Archives: A Content Standard
Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2004. xxi, 269 pp. Available
from the Society of American Archivists, $35.00 members, $49.00 nonmembers.
Review essay published in American Archivist (Vol.
68, No.2, Fall/Winter 2005)
In February of 2005, the SAA Council approved Describing Archives:
A Content Standard(DACS) as an official SAA standard,
replacing the second edition of Archives, Personal Papers, and
Manuscripts(APPM) as the nation’s content standard
for archival description. DACS is the next logical step in
the evolution of archival descriptive standards in the United States.
It moves us away from a standard based on bibliographic rules and designed
for creating catalog records and toward a truly archival standard that
can be applied to full finding aids. The authors of DACS, leaders
in the field of archival description, include APPM author
Steve Hensen, Encoded Archival Description (EAD) experts Michael Fox
and Kris Kiesling, and the other U.S. members of the Canadian-U.S.
Task Force on Archival Description (CUSTARD), Lynn Holdzkom, Margit
Kerwin, Bill Landis, and Lydia Reid (vi).
With DACS, they have developed a set of clearly written content
guidelines for creating archival descriptions that can be expressed in
EAD, MARC21, and other formats. They have also created a standard that
is harmonious with the General International Standard Archival Description(ISAD(G)) and
the International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate
Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR(CPF)). Consistency
with these standards is necessary to fulfill the potential for mechanisms
such as EAD that allow us to easily share archival descriptions internationally.
Archivists using the standard should not pass over the volume’s
introductory section. Kiesling’s preface provides valuable context
for the experienced and novice archivist alike, reviewing the history
of the CUSTARD project that generated DACS, the relationship
of DACS to other standards, and a comparison of DACS and
its predecessor, APPM. The Statement of Principles draws upon
the findings of earlier groups that studied archival description, on
existing national and international standards, and on an understanding
of professional practice in the United States. The individual concepts
presented in these principles are not new, but gathered together they
provide a foundation for arrangement and description that processing
archivists will want to revisit regularly. The Overview of Archival Description
discusses access tools and access points, which archivists will need
to use in conjunction with DACS when building access systems.
The authors state that formalized access points should be included in
all types of descriptions, but treatment of the subject is rather abbreviated.
Although I agree with the authors that selection of access points is
a matter of local practice, a consideration of the decisions faced in
selecting access points or references to additional resources on the
topic would be helpful.
The standard itself is organized into three parts that cover description
of archival materials, description of creators, and forms of names. Part
1, Describing Archival Materials, begins by outlining use of the standard.
A chapter on descriptive levels provides requirements for minimum, optimal,
and added value descriptions for both single-level and multilevel descriptions.
This flexible approach will support the needs of a variety of repositories
and descriptive situations and ease the transition to a more standards-based
approach than many archivists may be accustomed to. The bulk of this
section delineates the standard’s twenty-five elements, including
the purpose and scope, exclusions, sources of information, rules, and
encoding examples for each. They are organized into seven sections: identity,
content and structure, conditions of access and use, acquisition and
appraisal, related materials, general notes, and description control.
Part 2, Describing Creators, includes guidelines for identifying and
describing creators of archival materials. This section also contains
a chapter on creating archival authority records based on ISAAR(CPF). Separating
rules for describing materials and describing creators may seem unusual
to many American archivists, but it brings DACS into accord
with international standards and provides for more flexibility in recording
and sharing information about records creators. The guidelines support
both the traditional practice of including information about records
creators directly in finding aids and the use of separate archival authority
files for this contextual information. The authors introduce their audience
to the concept of archival authority files and provide a concise enumeration
of the potential advantages of this practice. Given the current efforts
to develop Encoded Archival Context, a standard structure for exchanging
information about the creators of archival materials, it is clear that
there is interest in implementing archival authority records within the
archival profession. Part II of DACS provides a content standard
for those interested in creating such records.
Part 3, Forms of Names, includes chapters that detail the rules for
formulating names of persons, families, corporate entities, and geographic
entities that are part of corporate bodies. This is one area where, like APPM, the
authors chose to closely follow the structure and rules of the corresponding
chapters of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules(AACR2).DACS does,
however, provide rules for forming family names; AACR2 does
not. It is appropriate that this section and all those dealing with records
creators emphasize the need to use existing authority files such as the Library
of Congress Authorities.
The appendices are invaluable references for those implementing DACS. They
include a glossary, a list of companion standards, crosswalks, and encoded
examples. The list of companion standards includes content standards
for specialized formats, thesauri for access points, and data structure
standards for encoding DACS-compliant descriptions. This is
particularly useful for archivists interested in more specific rules
for graphic materials, sound recordings, and the like, but there are
no references here to general digital library standards that archivists
are using more frequently as we publish our finding aids, encoded texts,
and digitized images, sound, and video on-line. Metadata Encoding and
Transmission Standard (METS) is mentioned in the text (p. 8) as one form
of a single-level description, but is not listed as a companion standard.
Crosswalks between DACS and APPM,ISAD(G),ISAAR(CPF), EAD,
and MARC will help archivists transition from APPM to DACS, understand
the relationship of DACS to international standards, and make
encoding decisions for their DACS-based finding aids. The encoding
examples will also assist those interested in applying DACS in
conjunction with EAD and MARC. They include finding aids and catalog
records for a variety of collections, and each example includes references
to the corresponding DACS rule alongside the encoded description.
In addition, there is an example of an item-level MARC record.
For the most part, archivists adopting DACS will find the standard
easy to use. The authors provide clear, detailed guidance on the content
and application of each element. Examples, presented in both narrative
and encoded form, also help to elucidate the rules. DACS elements
are mutually exclusive, and the list of exclusions for various related
elements will help archivists choose exactly where specific information
should and should not be included. This will make it easier for researchers
to find specific content, as it will eliminate elements that contain
mixed or muddled information.
Users of APPM will find that the organization of DACS more
closely follows an archival perspective and that the numbering of the
rules is less confusing. Guidelines for each element are easy to read,
since they follow a standardized format and use headings to clearly identify
various sections. The guidelines in DACS are also more thorough
than those presented in APPM, since they are designed to support
full descriptions rather than abbreviated catalog records. In DACS, the
authors also include encoded examples directly within the text at the
end of each element, alleviating the need to flip between the text and
appendices to view the application of a rule.
There is some room for improvement in DACS. First, the lack
of an index can make use of the manual frustrating. The table of contents
lists each element, but more specific rules within the individual elements
have no easy access point. In particular, archivists will likely turn
to the section on forms of names as a reference in very specialized situations,
and an index would make this type of use much easier. Second, although
the authors attempted to include thorough examples, a few small issues
crop up here as well. Some sections include examples of a given element
at various hierarchical levels (rather than simply at the collection
level), but these could be more widespread. EAD examples included within
the text don’t always correspond with the crosswalk or encoded
examples found in the appendices. For example, <bibliography> and <prefercite> are
given as examples within the text (pp. 76, 79), but are not listed in
the crosswalk. An index would also make these examples easier to find.
Regardless of these few criticisms, the impact of DACS on archival
descriptive practice in the United States cannot be underestimated. It
will inform the work of those with established arrangement and description
programs and provide needed instruction for those without a written processing
manual. DACS is an essential resource for any repository and for
archivists at all levels. It eliminates our dependence on a solely bibliographic
model and moves us into harmony with international standards. Most importantly,
although most of our researchers will likely be unaware of the existence
of DACS, it will support their work by resulting in more consistent
and therefore more easily usable archival descriptions.
Five Colleges, Inc.