Glossary of Recordkeeping Terms

The Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS) have compiled a glossary of recordkeeping terms. The glossary comprises generic definitions taken from international sources as well as definitions specific to the United Nations.


Browse the alphabetical list





  • Right, opportunity, means of finding, using or retrieving information. International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.1
Access Copy
  • A copy or reproduction or records or archival material that is used specifically for information sharing and/or to protect originals from damage or theft.
  • The acquisition of a group of records or materials that are physically and legally transferred to a repository or archives. Also refers to the documentation of the transfer the records or materials into a registry or database.
  • The principle that individuals, organizations and the community are responsible for their actions and may be required to explain them to others.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.2
Active records
  • Records in frequent use, regardless of their date of creation, required for current business relating to the administration or function of the organisation. Such records are usually maintained in office space and equipment close to hand. Also known as current records.
  • Each function of an organisation may be broken down into a number of 'activities', a term used in the sense of a class of actions that are taken in accomplishing a specific function. The activities in turn may be broken down into a number of transactions.
Administrative Records
  • Administrative records are common to most organizations. Examples include routine correspondence or interoffice communications; records relating to human resources, equipment and supplies, and facilities; reference materials, routine activity reports, work assignments, appointment books, and telephone logs.
    SAA: Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
  • Accumulated or collected records that are organised into groupings or series.
  • Analog describes something that is continuously variable. In this context, analog refers to non-digital materials such as paper records, audio-cassettes, and traditional silver-based photographs.
  • The process of establishing the value of a record in order to establish retention periods.
  • Archives refers to both records and materials that are appraised to have archival value in addition to the physical place where archival materials and records are stored.



Bit Depth
  • The number of bits used to form a pixel. In digital imaging bit depth refers to image mode such as greyscale (4 to 8-bit depth), bi-tonal (1-bit depth) or RGB colour (16 to 24-bit depth). Indicates the ability of a file to see and replicate colours and tonal gradation.
  • Describes graphic and texual images that lack gradation of tone such as a printed document that uses black type on white. In digital imaging this is a 1-bit image mode that can only record black and white without greys. Also called black & white non-continuous tone images.
Born Digital
  • Information created in electronic formats such as email, word or html.
Business Analysis
  • Analysis of the operations, functions, activities and procedures of a department or functional unit.
Business Continuity
  • Procedures to ensure an organisation’s ability to continue operating outside of normal operating conditions.
Business Records
  • Records and other materials created or received as part of an organisation’s regular business activities.


  • The process of determining that a record should be made and kept. This includes both records created and received by the organization. It involves deciding which documents are captured, which in turn implies decisions about who may have access to those documents and generally how long they are to be retained.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-2, Clause 4.3.2
  • A group of materials sharing a common characteristic. A set of records or materials in a hierarchy as determined by a file plan.
  • The process of identifying the category or categories of business activities and the records they generate and grouping them, if applicable, into files to facilitate description, control, links and determination of disposition and access status.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-2, Clause 4.3.4
Code of Ethics
  • A written system of standards of ethical conduct including objectivity, honesty and diligence.
  • A technique used to decrease file sizes and/or data streams in the digital environment. Used to describe files that have been compacted for storage or transfer. See also Lossy and Non-lossy Compression.
  • The intellectual substance of a document, including text, data, symbols, numerals, images, and sound. Along with context and structure, content is one of the three fundamental aspects of a record.
    SAA: Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
  • The organisational, functional and operational circumstances surrounding records' creation, receipt, storage, or use, and its relationship to other records. Along with content and structure, context is one of the three fundamental aspects of a record.
    SAA: Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
Continuous Tone
  • Refers to analog or digital images that have tonal gradation (black, white and various tones of grey or colour) such as photographic images or textual documents that use graphics.
  • A duplicate made from an original.
  • The individual, group or organization that produces a record.
  • The responsibility for the care of documents based on their physical possession. Custody does not always include legal ownership or the right to control access to records.
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1


  • Units of information such as facts and figures.
  • The process of making previously restricted materials available for general consultation.
  • A procedure which reverses transcription by translating cipher text into plain text by means of either a code or a cryptographic system.


  • The process of capturing, analyzing, organizing and recording information that serves to identify, manage, locate and explain archival materials and the context of records.
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1
  • The act of permanently disposing of records.
Digital Signature
  • A digital code that can be attached to an electronic document to uniquely identify the creator/sender
  • The conversion of analog material into a digital format through digital photography or scanning. For example scanning a paper document to create a digital copy.
Disaster Mitigation Strategy
  • Written policies, procedures and information designed to mitigate the impact of threats to an organisation's records and to recover them in the event of a disruption to daily operations. See Vital Records, Risk Analysis and Assessment and Risk Management .
Disaster Recovery
  • The operation of restoring record collections and related operations after a disaster.
  • The process of making records available for public access.
  • A range of processes associated with implementing records retention, destruction or transfer decisions which are documented in disposition authorities or other instruments.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.9
Distributed Management
  • Distributed management is an electronic recordkeeping strategy whereby the agency which created the electronic records maintains them in their computing environment, migrating them to new hardware and software platforms as that environment changes. It addresses technological change by exploiting the creating agency's need to periodically migrate current data to new platforms: electronic records of longer-term value are transferred at the same time.
  • Any recorded information or object which can be treated as a unit. Records are considered a subset of documents that have specific attributes. See also Record(s).
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.10
  • An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform developed by EMC Corporation for content management in the areas of records management, digital asset management, archives management, and imaging. Documentum has been adopted as part of the United Nations Enterprise Content Management (ECM) project. See Enterprise Content Management.


