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504 American Archivist / Vol.

52 / Fall 1989

Standards: Background Paper

Archival Description Standards:


Concepts, Principles, and
Methodologies
LISA B. WEBER

Abstract: Members of the archival profession have demonstrated an increasing interest in


standards-related issues, particularly in archival description standards. The author discusses
the concepts, principles, and methodologies associated with archival description standards,
first by defining the phrase archival description, and then by introducing similar standards
in the library profession as a frame of reference. She summarizes existing archival de-
scription standards at three levels (data structure, data content, and data value), reviews
reasons to develop and use standards along with obstacles blocking their emergence, and
explores possible future developments.

About the author: Lisa B. Weber is assistant director for technical evaluation at the Records
Commission of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. For additional bio-
graphical information, see "Members of the Working Group, "pp. 534-537. This article has been
revised slightly from the paper prepared for the first meeting of the Working Group on 3-4 December
1988.
Concepts, Principles, and Methodologies 505

STANDARDS ARE CRUCIAL TO the way we created to establish consistency within one
live our lives in a complex society; they organization. Standards can also be re-
prescribe our behavior as well as define gional, national, or even international. Ad-
many of the products we create. Merci- ditionally, standards can be characterized
fully, most product standards are transpar- aspseudo, i.e., practices that appear to be
ent to us—we are blissfully unaware that standards but are not, or de facto, standards
elaborate sets of mutually agreed-upon that arise through common practice without
practice govern so many aspects of our daily any formal agreement.
existence. From our beds to our electrical This litany of definitions is intended to
outlets to the oil in our automobiles—all demonstrate that the topic of standards is
are governed by common standards. complex and involved. Description stan-
What are standards? In the broadest sense, dards are product standards that fall into a
standards are prescribed guides for action range of categories and types and can also
or mutually agreed-upon "benchmarks be identified at different levels. This paper
which are established for the measure of discusses the concepts, principles, and
quantity, weight, extent, value, or qual- methodologies associated with archival de-
ity." 1 In other words, they are the means scription standards by first defining the
by which individuals compare or judge. It phrase archival description, and then intro-
is critical to recognize that standards are ducing, as a frame of reference, similar
never ends in themselves, but are rather standards in the library profession. Using
means to achieving ends. Although people three levels of description standards (data
develop standards for many specific rea- structure, data content and data value stan-
sons, the most apparent purpose is to en- dards) the paper next summarizes major ar-
able individuals and groups to share and chival description standards in use primarily
cooperate in a variety of activities. in the United States. The paper then re-
Though we tend to use the word stan- views reasons to develop and use archival
dards loosely, precise categories or types description standards and the obstacles
exist, each defined separately and associ- blocking their development. It concludes
ated with different expected results. There with some thoughts about future develop-
are guidelines, which suggest practice but ments.3
do not compel the compliance that would
be necessary to produce identical results. Archival Description
These are very different from formal con-
sensus technical standards, whose explicit Before discussing standards associated
definitions or specifications are not subject with archival description, we must first de-
to unilateral change and which will produce fine what archival description means. Ac-
consistent results if followed properly.2 knowledging, after careful study, that the
Standards are developed for various con- profession does not have an adequate def-
stituencies. Internal or local standards are inition of archival description, the Cana-
dian Working Group on Archival Descriptive
Standards provided a preliminary one:
towards Descriptive Standards: Report and Rec-
ommendations of the Canadian Working Group on
3
Archival Descriptive Standards (Ottawa: Bureau of This paper uses the terms descriptive and descrip-
Canadian Archivists, 1986), 15. tion interchangeably. The term archival is used in its
2
For an exhaustive study of technical standards re- broadest sense, encompassing both organizational and
lating to library and information science see Walt personal manuscript materials. The author recognizes
Crawford, Technical Standards: An Introduction for the existence of a fourth, broader level for which stan-
Librarians (White Plains: Knowledge Industry Pub- dards exist, that of information systems, which is in-
lications, 1985). corporated in the Working Group's final report.
506 American Archivist / Fall 1989

