Standards for Archival Description: A Handbook
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SAA has undertaken several profession-wide surveys, but most have focused on individual archivists and issues such as gender distribution and salaries. Perhaps the first to concentrate on gathering data specifically about repositories and their holdings was conducted by Nicholas Burckel and Frank Cook in the early 1980s, but even that was limited to college and university archives.1

The first broad scale attempt to gather data about all types of repositories came in 1985. The process was based in part on earlier efforts reflected in SAA's "Principles of Institutional Evaluation" issued in 19822 and the "Recommendations for Reporting on Archives and Manuscript Collections" published in 1983.3

Paul Conway reports that one of the basic purposes of the 1985 study was "to identify units of information that all repositories should try to collect on a regular basis," in other words, to standardize statistical practices. Conway also notes another standards-related advantage to conducting regular surveys. "By clarifying existing patterns and showing how they are evolving, present and future national studies can identify the common ground--the highest common denominator--that can serve as a foundation for widely accepted standards for archival programs."4 Since the conclusion of the 1985 census, however, SAA as an organization has made little progress in the pursuit of standardized statistical reporting practices.

The National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), on the other hand, has made standard reporting practices one of its program emphases. Based on a 1978-81 study, NAGARA established standard sets of terminology and measurements for public records administration and actively promoted their use by state and local records programs nationwide. The NAGARA guidelines, originally published in 1982, were field tested and a revised set published in 1987. They serve as the foundation for an ongoing program of statistical reports published annually in the NAGARA Clearinghouse.5

Librarians, of course, also have active statistical reporting programs many of which take archival collections into account when they are housed in a library setting. The first ANSI standard for library statistics was approved in 1968. It was revised in 1983 in a process that consulted closely "with the statistics committee of the American Library Association and other major national library associations of the United States."6 Another revision is scheduled for review in late 1992.

Also very familiar, especially to academic archivists, are the annual volumes of ARL Statistics compiled since 1962 by the Association of Research Libraries. ARL has also issued two Systems and Procedures Exchange Center (SPEC) Kits on statistical topics that are included in the "Also of Interest" section at the end of this chapter.

Further reading

Endelman, Judith. "Looking Backward to Plan for the Future: Collection Analysis for Manuscript Repositories." American Archivist 50 (Summer 1987): 340-355.

Evans, Frank B. "Promoting Archives and Research: A Study in International Cooperation." American Archivist 50 (Winter 1987): 48-65.

Stout, Leon. "Doing It By the Numbers: Standard Statistics for Describing Archives." American Archivist 53 (Winter 1990): 68-75.

Program Reporting Guidelines
for Government Records Programs

Paper (vi + 26 p.).
Available from NAGARA. $4.50.

Development, approval, and maintenance:

Developed by the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA). Provisional guidelines were issued in 1982 as State Archives and Records Management Terminology, Measurement, and Reporting Standards and subjected to extensive field testing 1982-1984. The current version represents a complete revision of the original. Maintained by NAGARA.

Scope and structure:

"The guidelines and the survey form have two separate but related purposes: to provide records management and archives programs with a firm basis for gathering and presenting their own statistical information and to further NAGARA's efforts in eliminating the communications barriers among state programs." Ultimately, NAGARA hopes to use them as a basis for developing minimum program qualitative and quantitative standards.

"The document concentrates on basic or core quantitative measurement.... These guidelines are not designed to cover or define the entire range of possible records management and archives functions, but rather to reflect actual conditions and current practices in state programs. In a broader sense, they represent the minimum professional reporting standards expected of a fully developed program."

The reporting guidelines themselves are set up in twelve functional areas that are intended to mirror the life cycle of records (records management, records creation, records maintenance, records disposition, archival appraisal, record center operations, micrographics, archival accessioning, archival arrangement and description, preservation, archival reference service, and public programs). Each function is further subdivided one or more times and specific units to be measured are assigned to each subdivision. For instance, under "Archival Reference Service--In-person reference visits" are two units to be measured: number of individual visitors and number of daily visits.

Also included are definitions of the terms used in the guidelines (which are based on the glossaries issued by SAA, ARMA, and AIIM) and a blank Annual Reporting Form which is to be used to provide statistical reports to NAGARA as part of its annual program surveys.

