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ArchivesSpace Local Practices Manual for UHM Archives Staff: Accessions


Purpose: To record information about new archival materials, whether distinct collections or accruals to existing collections.  

Who creates, and when: Anyone who needs to document the accessioning of archival material, either at the time the materials are received or after the fact.

To Create a New Record:

First, make sure that your accession has a unique identifier by making sure it isn’t already in the master list: “UHM Library Archival Collections” in Google Sheets:

  • If it’s a new acquisition:
    • Ask the registrar—as of Fall 2017, Leilani Dawson—to assign an accession number to your acquisition. 
  • If it’s a pre-existing accession (that for some reason wasn’t ever recorded in ArchivesSpace) but you don’t know the accession number:
    • Ask the registrar to check to see if it already has an accession number
    • Make sure to give her what you know about the accession, especially any details you may have about its title, creator, donor, dates and formats of materials, and year of donation.  
  • If it’s a pre-existing accession (that for some reason wasn’t ever recorded in ArchivesSpace) and you know the accession number, you can go directly to ArchivesSpace.

Next, go (back) to ArchivesSpace; under the ‘Create’ menu, choose ‘Accession’.

Minimum Fields For Good Practice: ArchivesSpace only requires the ‘Identifier’ and ‘Accession Date’ fields, but also fill out the ‘Title’, ‘Provenance’, ‘Acquisition Type’, and ‘Resource Type’ fields; plus the fields pertaining to restrictions if they apply. 

(This page also provides guidance for additional desirable fields, as well as for optional fields and some fields that shouldn't be used in Accession records.)

Save throughout the process to ensure you don't lose data.  When done, make sure the ‘Publish?’ checkbox is left un-checked.  (We don’t publish accession records.)

Good Practice: Basic Info > Title

Give the title of the accession, usually in the form of ‘Creator Name’ + ‘Resource Type’ (see instructions at link for ‘Resource Type’ options).

If an accession is an accrual, it is very helpful to add the accession number to the title; otherwise, when linking accessions to either each other or to resource records, all the accessions in the search/browse lists for a single collection end up listed as ‘So and So papers’, with nothing to distinguish them from each other. 

Good Practice: Basic Info > Identifier

In the first box, enter the acquisition’s accession number.  Don’t split the parts of the number into different boxes.  (I.e. the department code if present, the accession year, and the numeric sequence should all go into the first box.)

  • (This isn't standard practice--most places put each section of an accession number into its own separate box--but at this point it would take a fairly significant change to switch everything.) 

Good Practice: Basic Info > Accession Date

The field defaults to the current date.  If the materials were accessioned earlier than their being logged into ArchivesSpace, then replace the default date with the actual date they were accessioned.

Good Practice: Basic Info > Provenance

Enter a brief description of how the accession came into the library’s possession

  • E.g. “Purchased from [X] with [Y] funds” or “Donated by [Creator]’s daughter, [Donor]”. 

The field can also be used for longer/more complicated chain of custody information, but this isn’t required.

Good Practice: Basic Info > Acquisition Type

Choose ‘Transfer’ for University of Hawai'i records, or otherwise ‘Deposit’, ‘Gift’, or ‘Purchase’ as appropriate.

Good Practice: Basic Info > Resource Type

  • Choose ‘Records’ for materials created by a corporate entity / organization / institution in the course of its work
  • Choose ‘Papers’ for materials created by an individual or a family in his/her/their everyday life/lives
  • Choose ‘Publications’ for accessions consisting of only published print materials. 
  • Choose ‘Collection’ for anything else, but especially for materials collected/compiled by one person/family/corporate entity but created by (an)other(s).

Good Practice: Basic Info > Access and/or Use Restrictions Fields

If there are either access or use restrictions, first click/check the ‘Restrictions Apply?’ checkbox.

Then, if there are access restrictions, enter data into the ‘Access Restrictions?’ checkbox and ‘Access Restrictions Note’ pair; if there are use restrictions, enter data into the ‘Use Restrictions?’ checkbox and ‘Use Restrictions Note’ pair. 

