Course:3: Processing
Lesson:Lesson 2: Arrangement


Provenance refers to the practice of keeping groups of records together based on who created them. Collections should be maintained based on the creator of the records.  They should not be re-organized into collections based on subject or classification schemes created by someone else.

Have you been to you local public library lately? You probably noticed that, in a library, the books are organized by subject – with all the books about a particular topic placed in the same location.  Archivists don’t organize their collections this way.  They order them based on the creator of the records. Why do archivists do this?

Because we try to organize archival collections in a way that answers the widest variety of potential questions.

For example, suppose you decided to organize the records of an environmental group in your area by subject. Records that were created by the director, the finance department, the field specialists, and the public relations/lobbying departments would be broken apart and intermingled with each other and the records of other departments. This would make it easy to respond to a request such as, “I need all the records relating to wetlands.”

These other questions, though, would be difficult if not impossible to answer:

  • How did the public relations department function?
  • What did the director know about potential problems with legislation and regulations?
  • What were the various advertising approaches used over time? 
  • What were the successes and failures?

Keeping the records separated by creator (individual, office, or department) helps answer the most questions that might be asked of the collection. Moreover, you can always create indexes to the records that group records differently--by subject or by name, for example.

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Provenance: The practice of keeping groups of records together based on who created them.

figures arranged with like items

box with files
A records collection should have a single creator; not be interfiled with other collections.