It refers to the process of physically organizing records to reveal their contents and significance in accordance with the accepted archival principles of provenance and original order.

 Principles of arrangement

  1. Principle of provenance
  2. Principle of original order

 Principle of provenance

Provenance means source or origin (where the records came from) Principle of provenance refers to a source origin or creator of records. The French archivist first articulated of the principle of provenance in the 1840’s. It is referred to it as respect des fonds which is translated in English to mean records group.

It was later modified in the 1880’s to acquire it current name of principle of provenance. According to his principle archives of a given records creator must not be intermingled with those of other records creators. It means that the archivist must try as much as possible to separate records of different creating individuals or agencies or organizations and keep them as single entitles/complete entities in the archives. The arrangement of records according to this principle means that record from one group sources must be kept intact or a separate from records from another source.

Record Group Concept

The principle of provenance is an offshoot of the record group concept. The principle is derived of provenance is essentially a modification of the French principle of respect des fonds. In a record group system, a collection or a group of records can only be placed at one logical place. The arrangement represented the organizational pattern of the source. The arrangement means that records should be kept in separate units that correspond to their sources in organic bodies where each unit is treated as an integral unit (record group). It ensures that records do not lose their significance as they remain in the record groups in which they belong. The record group concept ensures that the utilitarian nature of archives is well seen clearly when records are kept together with other documents which relates to them.  It means that in order to appreciate the significance of a document its essential to know exactly who created it in what circumstances, for what purpose, when and how it was received by the addressee and by what means it reached the archives. Such details can only be elicited when all the accompanying documents have been preserved intact as a distinct entity and have not been mixed up with documents from some other source, however, relevant that letter may be to the subject. Under the records group concept any particular body of records can belong to only one record group and an effort is made to keep together in the stack areas records belonging to the same record group. When consistently applied the principle enables a repository to establish effective control over documentary materials of every types, received many different offices, and other sources and at different times.

Rules to follow in provenance

Keep records intact or as integral unit

Do not disperse the records

Observe the documents

Reasons for applying principles provenance

Facilitate description of archives

Facilitate arrangement of archives

Preservation of valuable records

Principle of original order /sanctity

Maintaining the original order of the according to their department in the registry. Its done mentally not supposed to interfered with arrangement.

Rules to follow in original order

  • Do not observe the principle when doing with records with information research or secondary value
  • Should not be applied to records that have artificial collection e.g. donation
  • The order should not be into forced
  • You only apply the principle if you know the creator

Reasons for applying the principle of original order

  • Easier to prepare evidential value
  • Facilitate exploitation of archival information
  • Easy to make all the finding aids

Use the following if you miss the two principles

Chronological order- According to dates of receipt

Geographical region- Records are arranged according to the geographical source (provenance)

Series- According to classes. It’s a group of similar records maintained in the same alphabetical, chronological or any other sequence.

Reasons for arrangement

  1. To enable the archivist to determine whether there are documents that should be repaired or bound
  2. To determine whether there are documents that should be made available for research for reasons of privacy, confidentiality or security
  3. To determine whether there are ephemeral documents that should be recommended for destruction
  4. To be described and made accessible for research


  • Maintaining archive according to these basic principles provides
  • Evidence about the nature of their creator or creators
  • Provinces values that arise from the organic character of records and archives
  • Evidence as to how and why the records were created and used
  • Protects the integrity of records or archives
  • Allows records or archives to be arranged, described and administered efficiently and effectively.

Records group concept

It is difficult to arrange activities according to the subject as happens to library materials. This is because of the size of the holdings as well as the complexity and diversity of the information they contain.

For a long period of time, the principle of original order has been considered as a good one in serving the needs of researchers.

The principle of provenance is an offshoot of the records group concept. This principle is derived from the French FONDS which means a collection of records. The principle of provenance is

essentially a modification of the French principle of respect Des Fonds. The French word Fonds is translated as follows:-

  • In English it refers to Archival Group
  • In America it refers to Records Group
  • The Australians refer to it as Records series

A records group is taken to refer to a body of materials related the activities of the organization or the creator. It is body organically retailed records established on the basis of the provenance with due regard to volume of the records and administrative history of the creating agency e.g.