Access vs. Use:

Access restrictions: use to describe issues involving materials’ physical condition, donor agreements, potential for containing sensitive information, licensing conditions, and/or intellectual property rights that prevent patrons from reading/viewing/listening to them, e.g.:

  • “Fragile originals have been retired; patrons must use microfilm”
  • “Correspondence closed until donor’s death”
  • “Items containing SSNs or other sensitive information may be redacted”
  • “Copyrighted AV materials not available for streaming, and must be accessed on-site”
  • “All records from [office of origin] are restricted for 20 years from date of creation”

Use restrictions: use to describe issues involving materials’ licensing conditions, donor agreements, and/or intellectual property rights that prevent patrons from citing/copying/creating derivative works from them, e.g.:

  • “Quoting materials from this collection requires permission from the donor’s estate” 
  • “No photographs or other reproductions allowed” 
  • “The donor published the designs in his collection with a CC-BY-NC-SA license, which is still in effect” 

Desirable Fields: Basic Info > Content Description

Enter a brief narrative summary of the content of the accession.

Desirable Fields: Basic Info > Condition Description

If the accession has preservation issues or includes things requiring special handling, note them here.

Desirable Fields: Dates > General Usage Note

Click the ‘Add Date’ button to get started.

If necessary, multiple Dates sections can be added to describe the entire accession in different ways, for example ‘bulk’ vs. ‘inclusive’ dates, or ‘Creation’ vs. ‘Publication’, ‘Copyright’, or ‘Broadcast’ dates.

  • (But don’t use multiple Dates sections to describe different parts of the accession.)

For each Dates section you add, the following fields are mandatory:

  • Label
  • Type
  • Either ‘Expression’ or the appropriate combination of ‘Begin’ and/or ‘End’ dates

Desirable Fields: Dates > Label

The choice for this field will usually be ‘Creation’.  However, in rare cases one of the other options may be more appropriate.

Desirable Fields: Dates > Type

Choose ‘Single’, ‘Inclusive’, or ‘Bulk’, as appropriate.

Desirable Fields: Dates > Expression, Begin, and End Fields

You must use either the ‘Expression’ field or the appropriate combination of ‘Begin’ and/or ‘End’ fields

  • You can use both (but if you use both, in some cases both sets of dates show up in lists—it can look weird.)

The ‘Expression’ field is for human-readable dates; it is not machine-readable, and the date(s) in the field can’t be searched for or browsed on. 

  • If you need to add phrases like ‘circa’ or ‘not before’ to your date(s), choose this option.

The ‘Begin’ and ‘End’ fields are machine-readable, and are indexed for searching/browsing.

For more details on how to enter dates, see the instructions for 'Dates' section fields on the Resource Record page.

Desirable Fields: Extents > General Usage Note

Click the ‘Add Extent’ button to get started.

If necessary, multiple Extents sections can be added to either describe the entire accession in different ways—e.g. number of cubic feet vs. number of volumes for a collection of oversize ledgers—or to describe different parts of the accession (e.g. number of volumes plus number of reels for a collection of scrapbooks and films). 

For each Extents section you add, the ‘Portion’, ‘Number’, and ‘Type’ fields are mandatory.

Desirable Fields: Extents > Portion

Choose either ‘Whole’ or ‘Part’ as appropriate.

Desirable Fields: Extents > Number and Type

These fields are used to record the amount and the unit of measure of the extent, respectively.  ‘Type’ will usually be in ‘Cubic Feet’ or ‘Linear Feet’, but many of the other options will be appropriate at various times.

Note for Digital materials: Only create extents in terms of Tera-, Giga-, Mega-, or Kilobytes.  Don’t create extents for the numbers of containers (e.g. discs, floppies, etc.).  Instead, list those in the ‘Container Summary’ field.

