A curiously slippery word, archive is both singular and plural, noun and verb (OED). It can refer to the place where material is stored (such as a rare books library) and to the material itself (OED). The etymological evolution of archive through its Greek roots—arkheia (public records) and arkhe (government)—provides a map of the word’s lexical tensions. In the seventeenth century, when archive first came into use, it was a place where (public) records were kept. As other forms of the root mean “beginnings”—as in archeology and architecture—the idea of a foundation also lingers. By way of contrast, the OED defines library as “a place set apart to contain books for reading, study, or reference.” Although a library may house an archive, it is only in an archive that it is possible to search for origin stories. The verb form, to archive, does not appear until the twentieth-century.

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