Training Day 2002

‘Archival description using the new international standards’ at the University of Liverpool

Sixteen members of the Catholic Archives Society, including both diocesan archivists and members of religious orders attended Liverpool University’s School of Archive Studies for a training day. The purpose of the day was to explain and give a little practice in using the International standards ISAD(G) [International Standards Archival Description 2nd Edition Ottawa, 1999] and ISAAR(CPF) [Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families Ottawa, 1996]

The choice of speaker was a good one, for Dr Michael Cook was a former member of the Commission on Archival Description of the International Council on Archives.

He is also a long standing member of the Catholic Archives Society. In the morning session he explained the principles and rules embodies in ISAD(G) and TSAAR, pointing out that at last there is public recognition of the need for archives, especially by the Government. In the 1950s, the use of archives was minimal but by the 1970s and 1980s the demand was becoming overwhelming. The advent of computers means that access to archives is becoming completely revolutionised and consequently requires a well thought out strategy. To be at all effective, this needs both national and international recognition and implementation. Electronic networking means that universities, the National Register of Archives and the Public Record Office, to mention the UK alone, can be interlinked.  Any archive collection can be part of this network, but there are two basic requirements – uniformity and a basic structure. This is where standards for archival description come in. Once adopted, to becomes possible to join any of these networks.

Dr Cook went on to look at the technique of description of ISAD(G) more closely, explaining that a multi level description has to follow certain rules:
– description from the general to the specific
– information relevant to the level of description
– and non-repetition of information

There followed a workshop, when participants had the opportunity to try out the standards for the description of their own archives.  After lunch, we looked at ISAAR(CPF) more closely. The concept of authority control, embodied in ISAAR(CPF), foreign to archivists until now, means that any entries in a catalogue should conform to rules already established. The penalty for not using any form of authority control, said Dr Cook, was a mess!

An authority system requires:
– rules for composing entries
– an authority file of authorised terms
– and authority entries headings

We were then introduced to the Archives Hub, which provides a single point of access to descriptions of archives held in UK universities and colleges, the descriptions being primarily at collection level. Currently there are fifteen repositories contributing to the Hub. This should extend to over thirty during the current year, with an estimated 18,000 records. A simple introductory pamphlet describing this “Searching the Archives Hub” is available from Archives Hub, l\1IMAS, Manchester Computing, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, MANCHESTER M13 9PL or try

The day concluded with a demonstration of how to enter data into the Archives Hub using the standard EAD (Encoded Archival Description). It was generally felt that it had been a very valuable training day, which gave us confidence to be more professional in our approach to our archives and gave us ideas, which would help us launch into a database. Altogether, lots of energy was generated and the serious discussion was interspersed with much laughter.