  • Usage of ‘discs’ and ‘disc’ as the ‘Type’ should be reserved for audio materials (including vinyl records and audio CDs); do not use them as the ‘Type’ for files on computer discs like CD-ROMs or DVDs.  (Because of the way they are formatted, commercial video DVDs are a borderline case; ask Leilani if it comes up.)

Desirable Fields: Extents > Container Summary

Give a parenthetical listing of the number and type of containers if it’s not obvious from the Number’ and ‘Type fields, E.g.:

  • “(20 records cartons, 5 oversize flat boxes, and 1 rolled tube)”
  • “(Twelve 5¼-inch floppy diskettes)”.

Desirable Fields: Agent Links

Click the ‘Add Agent Link’ button to get started. If you add Agent Links, each agent’s name and role are required.

Role: If adding agent links, carefully consider the ‘Role’ in relation to the accession:

  • Adding agents as creators is desirable
  • Adding agents as donors is optional
  • Adding agents as subjects should not be done

Agents: Either type a few letters of the name into the ‘Agents’ box to search, or click the downward-pointing triangle to bring up the browse list.

Optional Fields: General Usage Note

All fields not either listed above in the 'Good Practice' and 'Desirable' sections or listed below in the ‘Do Not Use’ section are optional.  Add them if you feel like it, or if you particularly need to track the location(s) of the material you're accessioning.

  • With the exception of the ‘Instances’ section, most should be fairly self-explanatory.
  • If not, check the Resource Records instructions page to see if they are listed there, or ask Leilani for guidance.

Optional Fields: Instances > General Usage Note

An ‘Instance’ is a physical or digital instantiation of materials. Choose whether you’re adding container instances (for physical items, including both original materials, and microfilm, photocopies, or other analog reproductions) or digital object instances (for born-digital materials within a mixed collection and/or for digitized versions of analog material).

Click on either the ‘Add Container Instance’ button or the ‘Add Digital Object’ button to get started.

Optional Fields: Instances > Digital Object Instances

For Digital Object Instances, the ‘Digital Object’ field is required.

To link to an existing Digital Object record, either type a few letters into a search bar or click on the downward-pointing triangle to browse.

If there is more than one digital version of an item—e.g. master, mezzanine, thumbnail, etc.—each should have its own Digital Object Instance

  • (Clicking ‘Make Representative’ designates a specific file version/instance as the one that should be highlighted on a resource / accession / component page in the public view.  However, since we don’t publish accession records, ‘Make Representative’ is irrelevant for our Accession records.)

Optional Fields: Instances > Container Instances

If you are adding a container instance, 'Type’ and ‘Top Container’ are required; child and grandchild types and indicators are optional.


Choose the appropriate genre/format term for the material being described. 

  • Mixed Materials’ is most common for archival material, but there may be cases where one of the other choices is more apt.
    • (Because of database weirdness, some terms are listed twice; in these cases go with the capitalized version of the term.)
  • Alternatively, if creating a single instance for the entire accession, choose ‘Accession’, and see below for what to enter for ‘Top Container’.

Top Container

Unlike previous versions of ArchivesSpace, it’s no longer possible to have a physical Instance without attaching it to a specific Top Container. 

Containers, Locations, and Top Containers:

If it moves and/or can get paged, it’s a Container.   If it’s stationary, it’s a Location.   If it’s a container that is not contained within any other container, it’s a Top Container.

  • So, folders are top containers when they’re in map case drawers—which don’t get paged—but not when they’re in boxes, which do. (See the instructions for creating new top container records for more detail)
  • Similarly, objects, items, A/V reels, etc. that are not in boxes but are instead placed directly on shelves or in drawers should be listed as top containers (even though they don’t technically contain anything, but are just themselves)

To link to an existing top container—for example when adding an accrual to an existing collection, or adding either a very small collection or a few folders of oversized materials to a multi-collection box—either type a few letters into a search bar or click on the downward-pointing triangle to browse.

  • It is possible to search by keywords in addition to the container title, but this is considerably less helpful than it sounds, because the results don’t recognize quotes in phrases. So, for example, searching for “Box 3” brings up all the containers with both ‘Box’ and ‘3’ in their records.  
    • Also, a maximum of 10 records shows up in the search list.
  • Browsing takes you to a pop-up screen, and is much more helpful, acting is some ways like an advanced search.

