Many of the activities during accessioning are extensions of the ones performed during appraisal. This is where the information gathered while reviewing the materials aids in the formal acceptance of materials into the archives through the creation of an accession record, and materials flagged for review can be given more attention. Accessioning is also where relevant metadata and documentation is captured and organized in preparation for ingest.

Identifying file format types, versions, and quantities

File Type by Eucalyp from the Noun Project

Because of the tasks completed during appraisal, you should already have a general idea of what kinds of file formats you are working with. Building off of that in the accessioning process, you can begin documenting the materials’ formats at a much more granular level with the possibility of listing the file formats present in an accession record.

Similarly, it is important to know how many files in each type of format you have so you can better plan the further processing of the materials. Some file types, such as proprietary or difficult-to-identify formats will require more effort and troubleshooting than others. Most types of file format identification software will, for example, not only tell you what format a file is in but also what version of that format it is, and whether it is well-formed and valid. All of this information is useful for determining what future normalization actions could be performed on the material and what format-related preservation policies or plans could be relevant. For instance, perhaps you have a large number of image files that are already in the preservation-ready TIFF format. However, in the process of accessioning you discover that they are formatted in a much older version and therefore the time must be taken in the future to convert them to the correct version.

Creating a directory listing

directory by H Alberto Gongora from the Noun Project

During appraisal you will have retrieved a directory listing or manifest for the purposes of reviewing the files you are working with. Now, after determining what material you will be accessioning, it is advisable to create a final directory listing that can be included in your SIP. This will consist of a manifest of all of the accessioned files as well as documentation of the original folder structure where they were found. For a list of tools that will help you create a directory listing, see the tools section in the appraisal section. Creating a directory listing will also assist in determining general descriptions of dates, scope and content for accession records, such as total file quantities and sizes.

Determining file creation/modification dates

File Time by Hea Poh Lin from the Noun Project

Tools used in the appraisal stage such as Brunnhilde, ExifTool and Karen’s Directory Printer, can also be used to record file creation and modification dates. File creation and modification dates are important pieces of metadata as they help to give additional context to files, and they should be recorded and stored alongside the rest of the metadata you gather, as they may eventually inform your archival descriptions. Note that not all systems and formats treat creation and modification dates the same, and dates can be accidentally modified: see this article for a discussion of this issue.

Determining relevant rights

copyright by Thomas Hirter from the Noun Project

You have reviewed the potential rights issues with the material during appraisal, so during this stage it is time to determine which rights are relevant to the material you are accessioning. You should be aware of any issues relating to copyright and any donor restrictions that may be placed on the material. Make sure that the donor has the right to transfer ownership of all materials you are accessioning to your institution. Documenting donor rights as part of the accession record will assist in arrangement and description and preservation processing later on (see pre-ingest section).

Dealing with the original transfer media

CD by Arthur Shlain from the Noun Project

Accessioning is also the stage when you should decide what should happen to the original transfer media you received the donated files on – i.e. computer hard drives, CDs, Floppy disks, or USB keys. At this point the digital materials should have all been transferred off of this media and onto your institution’s workstation, backups and working copies have been created, and the original context of the material has somehow been documented. Some institutions, like the Bentley Historical Library, include photographing the transfer media as part of their processing workflow. You may now decide that it is not worth keeping the original transfer media and choose to dispose of it. On the other hand, you may want the extra security that comes with an additional backup, or believe there to be the possibility of future benefits associated with retaining the original media. This decision should be made in accordance with your particular institution’s policies, procedures, and storage conditions. Remember that if you do choose to keep the original media as a proper backup, it also must be checked and maintained on an ongoing basis.

Gathering materials for SIP

package information by unlimicon from the Noun Project

The Submission Information Package that will eventually be ingested into Archivematica allows for the inclusion of accompanying metadata and documentation called “submission documentation” in Archivematica. To prepare for creating the SIP you may also wish to gather all unstructured documentation relating to the materials you have chosen to accession. This includes directory listings, original manifests, photographs of the original transfer media, and donor agreements. These materials may help illuminate the context and provenance of the materials, including how they were acquired by the archives.

