The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation define the characterists of the products acceptable for inclusion in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) collections at the Library of Congress. The four Standards require that the documentation–large-format photographs, measured drawings, and written reports–explain or illustrate the historic resource’s significance or value, be reliable and verifiable, be reproducible and durable long term, and be clearly and concisely produced.

The standards themselves are easily understood, but the many methods, products and technologies available to those preparing documentation; the mandates of law, rule and regulation, such as the National Historic Preservation Act (PDF, 147KB), Section 110(b); as well as the requirements of the Library of Congress, the collections’ curator, strongly suggest the need for constructive guidance in choosing among the many options available in meeting them. As the Agency charged with overseeing the HABS/HAER/HALS programs and the transmittal to the collections at the Library of Congress, The National Park Service, through the Heritage Documentation Programs, periodically develops such guidance and makes it available to the public.

Project Overview

As part of the Director’s Call to Action, the National Park Service is conducting a comprehensive review of the guidance it provides to meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation, with the goal of revising it where necessary to accommodate new methods and approaches, and to incorporate the lessons learned over the nearly thirty years since the Standards and initial guidance were first published.


The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Architectural and Engineering Documentation, and the initial guidance for meeting them, first published in 1983 in the Federal Register (Vol. 48, No. 190, Thursday, September 29, 1983, pp. 44730-44731), codified a set of “best practices” for documentation followed rigorously by the HABS program since its inception in 1933. HABS, in turn, had adopted the local and regional documentation practices of members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in post-World War I era, practices that focused first and foremost on the architectural value and integrity of the resource. Expanding upon this traditional approach, HABS founders included historical reports that clearly and concisely convey significance, and supplemented the drawings with large-format photography. In addition, HABS developed uniform standards, and saw to the preservation of that record and its availability to the public. As the Federal government’s first program devoted to the preservation of historic architecture, HABS evolved and refined documentation practice in the ensuing decades such that, when the movement to pass a set of standards for a broad array of preservation activities emerged in the 1980s, the existing HABS and HAER (and subsequently, HALS) standards were readily adopted as the Secretary’s own.


It is estimated that revision of the guidelines will require a public comment and suggestion period of twelve to eighteen months and another six months to incorporate these. We will begin with a set of meetings with Federal Preservation Officers (FPOs) in spring and summer, 2012, since the Secretary’s Standards are widely applied to meeting mitigation documentation requirements of the NHPA. These meetings will be followed by briefings with NPS Regional HABS/HAER/HALS coordinators and State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs). We also intend to present the proposals at various professional meetings to encourage comment and suggestion. Finally, this web page will be updated regularly and will be available to the public for logging comments and suggestions.