Standards for Archival Description: A Handbook
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CHAPTER 13: INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TOWARD DESCRIPTIVE STANDARDS

It is important for archivists in the U.S. to be aware of and participate when possible in the cooperative development of archival standards in the international archival community. The International Council on Archives (ICA) and the Unesco UNISIST Programme have long been active in bringing archivists together toward common goals.

International Council on Archives

The International Council on Archives (ICA) convened an Invitational Meeting of Experts on Descriptive Standards in Ottawa, Canada, in October 1988. That group adopted nine resolutions establishing, among other things, that the development, implementation, and maintenance of descriptive standards would be a "major priority" in the future planning strategies for the ICA.

The ICA Ad Hoc Commission for the Development of Descriptive Standards was created in response and met for the first time in December 1989. It includes representatives from Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Malaysia, Britain, France, Canada, the U.S., and Germany.

The commission members agreed that their first priority would be to develop a basic set of theoretical principles similar in intent to the "Paris Principles" that have provided guidance to the international library community since 1966. The ICA Statement of Principles Regarding Archival Description circulated widely during 1990 and 1991 and was formally approved at the 1992 ICA meeting in Montreal.

Building on the principles, the commission has also drafted a set of general rules for archival description that is now being circulated as a draft General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)). This document identifies twenty-five data elements common to archival descriptive products worldwide. It is modeled on the international library community's General International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD(G)) (see discussion on p. 66).

Whereas U.S. archivists have tended to view descriptive standards in a broad, systems-oriented context, the ICA Commission has

focused its attention on one particular aspect of archival description for the purposes of these Principles, namely the description which serves, as far as possible, as the definitive representation of the archival material and which is required to establish intellectual control over it and promote access to the information which it contains. This means that the Commission has taken its stand at a point after the archival material has been selected for permanent preservation and arranged.

The commission explicitly recognizes the validity of the broader view, however, noting that archival description "in its widest sense . . . covers every element of information no matter at what stage of management it is identified or established," and expects that "standards developed based on these Principles will be an integral part of the larger universe of standards affecting information about archives."

Unesco RAMP studies

Since 1979 Unesco's Records and Archives Management Programme (RAMP) studies have provided significant sources of general guidance, especially developing nations in the early stages of developing comprehensive archival programs. Relatively few of these reports have focused specifically on description, however.

Descriptive standards projects in Canada

Archivists in Canada and the U.K. have also been active in the pursuit of descriptive standards for the last decade, but with philosophies and approaches that have brought them to quite different branches of development than those in the U.S.

Canadians have been advancing perhaps most evenly through a broad cooperative project funded and supported by the principal national archival agencies and professional associations. Their work has evolved from a systematic analysis of Canadian archival programs undertaken in the late 1970s and published in a widely read and influential report. That report noted that the lack of descriptive standards "seriously hinders the creation of an information system at the national level."

In November 1983 the Bureau of Canadian Archivists (BCA) had obtained funds for a working group to analyze the issues involved and develop a set of proposals to address them. The results of their deliberations were published in Toward Descriptive Standards in December 1985. Based on the working group's recommendations the BCA established the Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards (PCDS) to plan and coordinate the development of descriptive standards for the archival profession in Canada. The committee first met in early 1987. Its membership consists of two representatives each from the Association des archivistes du Québec (AAQ) and the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA), the Secretary General of the BCA, and an observer from the National Archives of Canada.

Actual rule development occurs in the several working groups, appointed by the Planning Committee, which focus on specific media: graphic materials, machine-readable records, architectural drawings, textual records, sound recordings, and moving image materials. As of early 1993, the following chapters of Rules for Archival Description (RAD, see p. ) had been published: 1, General Rules for Description; 2, Multiple Media Fonds; 3, Textual Records; 4, Graphic Materials; and 21-26 (corresponding to AACR 2 chapter numbers), for headings, uniform titles, and references. Work continues on chapters for cartographic materials, architectural records, moving images, sound recordings, computer files, and microforms.