Archival applications:

The guidelines are geared primarily to state-level programs, although most could be adapted for use by federal or local government repositories.

ANSI Z39.7-1983
Library Statistics

1983 (being revised).
Paper (44 p.).
ISBN 0-88738-994-5.
Available from NISO. $25.00.
Copy of proposed revision available from NISO.

Development, approval, and maintenance:

The original version of Z39.7 was approved in 1968 and reaffirmed in 1974. It was prepared by the American National Standards Committee on Library and Information Sciences and Related Publishing Practices (Z39). Committee Z39 prepared a revision that was approved by ANSI on 5 May 1983. The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) is Z39's successor and holds maintenance responsibility for the standard. NISO is in the process of revising the standard.

Scope and structure:

The standard "provides categories and definitions for national reporting on libraries and concepts and measures for state, local, and specialized use, and for library research, in order to promote the exchange of information about libraries." Instructions are geared to make the basis for reporting materials in all formats comparable with that used for reporting books, and measurements relative to the size of collections are to be made in both physical and intellectual units. Guidance is provided for using sampling methods to gather certain types of data.

Formats covered other than books include manuscripts and archives, cartographic materials, graphic materials, audio materials, motion pictures, video materials, multimedia kits, three-dimensional materials, and machine-readable materials. Specific instructions for reporting manuscripts and archives read:

The number of linear feet of shelf space (measured from side to side) and file drawer space (measured from front to back) occupied by the collections shall be reported as the number of physical units. The number of manuscript groups and archival record series shall be reported as the number of titles.

Services measured and reported according to the guidelines include reference, database searches, bibliographic instruction, outreach, media services, as well as number of hours and of users of all facilities and services. Other areas covered by instructions include personnel resources, facilities and equipment, finances (income and expenditures), resource utilization, and computer use. Appendixes cover instructions for counting and estimating and preparation of personnel tables, among other topics.


Arranged alphabetically.

A Guide for Surveying Archival and Records Management Systems and Services: A RAMP Study. 1983. Frank B. Evans and Eric Ketelaar; Unesco/UNISIST. PGI/83/WS/6. See Appendix A for information on availability of Unesco documents.

ISO 2789:1991. Information and documentation--International library statistics. ISO Technical Committee 46. Paper (9 p.). Available from ANSI. $30.00.

Planning for Management Statistics in ARL Libraries. 1987. SPEC Kit 134. Paper. Available from the Association of Research Libraries, Systems and Procedures Exchange Center. $33.00.

Toward International Standardization of Statistics on Archival Institutions and Records Centres, Report. 1978. Eric Ketelaar; Unesco/UNISIST. PGI/78/WS/16. See Appendix A for information on availability of Unesco documents.

Use of Management Statistics in ARL Libraries. SPEC Kit 153. 1989. Paper. Association of Research Libraries, Systems and Procedures Exchange Center. Out of print.


1 Nicholas Burckel and J. Frank Cook, "A Profile of College and University Archives in the United States," American Archivist 45 (Fall 1982): 410-428.

2 The "Principles of Institutional Evaluation" were originally published in Evaluation of Archival Institutions: Services, Principles, and Guide to Self-Study, Report of the Task Force on Institutional Evaluation (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, [1982]), 20-22. The "Principles" have been slightly revised by the Committee on Institutional Evaluation and Development and proposed for approval as an SAA standard. See SAA Newsletter (July 1992): 16-17.

3 "Final Report of Task Force on Standard Reporting Practice," SAA Newsletter (November 1983): 13-16.

4 Paul Conway, "Perspectives on Archival Resources: The 1985 Census of Archival Institutions," American Archivist 50 (Spring 1987): 174-191.

5 Annual statistical reports have appeared in the following issues of the NAGARA Clearinghouse: 6 (Spring 1990), insert following p. 8; 7 (Spring 1991): 6-17; and 8 (Summer 1992), 7-19.

6 Foreword to ANSI Z39.7-1983, American National Standard for Library and Information Sciences and Related Publishing Practices--Library Statistics (New York: American National Standards Institute, Inc., 1983), 4.

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Standards for Archival Description: A Handbook
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