Glossary search

intrinsic value

Broader Term: 

n. ~ The usefulness or significance of an item derived from its physical or associational qualities, inherent in its original form and generally independent of its content, that are integral to its material nature and would be lost in reproduction.


Intrinsic value may include an item's form, layout, materials, or process. It may also be based on an item's direct relationship to a significant person, activity, event, organization, or place. Intrinsic value is independent of informational or evidential value. A record may have great intrinsic value without significant informational or evidential value; records with significant informational or evidential value may have little intrinsic value. The process of copying a document may sufficiently capture its informational or evidential value but fail to preserve some aspects of the material nature of the original - its intrinsic value - that merit preservation. Hence, documents with significant intrinsic value are often preserved in their original form.

For example, a document written by a famous individual, such as a signature on a scrap of paper, may tell us little about the person. However, the document may have intrinsic value if it is the only surviving specimen of a document written by the individual. The document may have intrinsic value if it is made using a process of historical interest, such as inks made from flowers.

(McRanor 1996, p. 402) In 1979, the concept [of intrinsic value] took on a more central role upon its invocation by the National Archives and Records Service, following the demand of the General Services Agency that the institution microfilm all its records and destroy the originals.
(NARA Intrinsic Value 1982, abridged) 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. – 2. Aesthetic or artistic quality. – 3. Unique or curious physical features. – 4. Age that provides a quality of uniqueness. – 5. Value for use in exhibits. – 6. Questionable authenticity, date, author, or other characteristic that is significant and ascertainable by physical examination. – 7. General and substantial public interest because of direct association with famous or historically significant people, places, things, issues, or events. – 8. Significance as documentation of the establishment or continuing legal basis of an agency or institution. – 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.