There are a number of fundamental differences between the Canadian and U.S. approaches that are reflected in the standards currently available and under development in both countries and that will influence future efforts toward international cooperation.

First, the Canadians have based their work on an analysis of existing practice and the articulation of basic principles, or "common assumptions," as they were called in Toward Descriptive Standards. Some have described this as a "top-down" approach and contrasted it to the "bottom-up," systems analysis approach taken in the U.S. projects. A second difference is the limitation in the Canadian definition of archival description to those processes that commence "after accessioning and arrangement are completed."

Another distinction is that the rules being developed in Canada are not tied to specific formats or types of finding aids. While archivists in the U.S., specifically in WGSAD, have explicitly promoted process over product, in practice they have focused considerable effort toward the development of standards for very specific products, i.e., catalog records in the USMARC AMC format (see Chapters 3 and 4).

By contrast the Canadians have set out to develop rules for data elements that can be used in any type of descriptive product. Their rules "do not define or prescribe products . . . [or] dictate finding aids of any particular type to institutions. Instead the rules prescribe only the contents of a variety of data elements that can be used in description." This approach harkens back in spirit to the broadly applicable NISTF Data Elements Dictionary (see p. 24), which only defined the elements; it did not attempt to devise rules for them.

Finally, the U.S. and Canadian efforts diverge in the Canadian decision "to postpone the development of automated systems until professionally agreed upon rules for archival description are in place." It is certainly the choice to aggressively pursue automation that has brought archivists in the U.S. to such a different point in standards development than their colleagues in Canada. Much of the work in the U.S. has been led by university-based archivists, especially in large research libraries, who saw tremendous potential and power in the bibliographic networks that began serving their parent institutions in the late 1970s. They had to have standards, specifically a MARC-compatible communication format and AACR 2-compatible cataloging rules, in order to participate in these networks. As the format and rules were refined, other archivists wanting to take advantage of the editing and processing capabilities of stand-alone automation systems for their in-house descriptive systems were able to use software packages like MicroMARC:amc, Minaret, AIIMS, and Cuadra Star that incorporated the USMARC standards.

Having described all these differences between the Canadian and U.S. approaches, it is perhaps important to note areas of agreement, of which there are many. Both groups agree that description should proceed from the general to the specific, that is, description of larger bodies of records (in fonds, record groups, or record series) should precede any attempts at item-level description. Also, the value of the USMARC AMC format as a communication vehicle is recognized almost universally as is the desirability of library-archives compatibility in information exchange. The Canadians have ensured that their rules are consistent with International Standard Bibliographic Descriptions (ISBDs), thereby making them compatible with both the MARC format and the cataloging rules in AACR 2 while not restricting their users to a cataloging format alone. Finally, archivists in the U.S. who have had the chance to examine and even apply the Canadian rules that have appeared thus far report that they are, overall, applicable to U.S. archival practices and may provide a model for standardizing other finding aids and formats beyond catalog records. The remaining area of difficulty is in the application of the concept of fonds in U.S. practice.

Description standards projects in Great Britain

British efforts toward description standards began with a project at the University of Liverpool under the direction of Michael Cook which was funded by the Society of Archivists. The project's report appeared in 1986 as the Manual of Archival Description (MAD), proposing standards for archival finding aids (see p. ). In sharp contrast to concurrent work in the U.S., however, the British determined that AACR 2 was inherently unsuitable for archival description, even in adapted forms such as those embodied in APPM. Cook, in a separate work, did acknowledge the ultimate desirability of compatible library and archival standards, noting that "the increasing demand for international standards and provision for immediately accessible data bases make it important for us to reach solutions." The second edition of the Manual (MAD2) appeared in 1990.

There is a move underway to develop a UKMARC AMC format. The British Library joined RLIN in early 1992; access to this communication vehicle may generate increased interest in the format. Michael Cook points out, however, that there is already a substantial body of archival description held in online databases in Britain that does not conform to the format. In addition, none of the archival database projects in Europe, with the exception of Sweden, have shown interest in the use of the MARC format. These factors are likely to inhibit adoption in the near term, at least.