"[Description is a major function in the is taking a somewhat different approach;


processing of archival materials, and the those taken by Great Britain and the United
products of this function are finding aids States differ markedly, with Canada falling
of various sorts which give administrators somewhere in the middle.
control over their holdings and enable users Both the British and Canadian archival
and archivists to find information about communities are examining archival de-
particular topics." 4 scription from "first principles." This re-
If the purpose of archival description is quires that they initially establish principles
to provide access to materials, then archi- of archival description from which archival
val description standards are mutually description standards follow.6 One result of
agreed-upon guidelines, rules, and speci- this approach is the central principle of lev-
fications that prescribe methods of produc- els of records and the subsequent identifi-
ing uniform and consistent results or cation of categories of information for each
products for use in providing access to pri- specific level. The Canadian Working Group
mary source materials. These definitions are on Archival Descriptive Standards pro-
important because people should develop posed that Canadian archivists describe
and embrace standards as strategies to fur- materials at the fond level.7 The group is
ther ends—in this case, improved access to supporting work in the development of fond-
archival materials. These definitions, how- level standards for description.
ever, are exceedingly broad. The creation U.S. archivists, in order to avoid the
of successful descriptive practice and stan- problem of archival levels that are not ab-
dards to guide that practice requires archi- solute and therefore difficult to standardize
vists to articulate the objectives of outside a repository, have concentrated in-
description systems in measurable ways. stead on access. U.S. archivists are putting
The archival profession traditionally has descriptions of archival holdings into li-
balked at rigorously examining archival de- brary bibliographic databases, in national
scription, let alone developing and using networks such as the Research Libraries In-
archival description standards. We are not formation Network (RLIN) and the Online
obstinately anti-standards, as is shown by Computer Library Center (OCLC) as well
the profession's acceptance of preservation as in local online public access catalogs.
standards governing optimum temperature The U.S. archival description standards are
and humidity conditions for proper storage therefore more library-oriented to permit this
and technical microfilming standards for integration to take place.
archival-quality film. Until recently, how- The library profession is far advanced in
ever, description standards have been an- its development of description standards due
other matter. The uniqueness of archival to the economic benefits of derivative cat-
materials has long served as an excuse to aloging. More importantly, librarians have
perpetuate our idiosyncratic descriptive
practices. But this situation is changing, as
evidenced by the recent appearance of re- 6
ports and manuals in Canada, Great Brit- Michael Cook, "The Move Towards Standards
of Description and What To Do About Them," Janus.
ain, and the United States.5 Each country 2 (1987): 29-32; and Cook, "Standards of Archival
Description," Journal of the Society of Archivists 8
(April 1987): 181-188.
"Towards Descriptive Standards, 9. 'The Canadian Working Group uses the Itrm fond
5
See Towards Descriptive Standards; Michael Cook d'archives or simply fond to describe a group of rec-
and Kristina Grant, A Manual ofArchival Description ords (regardless of medium) that are accumulated in
(Liverpool: Society of Archivists, 1985); and Steven the course of the creator's activities or functions. Fond
L. Hensen, Archives, Personal Papers, and Manu- is somewhat comparable to the U.S. concept of record
scripts (Washington: Library of Congress, 1984). groups and manuscript collections.
Concepts, Principles, and Methodologies 507

