The Words Archivists Use

This post was submitted by Council Member Geof Huth on behalf of Rosemary Pleva Flynn, Chair and the other members of the Dictionary Working Group.

The year 2005 was a fortunate one for archivists. The Society of American Archivists published Richard Pearce-Moses’ A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, and archivists had their first real dictionary of the words they used as a profession. That new Glossary was sophisticated, authoritative, and voluminous. Originally available in print, it continues online on the SAA website for anyone to use for free.

Almost a full decade later, the language of archivists and archives has changed. Our vocabulary has grown as technology has inhabited our work, but also the realm of archives is growing. While technology is part of the reason for this, the rest has to do with how the archives profession is increasing its range of interests—from conservation and digital records, to advocacy and the law, to our myriad connections with allied professions that are blurring the boundaries between us. After all these years, after so much change, it is time to update, revise, and enlarge this work.

With this in mind, the SAA Council created the Dictionary Working Group in fall 2012 to review and revise the 2005 Glossary. I serve as a member of the working group, which is led by Rosemary Pleva Flynn, who has years of experience working on ARMA International’s glossary. The other members of the working group—Tamar Chute, Kristy Dixon, Pam Hackbart-Dean, Andrew Hyslop, Dawn Schmitz, Margery Sly, and Diane Vogt-O’Connor—are dedicated archivists from across the country who are committed to enriching this resource.

After a year and a half, the working group has developed a solid plan to expand the value of the dictionary so that it can continue to grow as a searchable database on the web. From now on, the working group will be rolling out new information about the dictionary on a regular basis and engaging SAA members in its creation.

The new edition will have a new name: Dictionary of Archives Terminology (DAT). The reason for this name change is twofold. First, we need to recognize that what we are starting with—the 2005 Glossary—was already a full-fledged dictionary, rather than a simple glossary. Second, we wanted to distinguish the work done by Pearce-Moses from what is being done to that work, thus preserving the 2005 Glossary as he had created it. Even when our new and renamed edition is added to the SAA website later in 2014, the 2005 Glossary will remain available on line.

One significant project of ours has been to add subject tags to every one of the over 2,000 terms in the existing dictionary. Eventually, this will allow anyone to put together a reading list of terms on a related topic. For example, if you want to produce a list of all the dictionary entries relating to advocacy, a simple click on a hyperlinked tag will take you to exactly what you’re looking for. This is just one example of how we will are working to make DAT an interactive online resource.

We have also been reading the literature of archives from 2005 forward, searching for new terms and finding citations of terms in context so we can define these terms accurately in the dictionary. We have started by reading The American Archivist and books published by SAA, but we will be expanding to other journals and book publishers. Our goal is not to produce a dictionary for SAA, but a dictionary for the archives profession, a dictionary of archives terms in English.

Crowdsourcing is another means by which the working group will be gathering words. We need you to suggest new terms and to send us citations of archives terms in use. Thanks to the dozens of SAA members who have already submitted terms. Please send more. You can help build this resource.

So pay attention during the next few months, as we tell you more about the dictionary. And plan on attending the 2014 Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA, NAGARA, and SAA in Washington, D.C., where we will hold a forum about the dictionary on August 14th and conduct a poster session about DAT.

We want every member of SAA to think about the dictionary and help us make it better. By interacting with this rich vocabulary of ours, you will not only bolster an important resource, but also the profession as a whole.

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