The Conceptual Fonds and the Physical Collection

  • Geoffrey Yeo


This paper examines ideas about the fonds, the collection, and the intersections between them. Archivists usually assume that “artificial” collections and “organic” fonds are mutually exclusive categories, but the author argues that rigid distinctions between “artificial” and “organic” are unsupportable. Instead, if there is a critical difference between collection and fonds, it lies in the understanding that collections are physical or material, whereas fonds are conceptual entities whose membership need not be physically brought together. Fonds are difficult to circumscribe, both because there is potential for a multiplicity of overlapping fonds and because their boundaries are open to interpretation. Identification of collections is less subjective; although they can be re-formed over time and their internal orderings need not be fixed, their external borders at any given moment are usually easy to recognize. The paper concludes by exploring some possible ways in which archivists might document both fonds and collections and expose their current and past relationships.


Cet article examine certaines idées au sujet du fonds, de la collection et du croisement entre eux. Les archivistes présument habituellement que les collections « artificielles » et les fonds « organiques » sont des catégories qui s’excluent mutuellement, mais l’auteur affirme que les distinctions rigides entre « artificiel » et « organique » sont sans fondement. Au contraire, s’il existe une différence cruciale entre collection et fonds, elle se trouve au niveau de la compréhension qu’une collection est physique ou matérielle, alors qu’un fonds est une entité conceptuelle qui ne requiert pas que les parties constituantes soient rassemblées physiquement. Les fonds sont difficiles à circonscrire, d’abord parce qu’il existe un potentiel que plusieurs fonds se chevauchent les uns les autres, et aussi parce que leurs limites sont sujet à interprétation. L’identification des collections est moins subjective; bien qu’elles puissent être reconstituées avec le temps et que leur classement interne n’ait pas besoin d’être revu, on arrive assez facilement à reconnaître leurs limites externes, et ce, à n’importe quel moment. Cet article conclut en explorant diverses façons dont les archivistes pourraient documenter les fonds et collections et exposer leurs liens actuels et passés. 

Author Biography

Geoffrey Yeo

Geoffrey Yeo teaches records management and archival description in the Department of Information Studies at University College London. He was a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia in 2010. His research interests include the nature of records and recordkeeping; records classification, arrangement and description; and relationships between records and the actions of individuals and organizations. He also has extensive practical experience in archives and records management in both public and private sector organizations, and has worked as a freelance consultant on archives and records projects in the United Kingdom and in Africa. He is the editor of the series of professional texts Principles and Practice in Records Management and Archives and is co-author of Managing Records: A Handbook of Principles and Practice (London: Facet Publishing, 2003). In 2009, his published work won the Society of American Archivists Fellows’ Ernst Posner Award.

How to Cite
Yeo, Geoffrey. 2012. “The Conceptual Fonds and the Physical Collection”. Archivaria 73 (April), 43-80.