Creating the accession record

contracts by Llisole from the Noun Project

After gathering all of the relevant information about the materials you are accessioning, you will want to create an accession record in accordance with your institution’s policies and procedures. This could include ownership documentation, content restrictions, and administrative metadata.

One of the most important elements to include in the accession record is documentation about the processing steps you have performed thus far. This is necessary so that the choices that were made during processing can be understood by researchers or other archivists at a later point in time. The documentation could begin with noting the methods used to transfer the data from the donor, and include the hardware and software used to conduct the transfer, what state the files were found in, what formats they were, what the original file structure was, and how the archivist doing the processing has been verifying file fixity. Similarly, the actions during appraisal could also be noted, such as the methods used to scan for PII/duplicates/encrypted files, how file formats were identified and verified, the creation of working copies, and the ongoing monitoring of fixity. This information could then be included as a processing note within the custodial history of the collection for future reference and additional context.

Verifying checksums and bagging


A final step you may want to perform is once again verifying the checksums of your original and working files to check that they have not been changed, and then re-bagging them for storage prior to arrangement and description and/or processing.


Case Studies

case study by Setyo Ari Wibowo from the Noun Project

Customizing Archivematica’s Format Migration Strategies with the Format Policy Registry (FPR)

This blog post from the Bentley Historical Library describes the steps they took to customize how Archivematica approaches normalization and format migration so that it would align with the Bentley’s own procedures.

Keeping Track of Time with Data Accessioner

Blog post describing the creation of a time logging enhancement for the Data Accessioner tool, which tracks how long it takes to process files.

Indiana Archives and Records Administration’s Accession Profile Use in Bagger

This case study is a useful primer about how the Indiana Archives came to rely upon Bagger for its accessions and their creation of a standardized metadata profile to streamline the process. It also includes suggestions for how to adapt this profile for other institutions.


tools by Gregor Cresnar from the Noun Project

Many of the tools that were useful during appraisal, such as directory printing or file identification programs, will also be applicable to the activities you carry out during accessioning. See the appraisal section for suggestions.


A very useful tool for review and appraisal that bundles together a number of functions to give you a good overall picture of the materials in a particular potential transfer: it identifies file formats (using Siegfried), and duplicates, runs checksums and virus scans, and much more – all presented in a useful set of reports for the archivist. Using Brunnhilde can also aid in preparing details for an accession record as its reports give details on the extent of the materials in a particular directory or disk image.

Duke Data Accessioner

Small tool for migrating digital content and gathering and creating XML metadata reports (using FITS). It also runs the checksums of the files you are working with. The latest version is v1.1 (2017-02-01).


Designed to allow for the manipulation and extraction of metadata from a large number of file formats. Especially powerful when working with image files. Free and open-source. Windows, Mac, and Linux.



Idea by Takao Umehara from the Noun Project

Bentley Historical Archives Born-Digital Processing Workflow: ArchiveSpace Accessions

An example and explanation of the accession records that the Bentley creates as part of their workflow using ArchiveSpace, an open-source archival processing software system.

Data Accessioner and Data Accessioner: Metadata Transformer Screencast

Video tutorial demonstrating the use of the Duke Data Accessioner and the associated tool, “Metadata Transformer”.


A file format registry maintained by the UK National Archives. Used by several file format identification programs, it is also manually searchable.

Sustainability of Digital Formats: Planning for Library of Congress Collections

Library of Congress-run resource with information about various file formats and detailed information about their identifiers, sustainability factors, and additional information and resources.

Undateables – methods for determining date ranges for born-digital documents when file systems go bad

Blog post discussing date metadata and how to find and fix errors. Also contains suggestions for how to guard against losing this information.