been grappling systematically with the is- name of the author, the title of the work,
sues, problems, and associated standards of and the edition and publication information
improved access and retrieval far longer than from the item in hand. (The contrast be-
archivists. Despite the acknowledged dif- tween this definition that librarians give to
ferences between the two professions, there descriptive cataloging and archivists'
is enough commonality for the framework broader use of the term description is often
developed by librarians to serve as a useful a source of confusion or misunderstand-
point of departure for archivists. ing-)
Using this descriptive data, the cataloger
Library Description Standards chooses and formulates access points, such
as the name of the author and the title of
Although the two processes are not the the work, for information retrieval pur-
same, cataloging is the library function most poses. These access or entry points serve
analogous to archival description. Archival as index terms to the bibliographic descrip-
description encompasses a lengthy process tion. Descriptive cataloging fulfills the first
of providing access to collections or groups three objectives of the library catalog—lo-
of materials, resulting in a wide variety of cating a known work by author or title,
(often fragmented and unintegrated) find- locating a group of works by an author, and
ing aids such as registers, inventories, re- locating all editions of a particular work.
pository guides, indexes, and sometimes Library subject cataloging satisfies the
catalog records. Creating library-like cata- fourth objective of the catalog—to locate
log records for archival materials is only all works on a particular subject. Although
one activity in the process and usually not viewed as distinct, it builds upon descrip-
the most important one. Comparatively, li- tive cataloging. In subject cataloging li-
brary cataloging is generally at the item brarians analyze the contents of the work
level, involves less time per item, and rep- and assign subject terms from controlled
resents the primary means of providing ac- vocabulary lists in order to provide access
cess to published materials. These to the content and lead users to relevant
distinctions aside, the purpose of archival works on a particular topic of interest.
description and library cataloging is the Successful library catalogs require that
same: to provide access to materials. the choice and formation of access points
The objectives of a library catalog, as be consistent. Librarians achieve consis-
first codified by Charles Cutter in 1876 and tency of language through the use of au-
restated in the Paris Principles of 1961, are thority control. Authority control is a concept
to enable users to (1) locate a particular that refers to the regulation of terminology
work by author or title; (2) locate all works used as access points in catalog records. It
of an author; (3) locate all editions of a provides standardization of terminology in
work; and (4) locate all works in a partic- three ways: by distinguishing terms; show-
ular subject. These explicit objectives de- ing relationships; and documenting deci-
termine the kinds of information and access sions. To record decisions, librarians create
points (or index terms) that librarians in- authority records that show the choice of
clude in their catalogs. heading used as the "official" form, the
Librarians divide the process of catalog- cross-references from variant forms to the
ing into two separate components: descrip- authorized heading, and the relationships
tive and subject. Descriptive cataloging of the heading to other headings in the file.8
encompasses transcribing elements from the
work itself in order to identify the work,
i.e. copying bibliographic data such as the 8
For a superb discussion of authority control in the
508 American Archivist / Fall 1989

Library catalog cross-references such as ditional categories of access points. For ex-
"Charlotte Nicholls see Charlotte Bronte" ample, if provenance is often more important
and "see also" references such as "phy- than authorship in the context of archival
sicians see also women physicians" are all materials, how can archival descriptive
products of authority control work. systems improve access to the corporate
Several of these library information re- entity that created the records? Does an ar-
trieval concepts have direct applicability to chival descriptive system need to provide
archival descriptive practice. For example, access to the functions of a creating agency
archivists produce finding aids that char- or body?10 Must archival systems be able
acterize the archival materials themselves to provide access to the occupation of an
(analogous to library descriptive catalog- individual? Should systems be able to re-
ing) as well as provide access points to the trieve materials of like form such as diar-
subject content of the materials (library ies, birth certificates, or land deeds, or a
subject analysis). Archivists, however, have particular physical medium such as da-
never viewed these activities as separate. guerreotypes? The answers to these ques-
Furthermore, although they have not al- tions should determine the categories of data
ways recognized it as a problem, archivists that archivists include in an archival de-
need to maintain consistency of language scription system. To determine the answers
through the use of authority control. Li- we must study users to learn how they dis-
brarians have developed separate but re- cover the archival materials they seek. Any
lated standards for these various cataloging new categories of access points will, of
components. An analysis of library cata- course, require standards to insure their
loging standards from an archival point of consistent interpretation.
view is important, not only as a point of
comparison, but also as a means to inte-
Current Archival Description
grate descriptions about archival materials
Standards
into library bibliographic databases.
Even assuming that some library stan- Archival description standards do indeed
dards can accommodate archival needs, clear exist, among them the many local guide-
distinctions exist between library and ar- lines for the creation of finding aids spe-
chival materials. Common sense suggests cific to a single repository. As previously
mentioned, the profession has moved
that archival descriptive systems9 will need
towards national standards for description
to answer questions beyond those encom-
and a recent conference held in Ottawa,
passed by the four objectives of the library
catalog. This implies that, in order to pro-
duce consistent access, archival descriptive
systems must provide different and/or ad- '"Access by function provides a means for identi-
fying information based on the intent or purpose with
which the organizational or institutional records were
created. Identifying the function of the materials an-
swers the question of why the records were created,
context of archival description see Jackie M. Dooley, because corporate bodies come into existence for
"Introduction to Authority Control for Archivists," identifiable purposes. For example, one function of a
in Archives and Authority Control [proceedings of a corporate body may be to inspect (as in the case of a
seminar sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, 27 government agency) or to lobby (as in the case of a
October 1987], Avra Michelson, ed., Archival Infor- professional association). A major advantage to as-
matics Technical Report 2:2 (Summer 1988): 5-18. signing "function" access points is the possibility of
T h e term system, in this context, does not imply co-locating similar materials by function of creating
automated access but refers to the entire array of find- body. The names of the corporate bodies or the po-
ing aids such as guides, registers, inventories, in- sition in a larger organizational structure take on sec-
dexes, and catalog records that, taken together, ondary importance, because the critical access point
comprise an integrated functional whole. would be function.
Concepts, Principles, and Methodologies 509