Electronic (or Digital)
  • Records that are communicated and maintained by means of electronic equipment and that have:
    i) structure: the format of the electronic record and any links to attachments or other related documents;
    ii) content: the information in the structure of the electronic record conveying the evidence of the transaction; and
    iii) context: the information documenting the source in terms of the transaction to which it relates, creator, date, security and access, language, disposal, format etc. of the electronic record and which is normally separated in the structure from the content.
Electronic Signature
  • A security procedure which translates electronic data in plain text into a cipher code by means of either a code or a cryptographic system in order to render it incomprehensible without the aid of the original code or cryptographic system.
Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
  • Technologies, tools, and methods used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content across an enterprise. ECM platforms provide the integrated tools, methods and strategies for establishing information (documents, records and, archives) management systems.
  • Material that is used to prove or disprove a fact.
Evidential Value
  • The quality of records that provides information about the origins, functions, and activities (context) of their creator.


File Classification Scheme
  • A system that describes standard categories and that is used to organise records with common characteristics.
File Plan
  • A plan or scheme developed by an office, department or organisation to organise and arrange different types of files. See File Classification Scheme.
Finding Aid
  • A tool used by researchers to navigate archives and records collections. The broadest term to cover any description or means of reference made or received by an archives service in the course of establishing administrative or intellectual control over archival material.
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1
  • The whole of the records, regardless of form or medium, organically created and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body in the course of that creator's activities and functions. In broad terms, the fonds is the chief archive unit according to archival arrangement that links the creator to a body of records.
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1
  • The top or macro level of business activity in an organisation.
Functional Analysis
  • The analysis of business activity into the hierarchical structure of functions, activities and transactions.



  • Describes continuous tone, monochromatic textual and graphic materials that contain a full range of black, white and greys. With analog materials greyscale is distinguish for line-art (graphic images that use black and white, with no greys or tonal rage). In digital imaging, greyscale is distinguished from 1-bit black & white bitonal images.




Inactive records
  • Records no longer needed on a day to day basis but may be required for administrative, legal or historical reasons.
  • Data, ideas, thoughts or memories irrespective of medium.
Information Security
  • The policies, procedures and practices required to maintain and provide assurance of the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information.
Informational Value
  • The value of records based on their content.
Intellectual Control
  • Creation of tools, such as catalogues and finding aids, to facilitate access to the informational content of records and archives.
Interim Archives
  • The HQ Records Centre where ARMS keeps records that will not be kept permanently as part of the UN Archives. Such records will ultimately be destroyed in accordance with retention scheduling.


  • International Standard for Archival Description (G) A standard published by the International Council on Archives that establishes general rules for the description of archival materials, regardless of format, to promote consistent and sufficient descriptions, and to facilitate exchange and integration of those descriptions.
    SAA: Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
ISO 15489
  • An International Standards Organisation for information documentation and records management. An international standard that establishes principles for creation, capture, maintenance and management over time in appropriate systems of records, irrespective of their format.


  • Stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group , is a file format tha can be compressed to reduce file size. It is a common format used to transmit images across the web. JPEG comes in two forms, lossy and non-lossy compression.




Local Archive
  • Low cost, warehouse style storage used for semi-active and inactive records. See Secondary Storage.
Lossy (or Non-Lossy) Compression
  • Lossy and non-lossy are used to describe the digital compression that is used to decrease electronic file size. Lossy compression removes random bits of information from files in order to achieve compression while maintaining a representationof the original. Lossy file formats are used primarily for ease of information sharing such as in the case of web use. Repeated lossy compression and decompression of a file will cause progressive quality loss, while non-lossy compression decreases file size without losing information and is thus more stable for long-term use.


Master Copy
  • The original records or archival materials that are preserved and used to make access copies . Master copies must follow preservation and archival standards for storage and maintenance.
  • The physical material, container, and/or carrier in or on which information is recorded (i.e. paper, film, magnetic tape).
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1
  • Data that describes data such as the context, content and structure of records and their management through time .
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.12


Office of Record
  • The office of record is the office or administrative unit that has been designated for the maintenance, preservation and disposition of record (official) copies.
Official Document
  • The official publications of the United Nations. See UN Parlimentary and Official Documents.


Official Record
  • Master or official copy of a UN record.


Original Order
  • The order in which records or archives were kept when in active use.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  • Is the electronic or mechanical translation or pattern recognition of textual images.


