Resources: Key Concepts

Here are some key concepts important for understanding archiving. For additional terminology used in the Guide, see the Glossary.

Access point

A name, term, code, or type of information such as the date, by which a set of records can be sorted or searched. For example, in a library book catalog, access points are author, book title, and subject.  In a database, access points are any fields you can search, such as name, date, and title.


An organization made up of people and systems responsible for preserving records and documents of enduring value and making them available to a designated community. Archives are sometimes parts of larger organizations, such as universities, public libraries, media centers, or museums.


The practices and decisions that support the preservation, authentication, use, and accessibility of content with enduring value.


The quality of being genuine, not fake or counterfeit, and free from tampering.  Authenticity means that an object was actually created by the person represented as its creator, and that it was actually created at the time and place that is represented as its time and place of creation. Video footage that has been manipulated or altered but is represented as if it had not been, for example, is not authentic. 

To authenticate a video means to verify the relationship between it and its creator and point of creation. Documentation about who created something, when and where it was created, and the chain of custody can provide a starting point for this authentication process.


Creating and organizing descriptive information in a structured way so that resources can be found, used, and understood.  Cataloging expands on basic metadata, and enables users to access content in multiple ways. 

Chain of Custody

Chronological documentation that shows who has held or controlled a video file from the moment it was created. The ability to show an unbroken chain of custody is one important indicator of the authenticity of a video, and therefore a factor in using video as evidence.


The quality of having all of the information a record contained when it was created, and that its original context is maintained.  Incomplete records are not as reliable as complete ones, since one might not know what information is missing and why.  Transcoding a video to another format can reduce the image quality and discard metadata, making the video less complete and therefore less reliable. Keeping original video files, documenting context, and organizing videos in a way that maintains the original order of video files contributes to the completeness of the video records.

Controlled Vocabulary 

A predefined list of terms used to ensure consistency in cataloging. Since there is usually more than one way to describe or refer to a concept, choosing one term eliminates guesswork and circumvents the normal ambiguities of language (and spelling).  Imagine searching for “Doctors” only to later learn that some records use the term “Physicians”.  Consistent vocabularies increase the findability of records.


The ability of a user to easily find what they are looking for.


Related to integrity, the quality of being unchanged over a given period of time.  Fixity maintains the authenticity of an object over time, and is key to the concept of preservation. Long-term fixity requires good policies and handling practices, sustainable infrastructure, and strong security. Regular fixity checks (e.g. computing and comparing checksums) are used to detect changes.


The relationship between a copy and its original. This term originates from the time of analog copying. In the digital realm, where it is possible to create exact copies of originals, generation usually implies a change in format or specifications, such as an H.264 access copy generated from an Apple ProRes master. Having a video available in multiple generations is therefore not a replacement for having exact backup copies of your originals.

Information Package 

A self-describing container - usually a clearly named folder or directory - used to keep media and its related documentation or metadata together.  

Informed Consent

The process of ensuring that a person identified in a video fully understands the purpose and intended use of the recording, as well as any potential unintended consequences of his or her participation. With this awareness, the person must voluntarily give his or her permission to be identified and for the recording to be used.


The quality of being whole, unaltered, and uncorrupted. A file that is not intact may not be usable or may have decreased informational and evidential value. Videos files can lose their integrity if they are accidentally mishandled, deliberately tampered with, or if data corruption occurs in transfer or storage due to hardware or software malfunction. The best way to ensure integrity is to establish a system to check file fixity regularly (e.g. by computing hashes and checking them against a registry of previously computed hashes) and to restore any corrupted files from an intact copy.