Report of the Committee on Intrinsic Value

Intrinsic Value in Archival Materials

Intrinsic is the archival term that is applied to permanently valuable records that have qualities and characteristics that make the records in their original physical form the only archivally acceptable form for preservation. Although all records in their original physical form have qualities and characteristics that would not be preserved in copies, records with intrinsic value have them to such a significant degree that the originals must be saved.

The qualities or characteristics that determine intrinsic value may be physical or intellectual; that is, they may relate to the physical base of the record and the means by which information is recorded on it or they may relate to the information contained in the record. Records with intrinsic value may be retained for either their evidential or informational value.

The archivist is responsible for determining which records have intrinsic value. Ordinarily this determination is made at the series level. As in all other archival appraisal activities, context is the key to making these determinations and context is normally best preserved by considering the entire series. The archivist, however, also may determine that certain individual record items within a series have intrinsic value, especially those items to be retained because of special physical characteristics.

Qualities and Characteristics of Records with Intrinsic Value

All record materials having intrinsic value possess one or more of the following specific qualities or characteristics. These qualities or characteristics relate to the physical nature of the records, their prospective uses, and the information they contain.

  1. Physical form that may be the subject for study if the records provide meaningful documentation or significant examples of the form.

    Documents may be preserved in their original form as evidence of technological development. For example, a series of early press copies, glass-plate negatives, or wax-cylinder sound recordings may be retained. All records having a particular physical form would not be considered to have intrinsic value because of this characteristic; however, a selection broad enough to provide evidence of technological development would be considered to have some value.

  2. Aesthetic or artistic quality

    Records having aesthetic or artistic quality may include photographs; pencil, ink, or watercolour sketches; maps; architectural drawings; frakturs; and engraved and/or printed forms, such as bounty-land warrants.

  3. Unique or curious physical features

    Physical features that are unique or curious might include quality and texture of paper, colour, wax seals, imprints and watermarks, inks, and unusual bindings. All records having a particular physical feature would not be considered to have intrinsic value because of this feature; however, an exemplary selection of each type would be considered to have such value.

  4. Age that provides a quality of uniqueness

    Age is a relative rather than an absolute quality. Generally, records of earlier date are of more significance than records of later date. This can be because of a historical change in the functions and activities of the creator of the records, the scarcity of earlier records, a change in record keeping practices, or a combination of these. Age can be a factor even with comparatively recent records. The earliest records concerning, for example, the development of the radio industry or of nuclear power could have intrinsic value because of age.

  5. Value for use in exhibits

    Records used frequently for exhibits normally have several qualities and characteristics that give them intrinsic value. Records with exhibit value impressively convey the immediacy of an event, depict a significant issue, or impart a sense of the person who is the subject or originator of the record. In these cases, the impact of the original document cannot be equalled by a copy.

  6. Questionable authenticities, date, author, or other characteristic that is significant and ascertainable by physical examination.

    Some records are of doubtful authenticity or have informational content that is open to question. Although it is impossible to foresee which documents will be questioned in the future, certain types of documents are well known to have the potential for controversy and, if the original records are extant, handwriting and signatures can be examined, paper age can be ascertained, and other physical tests can be performed. In some cases the controversy can be resolved by recourse to the original item (such as by an examination of the handwriting, the age of the paper, or the original negative of the photostatic print), while in other cases the item will not be conclusive but will provide the researcher with the best evidence from which to draw conclusions (original photographs of UFO’s, for example).

  7. General and substantial public interest because of direct association with famous or historically significant people, places, things, issues or events.

    This criterion is not only the most difficult to apply, but also the most important in terms of the volume of records to which it could be applied. It could be used to justify preserving in original form almost all permanently valuable records because of their historical importance. On the other hand, if limited to records of unusual significance, it would be used to justify disposal of almost all original records. Archival judgment is the crucial factor in determining whether there is general and substantial public interest, whether the association is direct, and whether the subject is famous or historically significant. Generally, those series with a high concentration of such information should be preserved.

  8. Significance as documentation of the establishment or continuing legal basis of an agency or institution.

    Agencies or institutions are founded and acquire or lose functions and responsibilities through the actions of executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Government. Records documenting these actions may be found concentrated in series or scattered in various series. They have in common the characteristic of documenting the shifts in function of the agency or institution at the highest level.

  9. Significance as documentation of the formulation of policy at the highest executive levels when the policy has significance and broad effect throughout or beyond the agency or institution. Numerous records reflect policy decisions; however, most policy decisions have a relatively limited impact and reflect a relatively small area of authority. The characteristics that give policy records intrinsic value are the origin of the records at the highest executive levels, breadth of effect, and importance of subject matter.

Application of the Concept of Intrinsic Value

Records that possess any characteristic or quality of intrinsic value should be retained in their original form if possible. The concept of intrinsic value, therefore, is not relative. However, application of the concept of intrinsic value is relative; opinions concerning whether records have intrinsic value may vary from archivist to archivist and from one generation of archivists to another. Professional archival judgment, therefore, must be exercised in all decisions concerning intrinsic value. Co-ordination between units holding records within an archival institution also may be necessary. For example, members of units holding similar records whose form may be the subject for study (quality 1) should consult one another to ensure that an adequate but not duplicative selection of records in that form is preserved. Although the concept of intrinsic value may be easier to apply to older records, decisions concerning intrinsic value can be made for all records determined to have sufficient value to warrant archival retention.

Copies of records having intrinsic value may be made for necessary archival purposes, including use by researchers. In fact, the fragility, rarity, or significance of the records may require that researchers normally work from reproductions.

Records that have intrinsic value should be considered for conservation or restoration; however, the determination that records have intrinsic value is only the first step in a decision-making continuum for preservation activities. Priorities and order of preservation activities should be guided by additional factors such as significance and frequency of use, rate of deterioration, seriousness of potential future preservation problems, and efficacy and expense of available treatments.

Although records with intrinsic value constitute the core of the holdings that archival institutions should maintain in original form, institutions also must retain records for which archivally acceptable copies cannot be made. This report does not attempt to establish comprehensive standards for archivally acceptable copies. At a minimum, however, such copies should have durability and utility for research use and for duplication equivalent to the records in their original form. If adequate copies of such records cannot be made, originals lacking intrinsic value may not be considered for disposition. For example, because, at present, reproductions made from duplicates of audiovisual records normally are of lower quality than reproductions made from the originals, most audiovisual records should be retained in their original form. When copies with equivalent or superior quality can be produced from reproductions, the originals could be considered for disposal.

Some records without intrinsic value must be preserved in original physical form because such preservation is required by law.

Following are three examples of the use of the concept of intrinsic value in the decision-making process as applied to particular series of records in the National Archives. In these examples, archivists first reviewed the series in accordance with the intrinsic value criteria. Second, if the records lacked intrinsic value, archivists then determined whether any statute required retention of the records in their original form. Finally, if the responses to the first two inquiries were negative, archivists examined the archival adequacy of the copies of the records. While archivists may not prepare formal papers such as those that follow, similar questions should be asked and answered for any proposed disposition of original records.