  • Stands for Portable Document Format . PDF is considered one of the more universal text and graphic formats for digital imaging. PDF comes in various version including PDF/A which was specifically designed for archival uses.
  • Stands for “picture element.” Pixels are the elements that comprise a digital image. Pixels determine resolution according to the number of “pixels per inch” or “ppi.” See Resolution.
  • Is an effect that causes the pixels of a digital image to become visible. When pixilation occurs the image lacks smooth tonal gradation and appears fragmented. Pixelation can occur with low resolution image capture, excessive lossy compression or when applying image enhancement techniques such as artistic filters.
  • Processes and operations involved in ensuring the technical and intellectual survival of authentic records through time.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.14
  • The relationship between records and the organizations or individuals that created, accumulated, and/or maintained and used them in the conduct of personal or corporate activity.
    General International Standard Archival Description ISAD(G), Section 0.1




  • The ISO defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". The International Council on Archives (ICA) Committee on Electronic Records defines a record as "a recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context and structure sufficient to provide evidence of the activity.
Record Centre
Record Copy 
Records Creation
  • The first stage in the records lifecycle.
Record Keeping
  • Making and maintaining complete, accurate and reliable evidence of business transactions in the form of recorded information.
Record Keeping Systems
  • Information systems which capture, maintain and provide access to records through time.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.17
Records Lifecycle
  • A mapping of the stages in the life of a record from creation to destruction or transfer to archives.
Records Management
  • Field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.16
Records Management Programme
  • A records management programme is the programme conducted on an organisation-wide basis for the management of records, recordkeeping activities and recordkeeping systems.
Records Survey
  • The process of gathering basic information about an organization's records, including their quantity, form, location, physical condition, storage facilities, rate of accumulation, and associated business processes.
    SAA: Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology
  • The process of masking sensitive content of a record before making it available for consultation.
  • In those systems where registration is used, its purpose is to provide evidence that a record has been created or captured in a records system. It involves recordkeeping brief descriptive information about the record in a register, and assigning the record a unique identifier.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-2. Clause 4.3.3
  • A paper recordkeeping or filing system run by staff tasked with the creation and management of files (including storage and tracking) is centralised.


  • Having authority and trustworthiness as evidence.
    Electronic Archivists Workbook. ICA 2005
  • Used to describe image quality according to ppi (pixels-per-inch), dpi (dots-per-inch) or lpi (lines-per-inch). Resolution in digital imaging is measured by ppi. The higher the resolution the smoother the tonal gradation, clearer the image and the larger the file size.
Retention Schedule
  • A comprehensive instruction covering the disposition of records to assure that they are retained for as long as necessary based on their administrative, fiscal, legal and historic value.
Risk Analysis and Assessment
  • An evaluation of the potential threats to, the likelihood of their occurring and their impact on records and archives.
Risk Management
  • Stands for Red, Green, and Blue, is a common colour image mode in photographic and digital imaging. RGB files typically use 24-bit continuous tone colour.


  • An optical device that transforms an analog image into a graphics image readable by a computer.
  • The action of digitally capturing an image using an electronic scanner.
Secondary storage
  • Low cost, warehouse style storage used for semi active and inactive records. See also Local Archive.
Semi-active Records 
  • Records which are referred to infrequently and therefore are typically stored away from the work area .


  • The act of applying a retention schedule to records.
  • Records that are arranged or maintained as a unit as a result of the same accumulation or activity or because of some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt and/or use.
Sling Psychrometer
  • An instrument used to measure relative humidity.
  • A benchmark or reference to establish desirable quality or practice.
Substantive Records
  • Records related to the core activities of an organisation i.e. those activities which are unique to the organisation or office.


  • An intellectual structure which arranges items into groups and subgroups based on predetermined rules.
  • A thesaurus is a controlled list of terms linked together by semantic, hierarchical, and associative or equivalence relationships. Such a tool acts as a guide to allocating classification terms to individual records.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-2,Clause
  • Stands for “Tagged Image Format” is a standard file format for photographic digital images. TIFF is commonaly used for long term storage of digital images.
  • Creating, capturing and maintaining information about the movement and use of records.
    International Standard ISO/TR15489-1, Clause 3.19
  • The smallest unit of business activity.
  • The process of moving records as part of their lifecycle.
Transitory Records
  • Any data or information required for only a limited time to ensure the completion of a routine action or the preparation of a subsequent record.


UN Parlimentary and Offical Documents
  • The Dag Hammarskjöld Library is the custodian of all offical UN documents. This includes the documents of the General Assembly, the Security Council, the ECOSOC, as well as all ST documents (ST/SGB, ST/AI and, ST/IC). Most of these documents available in electronic form thorugh ODS and are not considered records or archives. See also Offical Document


Version control
Vital records
  • The records which are necessary to ensure the ongoing operation of an organisation in the event of a disaster or other disruption to normal operating conditions (e.g. power outage).