The International Council on Archives Committee on Best Practices and Standards met recently to look at the four ICA descriptive standards: ISAD(G), ISAAR(CPF), ISDF and ISDIAH. It was agreed at this meeting to delay a full review that might lead to more substantial changes and to concentrate on looking at harmonization.
On the Hub we use ISAD(G), which has become very widely recognised and used. ISAAR(CPF) is something that would be important if we started to think about implementing EAC-CPF, enabling our contributors to create authority records for creators of archives. We think that this is the sort of development that should have cross-sectoral agreement, and we are actively involved in the UK Archives Discovery Network (UKAD), which provides a means for us to discuss these sorts of issues across the archives community in the UK.
As far as the International Description for Descriptive Function (ISDF) is concencerned, I feel that a great deal more work is needed to help archivists understand how this can be practically implemented. Our new EAD Editor does allow contributors to add functions to their descriptions, but this is just using the EAD tag for functions. To me, the whole issue of functions and activities is problematic because I am looking at it from the perspective of aggregation. It is all very well for one institution to define their own functions and activities, but how does this translate into the wider environment? How do we successfully enable researchers to access archives by searching functions and activities across diverse institutions?
I have not really given any thought at all to the International Standard Description for Institutions with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH) other than to basically familiarise myself with the standard. For us, the unique code that identifies the institution and the institution’s name is all that we require within our descritions. We link to the Archon details for the institution, and maybe it is in the Archon directory of UK archives, that ISDIAH should be implemented? I am not sure that it would be appropriate to hold detailed information about individual institutions on the Hub.
I will be interested to see what the outcomes of the Committee’s work are. I wonder whether we need a greater understanding of the standards themselves before we try to understand how they work together? Maybe adopting more consistent terminology and providing a conceptual framework will help archivists to appreciate what the standards are trying to achieve and encourage more use, but I am doubtful. I think that a few training days: ‘Understanding the ICA Descriptive Standards’ wouldn’t go amiss for many archivists, who may have only recently adopted ISAD(G), let alone thought about the implications of the other standards.
In the appendices to the minutes, there are some interesting points of discussion. Even some of the assumptions seem to be based on a greater understanding of the standards than most archivists have. For example, ‘if you use ISAD(G) in conjuction with ISAAR, the Admin/Biog history element of ISAD(G) becomes useless because the description of the record creator is managed by ISAAR’. Well, yes, but I’m not sure that this is so clear cut in practice. It makes sense, of course, but how do we relate that to all the descriptions we now have? Also, ‘ISAAR can be used to structure the information contained in the Admin/Biog history element of ISAD(G)’ – that makes sense, but I know of no practical examples that show archivists are doing this.
I wonder if we really need to help archivists to understand the standards – what they are, what they do, how they work, how they can benefit resource discovery – before we throw a conceptual framework at them. At the same time, I increasingly feel that ISAD(G) is not relevant to the modern environment and therefore I think there is a pressing need to review ISAD(G) before looking at how it relates to other standards.