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Born Digital Archival Description Guidelines: List of Elements

Elements of Description






Required at collection, series, and file level

This element provides a word or phrase by which the material being described is known or can be identified. A title may be devised or formal. Title may be auto-filled by Preservica; when so, it is the name of the collection or deliverable unit being described and may include the date of creation.

Processors should use “computer files” as the umbrella generic term and should use more specific genre terms when devising titles, as appropriate (e.g. the Jane Doe email correspondence).

For hybrid collections, at the collection level, processors should use the generic term (e.g. the Jane Doe papers), and then use more specific genre terms at lower levels of description.

Processors should note that, depending on the workflow used, the Digital Accessioning Support Service can create item level descriptions in which the title is the label on the media, which may or may not accurately reflect the contents of the media. If processors are working with material that was previously accessioned by the DASS and underwent this workflow, this title may need to be changed.

See Access Points for further guidance on selecting genre terms.

Jane Doe email correspondence


Required at collection and series level; optional at file level

This element identifies and records the date(s) that pertain to the creation of the born-digital materials being described. Since determining creation dates may not be straightforward with digital material, exercise caution when assigning dates and include in the Scope and Content note how dates were determined and/or assigned (i.e. date created, date last opened/modified, etc.). In cases where machine-generated dates are misleading (e.g. dates indicate when material was transferred to Yale, rather than when material was created), do not use those dates in the archival description and instead endeavor to add circa dates, if possible. See the Scope and Content note element for an example of this.

In addition to creation dates, processors can choose to include last modified dates at the file level, if valuable and known.

If files need to be normalized for access, information about normalization dates should be included in the Information about Access note and should not be included in date records

Creation dates

Label = Creation

Expression (if necessary) = 2017 April 1

Type = Single

Begin = 2017-04-01

Modified dates

Label = Modified

Expression = 2017 April 24

Type = Single

Begin = 2017-04-24


Required (if known) at collection level

Follow local guidelines for creator element. Optionally add creator at lower levels of description.

Coffin, William Sloane, Jr., 1924-2006


Required at collection, series, and file level

This element indicates the extent and the physical nature of the materials being described.

For born-digital material, the “Extent” field must include units of measure for data when known, including the data size and its type of measurement. When describing data size, include the size in both bytes and in the type of measurement that most appropriately reflects the data size, e.g. megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes.  Always include the full word for the measurement type rather than its abbreviation or variation; e.g., use “gigabyte” rather than “GB”. When calculating size, round to two decimal places. A file size calculator can help when creating this extent entry. 

Processors may wish to record the extent of unprocessed storage media and update the finding aid with a final extent once processing has occurred. If material is unprocessed, that information should be indicated in the Processing Information element. 

Extent is required at the file level for any archival object. Additionally, each born digital extent statement must indicate whether the extent statement is a whole or part extent of an aggregation or item in the Portion field of the Extents Subrecord in ArchivesSpace.

Processed material

85600000000 bytes (85.6 gigabytes)

4.5 linear feet (6 boxes) and 3400000000000 bytes (3400 gigabytes) and 37,364 computer files

Unprocessed material

3 hard drives (100 gigabytes, 3000 gigabytes, and 1000 gigabytes) and 14 compact discs

1 5.25 inch floppy disk

Systems of Arrangement

Required at collection level

Optional at lower levels as appropriate

This element describes the current organization of the collection. For born-digital records, this can be done at three levels: no intervention, minimal intervention, and intervention.


No intervention

Born-digital materials are arranged as a single format series, and original order has been maintained. No further arrangement work has been done.


Minimal intervention

Born-digital materials are arranged as a single format series, and original order has been maintained. Describe when processing tasks, such as identifying and removing duplicate files, are enacted.



Original order is not maintained and files have been reorganized within the collection as a whole. Describe any processing tasks that have been carried out, such as: identifying and removing duplicate files, rearranging and renaming files, and creating new file structures.


For significant intervention, processors should link to a file directory documenting original order in the Other Finding Aid note.














No intervention

The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Professional Papers II. Correspondence III. Publicity IV. Born-digital files.


The original structure and file names of Series IV have been maintained.


Minimal intervention

The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Professional Papers II. Correspondence III. Publicity IV. Born-digital files.


Duplicate files in Series IV were identified and removed during processing. Original file names have been maintained.