  • Records from the office of the President
  • Records from a particular government agency
  • Records from a specific department

An archivist can decide to create records groups strictly in accordance with the provenance which implies that records from a creating agency are kept together as a particular record group and are assigned a unique number e.g. RGI, RG2 etc.

Information systems arrangement

Archives– Principle of provenance and original order

Registries- According to file order or per file classification

Record centres– stored according to provenance

Library arrangement is per classification system.

Levels of arrangement


Arrangement the process of physically organizing records in accordance with the principle of provenance and original order. It is a process that involves-packing, labeling and shelving of archives.

Oliver Wendell Holmes of the USA National Archives discovered the complexity of the arrangement of archives and came up with or believed that arrangement involves (five) different operations at the different levels. This implies that there are five levels of arrangement of archives namely:- a) Repository level b) Records group level c) Series level d)File unit level e) Item level

  1. Repository level

In this level records are arranged in different repositories i.e. in the stack areas/storage areas to facilitate easy retrieval and to take advantage of the storage space. However, it is advisable to ensure that one repository is full before moving to another next repository. Archives can be sub-divided into broad divisions and sub-divisions of facilitate arrangement and storage. The physical nature and security of record and archives is a great importance to the archives in the repository. The personnel needed to perform the work need also to be considered.

Repository refers to a storage location often for safety or preservation of archival materials

Stack areas/ Storage areas refers to primarily all other areas where records are stored e.g

Fumigation area

Cleaning area

Conservation and binding area

Processing rooms

Non stack areas refers to areas primarily where records are note.g

Administrative areas

Receiving/ processing  areas

Staging areas

Reference areas

Destruction/ Description area

Records group level

Records group refers to all records from one creating agency or from one origin e.g from the ministry of agriculture. This is level where records are organized as per the established records group. Record group in the context is a body of organizational related records established on the basis of the provenance or created. It refers to the records that are related to the activity of the organization or the creator. If an organization or the creator is small all the records from such an entity are treated as a particular record group. A record group might have various records subgroups or record series might have various archives subgroup. A record group generally is considered to follow the administrative hierarchy structure of the institution itself. It is therefore important for an archivist to understand that all records that emanate from one source should be treated as one single entity. If a record group is too large the entity should be broken into various subgroups which will be treated separately but under the same provenance e.g. office of the president, Directorate of personnel, provincial administration, and internal security.

Series level

A series is a group of records maintained together as a unit because of the relationship that arises from their subject, function, and activity format or it’s a group of related records filled together, used together and which can be evaluated together for retention purposes. This relationship might also arise out of their creation, receipt or their use. Archivist and researchers have special interest to record series e.g. an archivist directs a researcher to a particular series of records that he believers can provide answers to researcher’s queries. The responsibility of an archivist is to protect and restore the order of the record. Series is important because it helps.

  • To maintain the characteristics of the collection
  • Gives a description of the archives (capturing of the details of records).

 Examples of series

  • Series by subject
  • Series by function
  • Series by activity

Form e.g. photographs, microfilms, maps and diskettes.

A records series can have one or more record sub-series.

  1. File unit level

Within a record series there will be files or units that need to be arranged according to an ideal filling system. These filling units may be:

File folders

Bound volumes

Disk packs (diskettes, CD)

Magnetic tape

These file units should be arranged systematically using any of the following filling classification systems:

Alphabetically filling system



Geographical/ Location

Alpha numeric

 Item Level

In these level of arrangement the archivist arranges documents within a filling unit either chronological or alphabetically documents in these case is the item which can either be

  • A letter
  • Correspondences
  • e-mail
  • Memorandum


Refers to categorization of archival materials or the process in which archival materials are recognized, differentiated and understood.

Purpose of classifying Archives

  • To facilitate arrangement of Archival materials
  • To facilitate display of archival materials
  • To facilitate easy arrangement of archival materials
  • It’s used for titling and retrieval of archival materials
  • It’s used for  arranging archives at their custody
  • Facilitate description


It refers to the process of establishing intellectual control over holdings through preparation of finding aids. Or it’s the process of cataloguing and production of finding aids.

Importance of describing archives

1. They identify the general content of individual collection e.g what title and what they contain.

2. They offer detailed information on specific topic available in several collection e.g what does the repository contain that would be useful for genealogical research

(Visited 511 times, 1 visits today)
Share this:

Written by