Appraisal is the processes through which an institution decides if they want to take something into their collection. It determines the fate of an object. Questions your institution might ask would be: does this fit our collecting scope? Does it belong with another institution? Is it too damaged? Do we have duplicates? 

Intellectual Control

According to the Society of American Archivists, intellectual control is how you organize a collection and divide it into different categories. 

ArchivesSpace is a useful software for keeping track of your records.

If you already have PastPerfect, it can be used as archival software. This guide offers more in-depth information on using PastPerfect for archival description. 

You can even use Microsoft Word for your records. This guide outlines using Word for archival description.


The Society of American Archivists outlines practices for describing the documents in collections, which dictates everything from listing dates to how to refer to different types of documents (e.g. “correspondence” instead of “letters”), and much more.

Description is about balancing your researchers’ needs (detailed finding aids and collection guides) with your own time and resources (using general box-level descriptions instead of detailed item-level descriptions). The most important thing is to remain consistent.

Are you working with a large institutional collection or a donation from an individual that consists of more material than you feel like you can handle? This article from American Archivist about gaining intellectual control over unwieldy 20th-century collections can help you navigate your potential acquisitions.

Physical Control

According to the Society of American Archivists, physical control is how and where items are arranged and housed on shelves. 

For more information on which boxes and folders to purchase, see the “Storage/Housing” section above.

Do physical and intellectual control need to agree?

Of course not! On occasion, different objects — for example, a movie script and its corresponding large poster — belong in the same series or sub-series, but they can’t be stored in the same box. The movie script can fit in a document box, while the poster should be stored flat, likely in a separate area of your archives or building. 

In these cases, you should store them separately, but keep them under the same series/sub-series, noting the different locations in the finding aid.