today, I’d like to address the term “papers.?

The Glossary provides these definitions for words that are at times used interchangeably.

Papers: 1. A collection. – 2. A collection of personal or family documents; personal papers. – 3. Government • Records indicating an individual's identity or status.

Personal papers: 1. Documents created, acquired, or received by an individual in the course of his or her affairs and preserved in their original order (if such order exists). – 2. Nonofficial documents kept by an individual at a place of work.

Manuscript: 1. A handwritten document. – 2. An unpublished document. – 3. An author's draft of a book, article, or other work submitted for publication.

When trying to collect the papers of those in higher education, I believe archivists are competing with terminology already ingrained in the population by the publishing world. Paper equals article. Manuscript equals a pre-publication work.

Why the interest in papers? Today I learned that nearly 12 boxes of correspondence and related work materials for a prominent individual in the veterinary sciences were recently destroyed (this is unrelated to another recent loss in the vet sciences). In this specific case, it was believed that papers referred to the published work of the individual. A reasonable interpretation given the publishing environment academics work in. Is “personal papers? that much more clear? Not likely. Manuscripts? Again, the connection to publication is forefront with most.

So, the education continues. Both for the community I am collecting from on what archives are as well as for myself on how that community perceives the work we do.

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