Society of American Archivists
Technical Subcommittee on Descriptive Standards
Comments on the General Revision of ISAD(G)
12 October 1998
- We would like ISAD(G) to contain clearer information and guidance on
the application of the standard to various formats of multi-level
description. ISAD(G) as currently structured seems to us to provide
guidance for formulating archival descriptions using a hierarchical
chain of MARC-based or MARC-like catalog records. We feel that it is
critical that ISAD(G) be applicable to a variety of forms in which
archival descriptions may appear.
- Regarding the application of ISAD(G) to catalog records, we feel
that ISAD(G) does not currently detail a mechanism for establishing links
between the various hierarchical descriptions that together constitute a
description, at various levels, of a single unit of archival materials.
Such a mechanism would need to carry the linkage information across a
variety of information-processing systems.
- Regarding the application of ISAD(G) to other archival
description formats, we find ISAD(G) less clear on the application of the
standard for structuring finding aids of the type commonly known as
registers, inventories, or guides. Specifically, we would like ISAD(G) to
contain some guidance on and examples of its application to the creation
of the container lists common in many archival finding aids.
- We would like to see the introductory information for ISAD(G) more
clearly address a question likely to be raised as archival descriptions
are increasingly machine processed and output in various formats for
end-user consumption. For whom or what is the information in an
ISAD(G)-compliant archival description intended? Specifically, as the
automated processing of archival descriptions becomes increasingly
diversified beyond the MARC world, would a description really be ISAD(G)
compliant if it contained some of the ISAD(G)-delineated elements in
human-readable form and others as machine-processable attributes that
would not necessarily be displayed to the human end user of the
descriptive product? One currently available ISAD(G) to EAD crosswalk
maps some ISAD(G) elements to the textual content of EAD tags and others
to attribute values on EAD tags, the latter not necessarily information
that will ultimately be displayed to end users by a particular delivery
system. Would a description using such a crosswalk be considered ISAD(G)
- We feel that the ISAD(G) Introduction currently seems to suggest a
preferred order for ISAD(G) elements, but is unclear regarding the basis
upon which that order has been established (why that particular order and
not others that seem viable?) If ISAD(G) is primarily about the
standardized capture of descriptive information so that it can be
presented clearly and unambiguously to end users of descriptive products,
we wonder about the efficacy of the "areas of description" concept--which
seems to have its origins in ISBD--for organizing this information as
opposed other models such as the one promulgated in EAD? We feel that it
would be helpful for ISAD(G) to contain more variety in examples of the
application of the standard, including ones that address the finding aid
model as opposed to the catalog record model. Since ISAD(G) promulgates
multi-level description, we feel that any recommendations regarding
minimal sets of elements and preferred order need to be made for, at the
very least, the standard variety of levels contained in the current 3.1.4
example: fonds, series, sub-series, file, and item.
- Beginning in the glossary and continuing throughout ISAD(G), we find
the term "unit of description" to be unclear. Any particular element
within ISAD(G) or within a finding aid might be considered a "unit of
description." We would suggest something like "unit being described" as a
clearer term choice for the intended meaning of "unit of description" as
conveyed in the ISAD(G) glossary.
- We feel that it is important that the ISAAR(CPF) and the ISAD(G) data
structures be more explicitly integrated. One way of accomplishing this
might be a complete integration of ISAAR(CPF) into ISAD(G), so that
authority data could be carried directly in the descriptive record as
well as in a separate authority record. Another might be a linking
mechanism that would make the relationship between an
ISAAR(CPF)-compliant authority record and the appropriate element in an
ISAD(G)-compliant descriptive record more explicit regardless of the
information system processing the records.
Comments Regarding Specific ISAD(G) Elements:
- We are troubled by the muddying in ISAD(G) of the distinction between
information contained in the elements "title" (3.1.2) and "name of
creator" (3.2.1). We feel that the name of the creator of any unit being
described is too significant to simply be buried within the title element
and that the ISAD(G) rule for 3.2.1 should not relegate this element to
secondary status vis-à-vis the "title". We also feel that the "name of
creator" field, regardless of whether or not that creator's name appears
in the title, is important as a place to incorporate the authority
controlled version of the creator's name. Some examples of the usage of
this element should also be provided in the ISAD(G) documentation.
Support for the Canadian Council of Archives Comments:
The following references the item numbers contained in the "General
Comments" section of the document Comments on the General Revision of
ISAD(G), Canadian Committee on Archival Description, Canadian Council of
Archives, September 1998.
- Items 1. and 6.: We support the call for more guidance in
the application of the multi-level description rules, but feel that this
would best be done through the provision of more examples and further
general discussion in ISAD(G) regarding the application of the
multi-level description rules.
- Items 2. and 4.: We support the CCA's call for the
development of an ISAD framework for more detailed rules for the
description of specific media and for the ICA to take an active role in
providing practical working models for the description of electronic
records and record-keeping systems.
- Item 3.: We support the CCA's suggestion that the ISAD(G)
element 3.1.5 "Extent of the unit of description" be reconceptualized more
broadly as "physical description," which would prove more useful for
description of archival materials at the file and item level. We wonder
whether the CCA's call for a new area to contain "Class of
material-specific details" (item 3(c)) might not readily be accommodated
by a rethought element 3.1.5.?
- Item 5.: We support the CCA's call for the preparation of
ISAD rules for the choice of access points, which will prove to be equally
as important as descriptive rules for the future international sharing of
archival information. We would also like to see such rules address the
application of the multi-level description concept to the choice of
- Item 6.: This has already been covered above in our General
Comments, item 5.
- Item 7.: We agree that the current rule for element 3.3.1
"Scope and content/abstract" seems to focus solely on content. We suggest
also that further examples of usage of this element might be helpful.