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<physdesc> Physical Description

While the Library of Congress’s EAD tag library terms <physdesc> a “wrapper element,” this is not correct since it may include PCDATA.1 The element is used to encode information about the appearance or construction of the described materials. It may be found within <did> or <archref>.

The element may contain a wide variety of information about the materials. In high level <did>, it may be used to discuss physical aspects of the collection. At lower levels, it may discuss the contents of a particular box or folder, or even an item itself. For example, one of the letters in my collection has water damage which obscures some of the words. I could note this in a <physdesc> within its item-level <did>.


  • ALTRENDER – not required. Use if the content of the element should be displayed or printed differently than the rendering established in a style sheet for other occurrences of the element.
  • AUDIENCE – not required. Use to set whether the element’s contents will be visible to external users or to internal ones. Possible values are: “internal” and “external.”
  • ID – not required. Creates an ID for element. Can be used for linking.
  • ENCODINGANALOG – not required. May contain information to map this tag to a particular element in another schema.
  • LABEL – not required. This can be used when a meaningful display label for an element can’t be derived by the stylesheet from its name. It is available in all <did> subelements.
  • RULES – not required. Name of the descriptive rules or conventions that govern the formulation of the content of the element.
  • SOURCE – not required. The source of a controlled vocabulary term contained in the element.


<physdesc> will likely PCDATA. It may contain specific subelements <dimensions>, <extent>, and <physfacet> and the following generic subelements: <abbr>, <archref>, <bibref>, <corpname>, <date>, <emph>, <expan>, <extptr>, <extref>, <famname>, <function>, <genreform>, <geogname>, <lb />, <linkgrp>, <name>, <occupation>, <persname>, <ptr>, <ref>, <subject>, and <title>.


See DACS Section 2.5, Extent. (DACS 2013, pp.28-30)

Our EAD file so far

At this point, we’re just going to add a top-level <physdesc>, which isn’t nearly as exciting as it can get. However, when creating component elements, I will include a few illustrative <physdesc>s. The “oversize” part of the description will be explained further in <dimensions>.

		<eadid countrycode="us" mainagencycode="dgwl" url=www.eadiva.com/sample/">rkt-01</eadid>
				<titleproper>Inventory of Something Useful for Learning EAD <date>2012-2013</date></titleproper>
				<subtitle>A totally awesome finding aid with a subtitle too</subtitle>
				<author>Ruth K. Tillman, the EADiva</author>
				<sponsor>Encoding thanks to EADiva's donation of her spare time.</sponsor>
			<editionstmt><edition>1st ed.</edition>
			<p>Didn't need to specify since it's first edition, but wanted to use the fields.</p>
					<addressline>1600 Pennsylvania Ave</addressline>
					<addressline>Washington, DC, 20001</addressline>
					<addressline>Phone: 202-555-1234</addressline>
			<seriesstmt><p>Bell Family Papers</p>
					<p>The materials in this finding aid are based on an actual collection of Sarah J. Bell Kitchin's letters.</p>
					<p>This finding aid was created as a project for the EADiva.com website.</p>
			<creation>This finding aid was encoded by Ruth K. Tillman, on <date normal="20121118">November 18th, 2012</date>, using Notepad++. Material was generated off the top of her head.</creation>
			<langusage>This finding aid is written in <language langcode="eng">English</language>.
			<descrules>This finding aid was prepared using Ruth's understanding of EAD and her use of the LOC EAD 2002 official website.</descrules>
				<date normal="20121204">December 4, 2012</date>
				<item>This finding aid was edited by Ruth Tillman in order to clarify contents in eadheader.</item>
		<p>This inventory was prepared as part of the EADiva website to demonstrate EAD encoding of finding aids. It encodes information about the collection of the papers of Sarah Bell Kitchin as well as made-up information used to make the finding aid use more example elements. Like this one.</p></div>
			<titleproper>Inventory of Something Useful for Learning EAD <date>2012-2013</date></titleproper>
			<subtitle>A totally awesome finding aid with a subtitle too</subtitle>
			<author>Ruth K. Tillman, the EADiva</author>
	<archdesc level="collection">
			<abstract label="Abstract">Sarah J. Bell Kitchin, a Peace Corps Volunteer and professor of linguistics at the University of British Columbia. Her letters home from the Philippines (1967-1969) and Russia. Letters from members of the Bell family (1967-2000).
			<langmaterial label="Language">Correspondence in <language langcode="eng">English</language>.
			<physdesc label="Extent">0.25 linear feet (1 oversize box)</physdesc>

EAD tag library entry for <physdesc>.

1. See wrapper defined in LoC’s glossary of terms used to describe EAD 1.0. The version of EAD is not relevant to the definition of the term “wrapper.”