The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Professional Papers II. Correspondence III. Publicity


Born digital materials have been integrated into the appropriate series based on content. In some instances, files have been arranged alphabetically. Duplicate files were identified and removed during processing. Information about the original file directory can be found in the Other Finding Aid note.








Access Points

Required at collection level

This element is used to list search terms or entry headings that provide a point of entry into a collection. For born-digital material, processors should include "Born digital" and "Computer files" as genre/form terms.


When applicable, processors may note when specific creating applications and/or prominent types of digital information exist within a collection, using the appropriate naming authority (ie: Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online, LC Linked Data Service).


These access points can include topical subjects and/or genre/form terms. 




MS 8000 Architecture Firm collection


  • Topical subjects 
    • Architecture, American -- 20th Century
    • Computer-aided design (process)


  • Genre/Form Terms
    • Born digital
    • Computer files
    • CAD draftsman
    • Computer-aided design (visual works)

Other Finding Aids

Recommended at the collection and series level when appropriate

This element identifies and provides information about related finding aids to the materials being described.


Processors should use this element to point researchers to file directories/inventories. See Guidance on Processing Levels for more information about determining when to leverage this information.


As part of the Preservica process, a link to Preservica is created in the Other Finding Aids element. Processors should leave that element as-is.




Appraisal, Destruction, and Scheduling Information 

Required at collection level when appraisal has occurred, otherwise recommended.

This element describes actions taken during the appraisal stage of processing at which point files may have been removed from a collection, as when duplicate files are deleted. It can also inform users of retention and destruction schedules that might effect use of collection materials.

Approximately 1 GB of duplicate email messages were identified and removed from the collection.

Physical and Technical Access

Optional at collection level

This element is used to describe technical and physical requirements necessary to access collection materials. For born digital resources, this includes software, hardware, and system information, as well as predominant file formats and extensions.


In some cases, digital collection materials will be unavailable due to processing or format restrictions that impede access. If there are unprocessed portions of a collection, or if portions of the collection are unreadable or otherwise contained in obsolete formats that cannot be extracted by the repository, this information should be provided. When applicable, a note should be included at series and item levels


Repositories might also wish to indicate that Yale provides access to access copies of born digital collection materials only, not the original files.




Access cannot be provided to Series II: Correspondence due to lack of appropriate hardware.

Musical notation files were created using Sibelius Version 1. This version of Sibelius is needed to access these files to ensure the notation is rendered correctly.

Architectural files created using CAD 2000, which is needed to open and display these files.

This collection predominantly contains PDF and Word files. PDFs can be rendered in Adobe Acrobat DC (2018 version). Word files all have a .doc file extensions and were created in Word 95 for Windows.

The email correspondence in this collection has not been fully processed yet. Email is currently stored as a single .pst archive file which will need further processing before access can be provided.

Conditions Governing Use

Recommended at the collection level 

This element provides users with information pertaining to reproduction, publication, copyright and other use restrictions that might apply to collection materials.

The XYZ Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.


The Horatio Parker Papers are the physical property of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. Copyrights belong to the composers and authors, or their legal heirs and assigns.

Scope and Content

Required at the collection and series levels; optional at lower levels

This element provides information about the nature of the materials and activities reflected in the materials being described to enable users to judge its potential relevance to their research.


For born digital materials, scope and content notes should include information about computer hardware or digital storage devices present in the collection, digital file formats, and computer programs used to generate content, as appropriate. For hybrid analog and born digital collections, materials should be described in context together and processors should distinguish between the different types of formats, but also describe their relationships to each other in terms of the functions and activities that led to their creation.

The Jane Doe papers document the life and career of the noted American poet, and include writings, correspondence, and photographs. Materials in the collection span the period from 1970 to 2008. Writings consist of typewritten drafts with handwritten notes and marginalia, as well as electronic drafts in Microsoft Word format, some of which include notes and edits in Track Changes format. Correspondence in the collection is primarily outgoing, and includes both handwritten and typewritten letters on paper, as well as email correspondence. The bulk of photographs in the collection are analog, consisting of both prints and 35 mm negatives. Additionally, there is a small number of digital photographic images in jpg format. The electronic files were originally carried on two hard drives, one from Doe’s Syracuse, New York office and one from her Los Angeles, California home.

Electronic material spans from 1994 to 2008. Dates for electronic files from Doe's Syracuse, New York office hard drive were determined by the files' last modified date. Dates for electronic files from Doe's Los Angeles, California office hard drive were previously altered due to an unknown error, and circa dates have been used where possible.

