The term “intrinsic value” has long used by archivists to describe historical materials that should be retained in their original form rather than as copies. In 1979 the term gained particular importance for the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) as it began to consider possible large-scale replacement of paper records with miniaturized or other copies. To meet the challenge of distinguishing between records that need not be retained in their original form after an acceptable copy has been created and those that require preservation in the original, NARS established the committee on Intrinsic Value. The Committee’s work was three-fold:

  • First, to write a comprehensive and broadly applicable definition of intrinsic value,
  • Second to define the qualities and characteristics of records having intrinsic value; and
  • Third, to demonstrate application of the concept of intrinsic value in decision making.

The Committee completed a preliminary report in January 1980 and its final report in September of that year.

The committee intended that its work should be useful for decisions relating to all physical types of records and manuscripts and should be relevant under varying and unforeseen circumstances. The Committee sought, therefore, to first establish the theoretical basis for the concept and then to be as specific as possible in identifying the qualities and characteristics of historical materials having intrinsic value. The Committee recognised that application of the concept of intrinsic value would be subjective and must always be dependent on trained archival judgment and professional debate.