n.a collection of records that share the same provenance or were created in the same administrative unitLitton 1941, 211In order to make the material in the National Archives more available for use by scholars and other investigators, a systematic program for the compilation of finding media was recently initiated. The major bodies of archival material are being identified and registered as “record groups,” and preliminary checklists covering the various parts of each record group are to be compiled. These checklists will list the series, files, volumes, or other units of material approximately as they are found without waiting for final arrangement; and copies of these checklists will be available in processed form for use within the National Archives. As soon as possible all the checklists for a given record group will be integrated, revised, and issued in processed form for general use as a preliminary inventory; and eventually, after the material has been definitively arranged, this document in turn will be superseded by a final inventory.Hamer 1942, 88–89Basic to the new plan is the concept of “record groups,” a concept developed because of the often demonstrated need, for purposes of description as well as for other archival purposes, to think of and work with the whole mass of records of the government as separate though broadly interrelated groups. The term “record group” is elastically defined, because of the varied character of records produced by multitudinous agencies of the government, “as a major archival unit established somewhat arbitrarily with due regard to the principle of provenance and to the desirability of making the unit of convenient size and character for the work of arrangement and description and for the publication of inventories.” Each record group, when any part of it shall have been transferred to the custody of the archivist, is to be “registered.” Each registration document is to include an appropriate name for the record group, e.g., Records of the Office of Indian Affairs, Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior, Records of Customhouses. This is to be followed by the designation, with inclusive dates, estimate of quantity, etc., of the part or parts of the group in the custody of the archivist, and summary information regarding quantity, inclusive dates, custodianship, and physical location of parts not yet transferred. It is expected that each “registration of record group” will not exceed one page in length, that soon they will be completed for all record groups represented in the National Archives, and that in the future they will be promptly revised or additional ones prepared as new material is accessioned.Munden 1950, 214The National Archives, as no less the Department of the Army, has taken the middle-of-the-road position of considering “a number of factors, among which both provenance and convenience are especially important,” in determining what records constitute a record group, although it does not go so far as to suggest an outright disruption of series.Holmes 1964, 26Before the National Archives began using the term “record group” the Public Record Office in Great Britain was using the term “archive group” to designate the records of an entire agency, no matter how large, including the records of entire ministries. The British practice, we believed, if applied in the National Archives, could lead sometimes to groupings too large for administrative convenience. We thought it better to divide the records of such large “agencies” as departments into a number of separate record groups, usually reflecting the bureaus within departments and of “convenient size” for administration.Fenyo 1966, 232What was original in the concept of record group, as presented by Dr. Buck, was the very confession of vagueness, of arbitrariness; and the word “arbitrary” would become part of the definition.Fenyo 1966, 235The registration of a record group was revised whenever an accession of records belonging to that record was made; this revision usually meant that a paragraph or more was added to the existing description. The concept of record group itself underwent no revisions. Although no one seems to have an exact idea of what constituted or should constitute a record group, a general consensus, a kind of tacit understanding, did and does exist. Hence the concept of record group has little or no history since its inception.Scott 1966, 496It is the practice to use the record group as the basis for numbering series, thus determining the order of series in the descriptive inventory and in physical arrangement on storage shelves.Fischer 1973, 642What this situation seems to require is the control of the records of central ministerial offices as separate record groups, excluding from them entirely the record groups of the agencies which those central offices administer.Fischer 1973, 644The record group concept logically provides a clear relationship to the reality of administrative structure, the physical record groups reflecting as nearly as possible the record output of the various agencies that have existed historically. Record group arrangement guards against promiscuous confusion occurring among record series, and also against a likely and great temptation fifty or a hundred years hence (when now viable schemes of reference and control may be only imperfectly understood), to organise [sic] vast numbers of independent series units into subjective patterns without regard for provenance.Vincent 1976, 3The record group or archive group is the primary unit of organization in many archival institutions devoted to public records.Vincent 1976, 5The selection of an archives group is often made on a perfectly ad hoc basis, according to the archivists’ judgement [sic] as to which record group is the most logically appropriate.Berner 1982, 106The record group became the basis of arrangement, while the preliminary inventory became the main finding aid. . . . Essentially, they outlined procedures for establishing progressively refined controls beginning at the record group level and proceeding through the subgroup, series, and item levels—the basic hierarchy of controls.Berner 1982, 111Holmes emphasized