Further Reading

Bureau of Canadian Archivists. The Archival Fonds: From Theory to Practice. Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1992.

Bureau of Canadian Archivists. Toward Descriptive Standards: Report and Recommendations of the Canadian Working Group on Archival Descriptive Standards. Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1985.

Cook, Michael. "MAD2: Reassessing the Experience." Archivaria 35 (Spring 1993): 15-23.

Cook, Michael. "The Move Toward Standards of Description and What To Do With Them." Janus (1984): 29-32.

Cook, Michael. "Standards of Archival Description." Journal of the Society of Archivists 8 (April 1987): 181-188.

Duff, Wendy M., and Kent M. Haworth. "The Reclamation of Archival Description: The Canadian Perspective." Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-91): 26-35.

Gredley, Ellen, and Alan Hopkinson. Exchanging Bibliographic Data: MARC and Other International Formats. Chicago: American Library Association, 1990.

Harris, Patricia R. "The Development of International Standards: Exploring the ISO/IFLA Relationship." IFLA Journal 17 (1991): 358-365.

Haworth, Kent M. "The Voyage of RAD: From the Old World to the New." Archivaria 36 (Autumn 1993): 5-12.

Hensen, Steven L. "RAD, MAD, and APPM: The Search for Anglo-American Standards for Archival Description." Archives and Museum Informatics 5 (Summer 1991): 2-5.


ICA Statement of Principles
Regarding Archival Description

1992.
Paper (11 p.).
See "Availability" below.


Development, approval, and maintenance:

Developed by the International Council on Archives (ICA), Ad Hoc Commission for the Development of Descriptive Standards. The National Archives of Canada's Office of Archival Descriptive Standards is serving as the Secretariat for the Ad Hoc Commission. The Ad Hoc Commission adopted the Principles in October 1990 and revised them in January 1992 following circulation for comments. The revised version was approved at the ICA meeting in Montreal in September 1992. Additional information can be obtained from the Secretariat (address below) or from the U.S. representative, Sharon Gibbs Thibodeau, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408.

Scope and structure:

The Statement of Principles "aims to provide a foundation of principles for the development of internationally applicable standards of archival description." It identifies four purposes for archival descriptive standards: (1) to ensure the creation of consistent, appropriate, and self-explanatory descriptions, (2) to facilitate the retrieval and exchange of information about archival material, (3) to enable the sharing of authority data, and (4) to make possible the integration of descriptions from different repositories into a unified information system.

The statement goes on to stress that "archival descriptive standards must be based on accepted theoretical principles." Although it recognizes that "elements of information about archival material are required at every stage in the management of the documents," it limits the scope of description for the purposes of the principles to "the formal process [that occurs] after the archival material has been arranged and the units or entities to be described have been determined."

It identifies the broadest unit of description as the fonds which is defined as "all of the documents, regardless of form or medium, naturally generated and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body in the conduct of personal or corporate activity." Because "description proceeds and is laid out and displayed from the general to the particular. . . a description is presented for the fonds as a whole before any of its parts."

Acknowledging concerns expressed by archivists in the U.S., the commission added statement 4.2 which asserts the necessity of linking provenance information with information about the archival material in order to explain the context of the fonds.

Finally, it asserts that "retrieval of provenance must be provided for" and recognizes the importance of access points and the application of authority control in a "fully developed system of archival description."

The document contains a preface, a glossary of terms, and sections covering scope and purpose, units of description, organization and structure of description, elements of descriptive information, and retrieval of descriptive information.

Related standards:

The intent behind these principles is to provide an archival parallel to the "Paris Principles" adopted by the international library community in 1961 under the sponsorship of the International Federation of Library Agencies and Institutions (IFLA) (see introduction to Chapter 4).

The Ad Hoc Commission has also produced a draft set of General Rules for Archival Description.

Availability:

Copies of the Statement of Principles can be obtained by writing Secretariat, ICA Ad Hoc Commission on Descriptive Standards, c/o National Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa ON K1A 0N3 Canada. The Principles have also been published in Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992), an issue that also contains several articles discussing their development and implications.

