Terms & Definitions

Here are some Terms & Definitions Mennonite Heritage Archives staff thought might be helpful to know. The list is by far not complete; we are always adding to it. If you can think of additional terms that should be added to the list, please let us know: info@mharchives.ca

Accession – When materials first come into the archives the archivist will make a judgement about the suitability of the materials for this institution. Materials that are kept for the archives will be given an accession number that lists the contents, who donated it, contact information, and any restrictions on its use.

Analogue – Most archives have a lot of analogue records consisting of paper and machine-readable records such as cassette tapes, photographs, and films.

Appraisal – The archivist will determine what should be kept in the archive or not. This process is called appraisal.

Archives – a physical or digital collection of historically significant records.

Conrad Stoesz
MHA archivist, Conrad Stoesz

Archivist – A person who is in charge of and maintains archives. For more context, please read an article by Katie Lynch, Archival Assistant at the MHA, entitled, “What Does an Archivist Do?”

Collection – When archivists talk about “collection” they are usually using this term to refer to an artificially collated group of materials around a theme. For example my materials about the Royal family is a collection. If however, the materials created by the Royal family were donated to the archives, these materials would be considered a “fonds.”

De-accession – Sometimes archives re-evaluate (re-appraise) materials and deem them unnecessary for their archival holdings and remove them. The de-accessioned materials may end up in the garbage or gifted to another institution.

Digital born – The materials are created by a computer and represented by a series of digital codes represented by “1” and “0.”

Digitization – The process of converting analogue materials to digital form. Digitization is done to increase access (making it available online) and/or to preserve the information such as converting an old film. The standards for access or preservation are different.

Fee for service – The staff at MHA provide access to archival documents for people who visit us in person or via email or phone. For some services, we do charge a fee to recover costs such as photocopying or scanning. MHA is supported by generous people who donate their finances so that we can offer these services at such a reasonable cost.

Finding aid – a document created that gives guidance what an archive has and gives contextual information about the materials and its creator. A finding aid is a tool to help a person access materials.

Fonds – the complete body of records a person, family, or organization has created and accumulated reflecting the functions and activities of the creator.

Machine readable – materials created that can only be made understandable with specialized machines or equipment.

MAID – This acronym stands for Mennonite Archival Information Database. The Mennonite Heritage Archives uses this database to manage its photo collection and to provide public access to archival images. Increasingly it will be used to house finding aids. MAID is a project of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada and has eight partners in Canada and the USA.

MHA – Is the abbreviation of Mennonite Heritage Archives. Before 2017 it was known as the Mennonite Heritage Centre.

Preservation – A central task for the archive is to preserve or keep the materials in the archive for as long as possible. Reducing the use of a fragile item is a key strategy to preserve materials and is one reason why an archive may digitize the materials.

Processing – the steps undertaken by the archivist to prepare historically significant materials for use by researchers. This can include foldering, numbering, boxing, repairing, and creating a finding aid.

Restrictions – Some materials in the archive may be sensitive and could cause embarrassment or harm to a person. The donor and the archivist decide on how to restrict access to the sensitive materials. This can include sealing the records for a period of time, asking that researchers seek permission from the donor or archivist before consulting the materials, a pseudonym must be used, materials cannot be copied or quoted from for a period of time.

For more terms and definitions visit SAA Dictionary (archivists.org)