Current archival practice in the United States grew out of the early experiences of the National Archives. These experiences, based upon the principles and practices of generations of European archivists, resulted in the related concepts of "record group" and "archival hierarchies." This article argues that the record group concept leads to practices that fail to provide adequate access to archival holdings; it should be replaced by an archival model based upon authority control.

An authority control-based system focuses upon record-generating entities; it consists of descriptions of the histories and functions of organizations and of the administrative relationships between them. The authority control system is an intellectual construct, susceptible to emendation as institutions evolve, as functions change, and as administrative structures are altered. The authority control system is a dynamic system that places each record-creating agency into an administrative hierarchy while also maintaining a record of the changes within the hierarchy over time.

The descriptions of archival material in such a system are linked to one or more authority records. This system provides the means for maintaining control over and gaining access to archival material by the provenance approach, without the inflexibility of the record group/hierarchy concept.

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