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Glossary of Common Terms

Archival Terms

Accession: Material that comes into an archive as a single acquisition is described as an accession. It may be a gift or a purchase, and ownership or copyright may be legally transferred. A number of accessions may form one single collection with shared provenance, e.g. the records of a business may be transferred to an archive over time in the form of various accessions.

Administrative/Biographical History: This provides biographical or historical details about the creator or creators of the collection. This can help to give you historical context for the material, and provide extra details to allow you to identify people with similar names.

Appraisal: Assessing a collection to determine its long-term value. This often happens during accessioning.

ArchiveReferenceNumberThe unique identifying reference number of a document. This is the reference you will need when requesting further information, to view material and to cite the document.

Born Digital: Used to refer to materials that were created as digital entities, rather than physical materials that have been digitised.

c., circa: ‘About’. Used to indicate an approximate date or quantity.

Closed/Closure Period: Items which are closed are preserved by archivists but are not accessible to readers. After a certain number of years, they may be made available. That is their closure period.

Collection: Documents or material of any kind that have accumulated and been kept as a unit in an archival repository. Sometimes the term Fonds may be used for a collection of material created by an individual person or organisation where the integrity of the whole is important, as it provides contextual evidence for all of the items. A collection may be a single item (letter, diary, film etc), or it may be made up of many items. The extent will indicate how big the collection is.

Context: The organisational, functional, and operational circumstances surrounding the creation, receipt, storage, or use of a collection of materials. This information can inform the user about the evidential value of the materials.

Copyright/reproduction: The ‘copyright/reproduction’ statement provides information about whether you may copy, quote, or publish material from within the archival collection. There may be limitations imposed by the collection’s donor, or there may be legal restrictions on the use of the material. This will often include information about copyright of the material.

Data Protection: Data Protection is a law which tells us what information we are allowed to keep and share about other living people. It ensures a certain level of privacy.

Description: This summarises the range of the materials being described, allowing you to judge its potential relevance. It can range in depth of detail but will usually provide a general overview of the subjects covered, and highlight significant individuals, organisations, or events represented in the material.

Digital Surrogate: Electronic or digitised copy of an original document, photograph, or other material. Digital surrogates are often used if the original item is fragile or inaccessible.

Digitised: A saved scan or photograph of a document, which might be used as a surrogate or put online. Digitisation is done according to a high specification for the purpose of permanent preservation.

Extent: This provides information about the quantity of materials in the collection, or the digital space they occupy.

File: A level of description in archival catalogues. It is a grouping of items which relate to the same subject or activity. A file can vary in size and should not be confused with a physical file.

Finding Aid: A description of an archival collection, to enable the archive to be discovered or the contents within an archive to be identified. A catalogue is one type of finding aid.

Fonds: ‘Fonds’ is a term often used by archivists for the material created or collected by a particular person, family, or organisation in the course of their activities. The parts of the collection all relate to each other and provide context for each other.

Freedom of Information: This is a law which allows people to gain information about public bodies, for example government departments.

Hierarchy: A collection is arranged in order to show context. The collection will be arranged into sub-sections, such as series, files, items, and these will all be clearly related. The researcher can then see the context of an individual item, such as a letter – they can see that it forms part of a series, and the series is within a larger collection.

Item: Usually the smallest unit of a description, giving information about a single document, such as a letter, photograph, or report.

Keyword: A keyword is a word used to search a catalogue. Depending on the word you search for, this can give many search results. You might choose to carry out an ‘advanced search’ and add dates etc. to limit the number of results.

Level: The level is the particular point in the hierarchy that is being described. For example ‘collection’, ‘series’, ‘item’. Levels are nested, so that a ‘subseries’ forms one part of a ‘series’, and an ‘item’ may form one part of a ‘subseries’.

Name of Creator: The name of the individual or individuals, family, or organisation that is responsible for the creation or the accumulation of the materials being described.

Oral History: The recording of people’s memories, experiences and opinions.

Original: This is an authentic record, rather than a copy.

Preservation: Preservation is the process of protecting records from damage.

Provenance: The origin or custody of the materials being described.  Materials with a shared provenance can provide insights into the creator’s life and work.

Record: Archives such as minute books, registers, deeds, agreements, contracts etc., are actually records in the legal sense, because they formally record official processes and transactions. But sometimes ‘records’ is used to mean ‘archives’ in a general sense.

Repository: The archive, library, or special collection, where an archival collection is stored and/or accessed.

Series: This may refer to materials grouped together because they are of a similar type or because they were originally arranged together.

Subfonds: A subfonds refers to a subdivision in the archival material immediately below the collection or fonds level. For example, one subfonds might be the documents relating to Finance within a business archive.

SystemID: The reference combination used to electronically arrange the records. This is NOT the reference number of the document and SHOULD NOT be used to cite the document or request access.

Thumbnail: A small version of a digital image, generally used as a link to a larger version.

Transcription: The process of copying all of the information from a record, or the result of that copying. The result can be handwritten or typed, as long as it includes the same information. A good transcription will include the same punctuation and even the same mistakes as the original record.


Transport for London Acronyms, Abbreviations and Specific Terms

AOTU: Art on the Underground

BCV: Bakerloo, Central, Victoria Lines

CRL: Crossrail

DLR: Docklands Light Railway

EAL: Emirates Air Line (Cable Car)

ELL: East London Line

Infraco: Infrastructure Company

JLE: Jubilee Line Extension

JNP: Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly Lines

LBL: London Buses Limited

LGOC: London General Omnibus Company

LO: London Overground

LPO: Lost Property Office

LPTB: London Passenger Transport Board

LRT: London Regional Transport

LT: London Transport

LTE: London Transport Executive

LU: London Underground

LUL: London Underground Limited

Met Line: Metropolitan Line

Metronet: Infraco in PPP contract with LUL responsible for the maintenance, renewal, and upgrade of, trains, tunnels, signals, and stations on nine London Underground lines operating between 2003-2008. The nine lines were Bakerloo, Central, Victoria Waterloo & City, Circle District, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, and East London

Motifs: Term sometimes used to refer to tiling patters on the walls of station platforms

NLE: Northern Line Extension

OPO: One Person Operation

Pennyfare: The name of the staff magazine during WWII

POTU: Poems on the Underground

PPP: Public Private Partnership (contracts between LUL and private infrastructure companies responsible for ensuring the maintenance, renewal and upgrade of track, trains, signals, civils work and stations)

Roundel: TfL’s logo, the circular sign with a bar in the middle

SSL: Sub Surface Lines (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan Lines)

TCL: Tramlink Croydon Limited

TfL: Transport for London

TOT: Trains, Omnibus, Trams (the name of the staff magazine for a while)

Tubelines: Infraco in PPP contract with LUL responsible for the maintenance, renewal, and upgrade of, trains, tunnels, signals, and stations on nine London Underground lines from 2003 but currently operating as London Underground. The three lines are Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly

UERL: Underground Electric Railways Company of London

VCS: Victoria Coach Station


Transport and Transport Technology Common Terms


Car: Can be used to mean either road transportation vehicle, or a carriage on an Underground train

DfT: Department for Transport

FIR: Formal Investigation Report

M&E: Mechanical and Electrical (Engineering)

Omnibus: The longer name for a bus

Rolling stock: Equipment used to convey passengers on the transport network. Most commonly used within TfL to mean tubes and buses

TWA: Transport Works Act

ULEZ: Ultra Low Emission Zone

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