Inventory [definition]

As found on the SAA site, Richard Pearce-Moses on the definition of “inventory” (noun):
1. A list of things.
2. Description · A finding aid that includes, at a minimum, a list of the series in a collection.
3. Records management · The process of surveying the records in an office, typically at the series level.
Broader term: finding aid
Narrower term:  chronological inventory
Related terms: calendar, checklist, preliminary inventory
Notes:  Inventory2: A summary inventory, also called a series inventory or a title inventory, includes only terse descriptions of the materials. A summary inventory may be made for materials with very technical form or contents, which would require extensive description to adequately capture the nuance difference. They are also made for collections of homogenous materials, in which details would be redundant.

Compare David B. Gracy, II, SAA Basic Manual Series: Archives & Manuscripts: Arrangement & Description (1977), page 21:

An inventory is the first document produced after a collection/group has been processed, and it is generated specifically to record the information developed during processing.  By definition, it is a stock taking, a recording of the character of records.  The inventory is the principal finding aid that reflects arrangement, and it stands also as the most thorough single description of an entire collection/group, or a single accession, for it combines data on both arrangement and contents.  An inventory is produced for every body of records.  Essential to a researcher seeking familiarity with a collection/group, it can further serve curators as a detailed receipt to a donor for the material deposited.

Then compare Frederic Miller, Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts (AFS I, 1990), p. 93, who defines inventories as:

Archival inventories are essentially descriptions of all the series identified with a record group or collection, preceded by a description of the organization or individuals which created the records. Inventories are sometimes called registers, especially in manuscript repositories, though they have nothing to do with traditional public archives registry systems. In inventories, the individual series descriptions are often groups under descriptions of subgroups. Inventories are thus representations of provenance; in Jenkinson’s words, “a summary but complete exposition on paper of the Arrangement we have given our Archives.”

Lastly, there is bare mention of the term inventory in Kathleen Roe’s Arranging & Describing Archives & Manuscripts AFS II (2005), p. 86.  Her glancing treatment of the term may indicate that finding aid is the term that has now taken the field:

The generic term for such access tools, finding aid, is defined as a “representation of, and/or a means of access to, archival material made or received by a repository in the course of establishing administrative or intellectual control over the archival material.” A range of finding aid types may be appropriate, but certain essential tools should be created to manage access to archival records. At a minimum, a basic finding aid (referred to by many archivists as an “inventory” or “descriptive inventory”) should be developed for archival holdings. From that finding aid, additional finding aids can be created depending on the intended audience, the nature of the records, or the institutional goals.


About wsparkman

Director of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
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