that series must be assigned to record groups and to subgroups, and then be arranged logically within. If we recognize that the record group is the parent agency, and that the subgroups are its subordinate units with their respective series, we can see that by following Holmes’ procedure subgroups will not be submerged within general series of the parent agency.Berner 1982, 112Although I elaborated upon Holmes’ “upper and lower” levels in 1975, I had applied it to personal papers as early as 1959 and had established it as a concept at the University of Washington in 1962; i.e., that the record group and subgroup levels relate to provenance, while the other levels of the hierarchy relate to filing order.Haller 1985, 400The system of access is based on a floating record group concept designed to identify all organic bodies of records in a repository.Evans 1986, 250At the time of accessioning, many of the records could not be identified by content or function; the most that was known was their office of origin. Since these records were accessioned according to provenance—that is, according to the administrative context in which they had been created and maintained—they were assigned for administrative purposes to various units within the archives according to record groups.Evans 1986, 252The assumption that each series has an intrinsic arrangement with respect to others leads to the mistaken notion that the record series is simply one level in a hierarchy of records—that, just as the file is a subdivision of the series, the series is a subdivision of the subgroup and the subgroup is a subdivision of the record group.Evans 1986, 253It is, however, an imperfect device because it implies that the record group has a natural cohesiveness and self-evident internal structure when, in fact, the record group is an artificial creation made up of the sum of many discrete, “free,” organic units—the various series—which are organized on paper within the inventory in an arbitrary, although supposedly rational fashion.Evans 1986, 259It also permits the immediate dissemination of information about a series of records since it is not necessary to wait until all of the records in a record group are described before an inventory can be compiled.Miller 1990, 62Record groups should be the fonds of administrative bodies with their own responsibilities, autonomy, and stability.Cook 1993, 27By contrast, the contents of the record group are more organic and usually linked to a records creator, at least in theory. Yet as North American archival practice has evolved, the record group has moved a long way from its provenance-based origins to become rather arbitrary and thus artificial. Critics of the record group point to a variety of problems for which there is space here only to summarize: normal, general and collective record groups (to use Schellenberg’s three terms) all existing together and presenting quite dissimilar faces; centrifugal and centripetal rationales defining record group structures in radically different ways; confusion over transferring versus creating agencies as the basis for establishing record groups; and large or small record groups existing according to the administrative convenience for archives in assigning equitable workloads to their staff, controlling stack space or even producing publications.Pugh 2005, 82A record group is an aggregation of all series and all records from one organization.Sweeney 2008, 201As a way to aid in control, record groups were divided into branches based on a broad subject field such as defense or industry or form such as maps or sound recordings.Robyns and Woolman 2011, 253The NMU Archives’ initial arrangement scheme reflected the example offered by William Maher and relied on the traditional, provenance-based, hierarchical arrangement format of record group, subgroup, and record series mimicking the administrative structure of the university.Douglas and MacNeil 2014, 163–164While arrangement by record group and manuscript group is not the same as arrangement according to the principle of respect des fonds, the group system represented a major shift in approach to the classification of archives at PAC.Gilliland 2014b, 56Within a few years, bibliographically oriented cataloging and classification practices had been rejected in favor of a more “archival” approach centered around a new, hybrid, yet distinctively American descriptive concept: the record group. A third strand relates to the conceptualization and subsequent adoption of the record group, not with a view to creating a more widely applicable professional model, but as an institutional compromise that embedded the archival principles identified by European archivists while simultaneously addressing specific pragmatic considerations being faced by the National Archives in working with federal records.Robyns 2014, 25In general, the record group represents an institution, office, or agency and is divided into subgroups, record series, and subseries.Gorzalski 2015, 1This system allowed NARA to organize records into manageable units that identified office of origin, was convenient for descriptive and reference purposes, and was flexible enough for assigning new accessions to existing record groups.Gorzalski 2015, 7–8The new strategy abandons the past practice of reflecting organizational structure through the record group hierarchy in certain cases. By taking former subgroups and establishing them as top-level record groups, we can mitigate problems arising from institutional change.Poole 2017, 319His branch provided reference and descriptive services for sixty-five record groups comprising 200,000 cubic feet of materials, one of the largest accumulations of records at the archives.Prom 2017, 283Practices mandated that the record series would be our main unit of description, and each record series was assigned a classification number composed of the record group number, the subgroup number, and the series number under which a particular set of records was classified.Wiedeman 2019, 382The National Archives moved away from catalog cards not because it based its descriptive practices on record groups, but because cataloging did not fit its scale and demand.