Skip to Main Content

Archiving Student Organizations

This guide will assist CMU Student Organizations in collecting, organizing, and archiving their records.


Archivists use a lot of profession specific lingo which can be confusing to those not immersed in the world of archives. We've tried to limit our use of archives-talk but that's easier said than done, so here's a glossary to aid in translation.

Archives: (uppercase “A”) An organization that is dedicated to preserving records of continuing value. The University Archives is responsible for preserving Carnegie Mellon University’s history. Our collection holds official university records, professional papers of faculty, alumni, and staff, and material that documents the Carnegie Mellon student experience

archives: (lowercase “a”) Inactive records of continuing value. 

Archivist: A professional who is responsible for collecting, organizing, describing, and preserving records of continuing value.

Collection: A collection of records that were assembled by a person, organization or a repository.

Deed of Gift: A contract that transfers ownership of records from a donor to the archives.

Digitization: The process of transforming analog(physical) records into digital records. Digitization can be achieved by scanning, photography, audio/visual conversion, etc.

Finding Aid: A guide that provides descriptive information about an archival collection. Finding aids describe what is in a collection, how it is organized, and also provides biographical and/or historical information about the collection.

Post-Custodial: Relationships where the record creators keep physical and intellectual control of their records with archivists providing support and possibly managing digital surrogates of the creator’s records.

Preservation: Actions taken to prolong the use of archival records and prevent damage and deterioration. 

Processed/unprocessed: Processing a collection means getting it ready for everyone to use. When we receive a new collection of archival records, materials, or artifacts, its often unorganized and in poor physical condition. To process a collection of physical papers or records, we assess any preservation concerns, organize it by type or chronological order, and rehouse it in acid-free containers. We also write descriptions of the folder contents and create an inventory of the folders. When we process a collection, it can take anywhere from an hour to several years, depending on its size, organization, and contents.

Primary source: First hand accounts of a topic or event created by individuals during that time or soon following. Primary sources can be published or unpublished. Examples include manuscripts, photographs, diaries, emails, letters, memoirs, oral histories, speeches and scrapbooks.

Record: Materials created or collected by a person or organization that are preserved due to the continuing value found in the information they contain. Archival records can take any format (photographs, text based documents, scrapbooks, videos, audio recordings, etc) and can be digital or paper based.

Secondary source: Secondary sources are documents created after the fact by someone who did not experience an event first-hand. They often quote, analyze, or interpret primary sources and include historical perspectives. Examples include history books, biographies, textbooks, documentaries, reviews, and analysis or interpretation of data.