The word album has developed in meaning since its first use, as the neuter form. album, of the Latin adjective albus, 'white' to denote a whitened tablet or board on which official lists and so on were displayed for public viewing. The word was adopted in English to mean
- a notebook in which contributions are written for the owner by friends and acquaintance; a 'commonplace book'
- a book in which guests are invited to make observations about their visits; a 'visitors' book' or livre d'or
- the register in which an educational institution records the names of all students as they join
- a book used for collections of various sorts, originally of personal mementos and curios, later into specialized forms such as
- autograph albums in which were collected signatures of celebrities and friends
- photograph albums in which, traditionally, photographs were mounted using photographic corners. Thdey were often of heavy black paper, on which captions were written in white ink.
- stamp albums, in which philatelists keep their collections, mounted on stamp hinges
- These had commercial descendants, in which people were encouraged to keep items produced to encourage the acquisitive instinct, and the profits of the supplier, such as
- cigarette card albums
- postcard albums
- and similar 'collectables' produced on the strength of events like World Cup tournaments in various sports, or around branded toys and games. These albums are usually pre-labelled, and designed to ensure acquisition of every member of the set.
- containers, designed to look like books, to hold gramophone records before the development of long-playing records (for more, see Gramophone record
- It may be interesting to know that, in the age when knowledge of Latin was essential to the educated, writers even of English liked to use the ablative case after the preposition in, so that a man might write "he wrote a very pretty verse in my albo." It is not recorded whether any English writer similarly made the plural alba, which would have been correct Latin. AWE advises all writers to use albums.
- There are also two obsolete meanings of album, one to do with the duty payable by Cornish tin-miners to the Duke of Cornwall and the other a medical term for leucorrhœa, "a whitish or yellowish discharge of mucus from the vaginal opening" (Martin, 2015).