Ontario, cosponsored by the International American National Standards Institute


Council on Archives and the National Ar- (ANSI) standard Z39.2-1979, entitled
chives of Canada, is evidence of an inter- "American National Standard for Biblio-
national direction.11 graphic Information Interchange." This
Existing standards are numerous and ANSI standard is based on International
varied. Some are familiar to most archi- Organization for Standardization (ISO)
vists; others are less well-known. Some were standard 2709, entitled "Documentation
developed principally by and for archivists; Format of Bibliographic Information on
others were developed elsewhere but have Magnetic Tape." Some countries have their
archival applications. Some define the for- own national versions of the MARC format
mat for providing information about archi- such as CANMARC, UKMARC, and JA-
val materials; others focus on the information PANMARC. The UNIMARC format, de-
that goes into that format. A useful way of veloped by the International Federation of
beginning to comprehend the range of stan- Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
dards is to consider three levels at which "provides the mechanism for exchanging
they exist: data structures, data contents, records among the national bibliographic
and data values. agencies, bypassing the inherent difficul-
Data Structures Standards. A data ties created by multiple national MARC
structure refers to the format or container formats." 12 The Archival and Manuscripts
in which we organize information. People Control component of the format is unique
connect data structures to computer data- to USMARC and CANMARC. The MARC
base designs, but data structures exist in format shows what kind of information
nonautomated environments as well. For should be put where (it is a container) but
example, inventories and registers are data deciding which parts of the format to use,
structures. Data structures provide a spe- and the form of information to put into the
cific place and uniform format for pieces categories, is controlled by a separate set
or categories of information. Examples of of data content and data value standards.
data structure standards include the Inter- Data Content Standards. Standards for
national Standard Bibliographic Descrip- data contents and data construction provide
tion (ISBD) and the Common guidelines for the content of the data struc-
Communications Format (CCF). The US- tures. The British Manual for Archival De-
MARC (United States Machine-Readable scription (MAD) is an example of a data
Cataloging) format for Archival and Man- content standard. As previously men-
uscripts Control (AMC) is a standard data tioned, the Canadians are also producing a
structure that U.S. archivists have adopted series of data content standards. Cataloging
primarily to exchange information about rules are a type of data content standard for
their holdings. Use of the USMARC AMC libraries. Many data content standards are
format allows archivists to integrate de- guidelines, namely "rules for activities that
scriptions of archival materials with those should be applied as consistently as possi-
of other kinds of research materials. ble but which, by their nature, will not nec-
The entire USMARC format, of which essarily produce the identical results even
USMARC AMC is a part, is based on the when followed."13