Conditions Governing Access

Required at the collection level, and at lower levels where restricted material is present

Processors should follow their repository’s existing guidelines for providing information about access restrictions due to the content of the materials being described. For born digital materials, processors should also provide information about the following access conditions, as appropriate:

  • Access and use of born digital material in the reading room
  • Access and use of physical digital media
  • The availability of use copies of born digital material

Because Yale special collections departments utilize common policies and procedures for secure access of born digital materials in their reading rooms, the following boilerplate language should be included in all access restriction notes at the collection level:


*Forthcoming; suggestions welcome*



Series IX, Computer Files, is unprocessed and may contain sensitive information or be in a physical state that would prohibit use. Researchers wishing to request access should email The request should outline the scope and purpose of the research project, why the researcher believes the material is relevant to their project, and contact information. If possible the request should also include a list of specific material of interest. The review may take several weeks.

Box 10 (digital media) and box 11 (videocassettes): Restricted fragile material. Access copies of may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Some audio and video recordings have been restricted to protect personal identifiable information or Protected Health Information (PHI) in accordance with federal regulations and MSSA privacy policies. Restrictions are noted at the item level. Please contact the Head of Archives and Special Collections for more information.

The Yale Manuscripts and Archives access policy places restrictions on material with privacy issues for a specific time period from the date of creation. Access to records that contain personal and confidential information about an individual or individuals is restricted for 75 years from date of creation or until the death of the individual mentioned in the records, whichever is longer. Medical records are restricted for 50 years after an individual’s date of death, if known. If the date of death is unknown, access is restricted for 100 years from the individual’s date of birth or 100 years from the date of record creation, whichever occurs first.

Collection is open for research with the following exceptions: Boxes 57 and 105 include hard drives that contain files of Doe’s digital journals, which are restricted until 25 years after Doe's death (March 8th, 2044). Boxes 77 through 80 of medical files are restricted until 50 years after Smith’s death (March 8, 2069). Certain confidential digital files containing correspondence are restricted until March 2044.

Original computer files may not be accessed due to their fragility. Researchers must consult access copies.


Required at the collection level, not used at lower levels

Note that this is the language of the content and not the encoding language of the media. 


This element identifies the language(s), script(s), and symbol systems employed in the materials being described, particularly as they may affect its use.


Processors should follow their repository’s local guidelines.



Materials in English and French.

Processing Information

Required at the collection level, and at lower levels where born digital material is present

The processing note provides information about actions of the archivist, custodians, or creators of the records or conventions in the finding aid that may have an impact on a researcher’s interpretation of the records or understanding of the information provided in the finding aid.


Decisions to migrate born digital content from storage media, to normalize different file formats, redact or remove Personally Identifiable Information (PII), extract files, or alter filenames, or if material cannot be processed due to technical limitations must all be recorded.

For all born digital or hybrid collections accessioned by the Digital Accessioning Support Service (DASS), use the following boilerplate language at the collection level, which describes the actions taken by DASS:


This material was accessioned by the Yale University Digital Accessioning Support Service (DASS) in 2019. Born digital archival material acquired on media by Yale University Library repositories is accessioned through the DASS prior to researcher use. For more information on the DASS and the actions taken during its accessioning work, click here: Born Digital @ Yale: Digital Accessioning Support Service [].


Note: The DASS link may be added to ArchivesSpace in EAD by using the following text: For more information on the DASS and the actions taken during its accessioning work, click here: <ref href=";p=3593184">Born Digital @ Yale: Digital Accessioning Support Service</ref>.

The original file structure for the born digital materials in this collection has been maintained; duplicate files have not been deleted.


Some of the born digital materials in this collection have been redacted to protect personal identifiable information or Protected Health Information (PHI) in accordance with federal regulations and Yale University policies.


This material was imaged or captured by Manuscripts and Archives staff in [year] for preservation and access. Additional information about actions taken may be available at the repository.

Custodial History

Optional at the collection and series level

This element provides information on changes of ownership or custody of the material being described, from the time it left the possession of the creator until it was acquired by the repository, that is significant for its authenticity, integrity, and interpretation. For born-digital material, it may be desirable to use this element to document pertinent information about transfer of the materials to the repository.

Jane Doe's digital files were originally stored on her computer in her Los Angeles, California office. They were transferred to Yale University via an external thumb drive by her literary executor in 2019.