References:

Bearman, David. "Documenting Documentation." Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992): 33-49.

Duff, Wendy M., and Kent M. Haworth. "The Reclamation of Archival Description: The Canadian Perspective." Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-91): 33.


ISAD(G) General International Standard Archival Description

Online version

Draft, 1992.
Paper (10 p.).
See "Availability" below.


Development, approval, and maintenance:

Developed by the International Council on Archives (ICA), Ad Hoc Commission for the Development of Descriptive Standards. The National Archives of Canada's Office of Archival Descriptive Standards is serving as the Secretariat for the Ad Hoc Commission. The Ad Hoc Commission adopted the rules in January 1992 and is circulating them for review. Additional information can be obtained from the Secretariat (address below) or from the U.S. representative, Sharon Gibbs Thibodeau, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC 20408.

Scope and structure:

The rules provide general guidance for constructing the most basic elements found internationally in systems designed to describe archival materials. They are intended to be "broadly applicable to description of archives regardless of the nature or extent of the unit of description"; they are, as a result, not confined to a particular type of finding aid or other descriptive format.

The twenty-five elements identified in the rules are organized into five broad areas. The Identity Statement Area includes title, dates of creation of the material in the unit of description, extent of descriptive unit (quantity, bulk, or size), and level of description. The Context and Content Area includes administrative/biographical history, custodial history, immediate source of acquisition, appraisal/selection information, system of arrangement, scope and content note/abstract, and dates of accumulation of the unit of description. The Conditions of Access and Use Area includes the language of material, the physical characteristics, access conditions, copyright/terms governing reproduction, and finding aids. The Allied Materials Area includes the location of originals, existence of copies, accrual note, related units of description, and associated materials. The Note Area contains a single element designed to record important information not accommodated elsewhere.

The entry for each data element includes the name of the element, a statement of purpose for that element, instructions for recording appropriate information within that element, and examples illustrating implementations of the rules.

Related standards:

The first step undertaken by the Ad Hoc Commission in developing the ISAD(G) was to conduct a comparative analysis of the three major Anglo-American data content standards, the U.S.'s Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts (APPM), Canada's Rules for Archival Description (RAD), and Great Britain's Manual for Archival Description (MAD). They identified 20 data elements which appeared in all three or for which there was substantial overlap. If the three generally agreed on the rules for a specific data element, the commission simply adopted the language of one of the existing standards for that data element. As might be expected in an international standard trying to unify practices across national borders, the ISAD(G) eliminates a certain level of specificity found in the national standards, but the Commission believes that there is no substantial conflict with APPM or the others in these international rules.

These rules are consistent with the Principles for Archival Description also developed by the Ad Hoc Commission (see p. ). The equivalent library standard is IFLA's General International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD(G)) (see discussion on p. 66).

Publication format and availability:

Copies of the Rules can be obtained by writing Secretariat, ICA Ad Hoc Commission on Descriptive Standards, c/o National Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa ON K1A 0N3 Canada. The ISAD(G) has also been published in Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992), an issue that also contains several articles discussing their development and implications.

References:

Bearman, David. "Documenting Documentation." Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992): 33-49.


Rules for Archival Description
(RAD)

1992- (continuing).
Looseleaf, without binder.
ISBN 0-9690797-3-7.
Available from Bureau of Canadian Archivists,
Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards. $10.00.


Development, approval, and maintenance:

Developed and maintained by the Bureau of Canadian Archivists, Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards, in cooperation with the Canadian Council of Archives. Endorsed by the Bureau of Canadian Archivists.

Scope and structure:

RAD is envisioned as a complete set of rules for the description of all types of archival materials. Chapters are being released as they are completed.

Chapter 1 (General Rules for Description), like the corresponding chapter in Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed. (AACR 2), covers the organization of description into areas (e.g., title and statement of responsibility, physical description, archival description), punctuation, and levels of detail. Chapter 2 (Multiple Media Fonds) covers description at the fonds level. Also includes appendixes covering capitalization and abbreviation.

