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Archives: Arrangement

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Arrangement of Archival fonds and Collections

Archives are arranged according to provenance and, where possible, original order is maintained. Archives are not dispersed into subject areas but are kept as evidence of the creating body, not, in the first instance, as a resource for subsequent research. The concept of provenance is crucial to the authenticity of the archival record.

  • Each archival document or group of documents (known as a fonds) is assigned an accession number and shelved as it was created and subsequently forwarded to the archives whether it consists of one letter or a hundred boxes.
  • Archives have no subject categorization schemes as libraries do. Materials pertaining to specific subjects are not removed from the fonds. Some "extra" information adheres to the archival record by maintaining the papers according to provenance and with absolute respect for the context of each and every component of the fonds. Papers accumulated by a creator and kept intact tell us more about the creating body than would any sum of their parts if we broke it up into subject groupings or removed specific media from it without ensuring that appropriate intellectual linkages were in place. That is, maps for example might be physically removed from a group of papers to be stored more safely in special cabinets but any finding aids would include reference to those maps. Their contextual existence would be secure. Archival practice requires that the records of a person or agency be kept together, and, in addition, be kept in the same order as they were originally arranged. These are the rules of "provenance" and "respect des fonds" which govern the arrangement and description of archival material in every archival depository.
  • Archival materials are less managed, and less manageable, than library materials. The maintenance of fonds holistically, and in the order in which they were created, dictates mechanisms of acquisition, description, arrangement and accessibility within the archival repository.