What do you call it when….

As the Archives.gov website redesign preparation continues, we’re looking for your input on how to refer to NARA’s vast collection of records. What would you collectively call all of the documents, photos, and videos that the National Archives stores? For example, would you call them holdings, collections, our catalog, an inventory, records, or something else? Let us know what makes the most sense to you!

15 thoughts on “What do you call it when….

  1. I would say “Collection” and then break each down, i.e., Photo Collection, Video Collection, etc., with, perhaps, further breakdowns with the Document Collection as to the types of documents. Any questions, email me for further input. Thanks for asking.

  2. I would expect the word ‘collection’. ‘Holding’ to me suggests the particular venue, ‘catalog’ to me is the index, and inventory and records are words I would expect a professional to use but not the average member of the public. But I’m not a native speaker so my view may be a bit warped!

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Norman and Yvette! We would love to hear from more of our readers, too.

      Stay tuned for more upcoming chances to give us your input on the Archives.gov redesign.

      – Jill (admin)

  3. The opinions expressed in the following posting are mine alone and do not reflect any position of the National Archives and Records Administration.

    All of the “stuff” that NARA has is called “holdings.” Some of these holdings, chiefly donated materials that are held by the Presidential libraries, are “collections.” By far the greater part of our “holdings” are those Federal records having enduring value- these are the National Archives of the United States, or, “the National Archives.”

    To many of the staff at NARA, particularly to those who have been here for a while, to refer to the totality of our holdings as “collections” is regarded with disdain.

    Note that there is a difference between the “National Archives” and the agency that has custody of them, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This is an important distinction that is becoming lost in the public discussion.

    What needs to be noted as well is that the terms “National Archives,” “holdings,” and “collections,” and their usage are set forth in NARA directives and have been serving the agency, and the public, well for decades. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s bad.

  4. “Collection” is used by the LOC, the UK National Archives, and Archives of Canada. I don’t know if they’ve done research to suggest that this term is widely-understood, but I do lean more toward “collections” than “holdings.”

  5. Are you looking for an inclusive yet snappy name? The obvious (Historium, historicum,historion etc are all taken) Consider historiage (not historage) or historillion

  6. Data, facts, or findings for referring to documents, photos, videos, and other items? 😮

    I vote for collections. Holdings and assets sound like finance terms.

  7. I gotta go for “collections”. It’s completely neutral of any connotations of content; you can have a collection of anything.

  8. Having used many libraries in my work as a genealogist I understand both the words collections and holdings. Collections makes me think of “a lot of good stuff”. Of course a description of each collection narrows down which one I need to look at. You already do that to some degree. Keep it up. I like the opening page “D” It should be clean and easy to pick out what record collection I would like to know more about.

  9. I have to stay with holdings. As Bill pointed out, “collections” has a distinct mean. When I took the “Archives for for Nonarchivists” course many years ago, it was made clear that the two terms have precise meanings. The National Archives doesn’t “collect” ( i.e., solict or purchase items to meet a collections policy). It takes in (accessions) material from Federal entities on a schedule. The National Archives of the United States has collections (in Presidential libraries and Donated Material) and holdings. Why are we even being asked this question? There are meaningful definitions–just stick to them.

  10. I concur with the comments made by Bill Getchell and Mary. Snooze Hamilton’s comment actually underscores why an archives has holdings, not collections (with the exception, in NARA’s case, of Presidential Library and donated material collections). An archives has defined holdings (e.g., the records of the Federal government; the records of a State government for a state archives; the records of a particular business for a business archives, etc.). A museum or a library “can have a collection of anything”.

  11. It makes perfect sense to use the internal terminology that NARA has determined in policies a long long time ago. But if the mission is to serve the public, it makes more sense to use terminology that’s widely-understood, not governmentese. Anytime you have to educate people on your particular system, you lose participation and effectively score a usability fail. Imagine if every city had their own version of a stop sign?

    It’s good that opinions are being sought here though (democracy in action!) The end result should be confirmed with good usability testing.

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