To create a new Top Container record directly from the Container Instance section:

Click on the downward-pointing triangle and choose ‘Create’.

If possible, use a Container Profile to help standardize things.

  • Because of a couple of bugs in ASpace 1.5.4, as of Fall 2017 only sysadmins—in effect, only Leilani—can create container profiles.
  • (The Archives Subcommittee needs to discuss whether or not this permission will be expanded to other categories of users once we upgrade to 2.2.x.)
  • Note on dimensions in container profiles: the dimensions in the profile’s Container Title are the stated dimensions of the boxes (usually the interior dimensions), while the ones in the Dimensions fields are the actual average outside dimensions, including lids.

Container Type

  • ‘Box’ is the most common type for top containers, but occasionally some of the others are appropriate.
  • NOTE: If you chose ‘Accession’ as your instance type, then choose ‘bin’ as your Top Container type (in this case ‘bin’ represents a fake top container holding the entire accession).
  • Ignore the container types of ‘map-case’ and ‘drawer’!  Treat these as locations, not as containers. (Leilani will periodically check to see if any records use either of these as container types and doing what is necessary to delete them as options.)   If you by some odd chance have drawers that can be removed and paged—like natural history specimen drawers in museums—ask Leilani what to do instead.


  • Give the indicator for the box or other container: usually a number, but sometimes a brief alphanumeric string.
  • If your instance type is ‘Accession’ (and so your Top Container type is ‘bin’), then enter the accession number and an abbreviated version of the container summary for the 'Indicator'. 
    • E.g. “Acc. 2015:999 boxes 1-5”
    • This would show up in the container instance list as  “bin Acc. 2015:999 boxes 1-5”


  • Enter the container’s barcode if your department barcodes containers.

Location’ Fields

  • First, click ‘Add Location’; this brings up the other fields.  ‘Status’, ‘Start Date’, and ‘Location’ are required; ‘Note’ can be helpful.
  • Status:’ Choose ‘Current’ unless you really care about tracking items’ past locations.
  • Location’: either type a few letters into a search bar or click on the downward-pointing triangle to browse.
    • ‘Find with Space Calculator’ probably won’t work until we have more locations linked to location profiles (and may not work at all unless the instance / container being created is linked to a Container Profile).
    • To create a new Location, click on the downward-pointing triangle and choose ‘Create’; this opens a pop-up with the same fields as a regular individual Location record, so see that page for instructions.

Click ‘Create and Link to Top Container’ when done.

Child or Grandchild Containers:

After you’ve defined your top container, use these fields for interior containers, e.g. folders within boxes.

For accessions, specifying the child/grandchild containers is generally not necessary if all the lower-level containers (e.g. all the folders in a single box) are from that same accession.

  • They can be useful in cases where all or part of an accession resides within a multi-collection box, for example if an accession is only a folder or two and is kept in a ‘Small Collections’ box, or if it includes one oversize folder that is kept in a general/mixed-collection ‘Oversize’ box.
  • (In those situations, the child/grandchild indicator should be devised from a combination of the accession number and the folder number; e.g. “Acc. 2015:999-01” for a small accession.  Presuming that the child type is ‘Folder’, this would show up in that Top Container’s instance/contents list as “Folder Acc. 2015:999-01”.)

Do Not Use: Rights Statement

Avoid using ‘Rights Statements’-sections for now; the data model ArchivesSpace uses for Rights Statements changes in version 2.1.x, so it’s best to hold off on these until we upgrade and can start using the new model. 

Do Not Use: Subjects and/or Agents-as-Subjects

Do not add Subjects or Agents-as-subjects to accession records.

Do Not Use: User Defined

Do not use ‘User Defined’ fields without first bringing the suggested use and purpose of those fields to the Archives Subcommittee—we don’t want people using the same fields in different ways!