These are to be followed by chapters dealing with broad classes of material at all levels of description (fonds, series, filing unit, item). Already published are Chapters 3 (Textual Records) and 4 (Graphic Materials). Other chapters are in preparation for cartographic materials, architectural records, moving images, sound recordings, and computer files. There will also be a chapter on microforms.

Finally, Chapters 21-26 (corresponding to chapter numbers from AACR 2), already published, cover choice and form of headings, uniform titles, and references. Appendixes cover capitalization and abbreviations.

Related standards:

The rules expressed in RAD are intended to be consistent with International Standard Bibliographic Descriptions (ISBDs), thereby making them compatible with both the USMARC AMC format and with AACR 2.

References:

Bureau of Canadian Archivists. Toward Descriptive Standards: Report and Recommendations of the Canadian Working Group on Archival Descriptive Standards. Ottawa: Bureau of Canadian Archivists, 1985.

Dryden, Jean. "Dancing the Continental: Archival Descriptive Standards in Canada." American Archivist 53 (Winter 1990): 106-108.

Duff, Wendy M., and Kent M. Haworth. "The Reclamation of Archival Description: The Canadian Perspective." Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-91): 26-35.

Haworth, Kent M. "The Development of Descriptive Standards in Canada: A Progress Report." Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992): 75-90.

Haworth, Kent M. "The Voyage of RAD: From the Old World to the New." Archivaria 36 (Autumn 1993): 5-12.

Hensen, Steven L. "RAD, MAD, and APPM: The Search for Anglo-American Standards for Archival Description." Archives and Museum Informatics 5:2 (Summer 1991): 2-5.


Manual of Archival Description
(MAD2)

2nd ed., 1990.
Cloth (291 p.). ISBN 0-566-03634-7.
Available in the U.S. from Gower. $59.95.


Development, approval, and maintenance:

Michael Cook and Margaret Proctor, compilers, for the Archival Description Project, University of Liverpool (financed by the British Library Research and Development Department and the Society of Archivists)

Scope and structure:

This manual is intended to guide archivists in production of finding aids and finding aids systems, but not in the production of bibliographical descriptions for use in cooperative databases or online catalogs that adhere to AACR 2. In this way it differs significantly from both APPM and RAD. It provides much more guidance than APPM does in the areas of custodial history, administrative control, and process control. It also covers the form as well as the content of finding aids. Special formats are handled in chapters on title deeds (a uniquely British form), letters and correspondence, photographs, cartographic archives, architectural and other plans, sound archives, film and video archives, and machine-readable archives.

Related standards:

A UKMARC AMC format is under development, although Cook notes that there appears to be less interest in such a format in the U.K. than in the U.S.

Archival applications:

Used primarily by archivists in the U.K., but the authors propose it as a standard for the English-speaking world. Michael Cook and Margaret Proctor have also produced The MAD User Guide, 2nd ed. (1989), which "outlines basic rules and standards that are more fully developed in the Manual" and includes diagrams and examples. ISBN 0-566-03621-5. Available in the U.S. from Gower. $19.95.

References:

Cook, Michael. "The British Move Towards Standards of Archival Description: The MAD Standard." American Archivist 53 (Winter 1990): 130-138.

Cook, Michael. "Description Standards: The Struggle Towards the Light." Archivaria 34 (Summer 1992): 50-57.

Cook, Michael. "MAD2: Reassessing the Experience." Archivaria 35 (Spring 1993): 15-23.

Duff, Wendy M., and Kent M. Haworth. "The Reclamation of Archival Description: The Canadian Perspective." Archivaria 31 (Winter 1990-91): 26-35.

Hensen, Steven L. "RAD, MAD, and APPM: The Search for Anglo-American Standards for Archival Description." Archives and Museum Informatics 5 (Summer 1991): 2-5.


ALSO OF INTEREST

The Arrangement and Description of Archival Materials. 1980. Hugh A. Taylor, with a contribution, "Les instruments de Recherche dans les Archives," by Étienne Taillemite. International Council on Archives, Handbooks Series Volume 2. Cloth. Published by K.G. Saur. Out of print.



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Standards for Archival Description: A Handbook
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