12
"The Invitational Meeting of Experts on Descrip- Walt Crawford, MARC for Library Use: Under-
tive Standards, hosted and sponsored by the National standing the USMARC Formats (White Plains:
Archives of Canada in cooperation with the Interna- Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984), x.
13
tional Council on Archives was held in Ottawa, On- Henriette D. Avram, Sally H. McCallum, and Mary
tario, 4-7 October 1988. S. Price, "Organizations Contributing to Develop-
510 American Archivist / Fall 1989

The well-known library data content references for personal, corporate, and
standard, the Anglo-American Cataloguing geographic place names.15
Rules, 2nd ed. rev. (AACR 2), offers de- Data Value Standards. Data value stan-
tailed instructions for formulating the data dards, the third level of description stan-
that librarians use to create catalog entries dards, comprise the actual lists of terms
(often called bibliographic records) and au- used in particular elements of data struc-
thority records. AACR 2 is not a technical tures. Data value standards are the author-
standard because strict adherence will not ity files, controlled vocabularies, and
produce uniform results. It is, however, an thesauri used to achieve language consis-
international formal consensus standard tency. The two most important U.S. data
created and maintained by a joint steering value standards are the Library of Congress
committee composed of representatives from Name Authority File (LCNAF) and the Li-
the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, and Aus- brary of Congress Subject Headings
tralia. (LCSH). Other countries have their own
AACR 2 is divided into two parts. Part I versions of these kinds of standards.
("Description") contains rules that instruct A thesaurus is a particular kind of au-
the cataloger on how properly to describe thority list, the design of which is governed
various forms of materials as bibliographic by the U.S. ANSI standard Z39.19 1980
items. Part II ("Headings...") offers guid- and internationally by ISO 2788. 16 Other
ance in choosing and formulating non-sub- countries, including France and Great Brit-
ject access points. AACR 2 does not contain ain, have their own thesaurus construction
instructions for establishing subject head- standards also based on ISO 2788. The
ings or classifying materials. Chapter 4 of ANSI standard defines a thesaurus as "a
Part I ("Manuscripts") contains instruc- compilation of words and phrases showing
tions for describing manuscript materials. synonyms, hierarchical, and other relation-
Because of the U.S. archival community's ships and dependencies, the function of
dissatisfaction with Chapter 4, Steven L. which is to provide a standardized vocab-
Hensen, in conjunction with an advisory ulary for information storage and re-
committee, subsequently compiled Ar- trieval." 17 Hundreds of thesauri provide
chives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts controlled vocabularies to improve subject
(APPM).14 Many in the U.S. archival com- retrieval for particular categories of infor-
munity have embraced APPM as a princi- mation.
pal archival description standard. Essentially As mentioned previously, within the
a rewriting of AACR 2's chapter 4, APPM context of the MARC AMC format and li-
concentrates on the rules for the description
of archival materials at the collection level.
APPM contains minimal information about 15
Steven L. Hensen's revision of APPM (Chicago:
choice of headings and includes no infor- SAA, 1989), supported by funds from the National
Endowment for the Humanities, parallels the US-
mation about the formulation of access MARC format more closely. It includes rules from
points. Archivists must refer to AACR 2 for chapters in part II of AACR 2 for constructing per-
instructions on the construction of cross- sonal, corporate, and geographic place names and of-
fers advice on how archivists can use these rules more
easily.
""American National Standards Institute, American
National Standards Guidelines for Thesaurus Struc-
ture, Construction, and Use, ANSI Z39.19-1980 (New
ment of Library Standards," Library Trends 31 (Fall York: ANSI, 1980); and International Standards Or-
1982): 198. ganization, Documentation—Guidelines for the Es-
14
Steven L. Hensen, "Squaring the Circle: The tablishment and Development of Monolingual Thesauri,
Reformation of Archival Description in AACR 2," ISO 2788-1974.
Library Trends 36 (Winter 1988): 539-552. ^American National Standards Guidelines, 1.
Concepts, Principles, and Methodologies 511

brary bibliographic networks, American ar- archival holdings and processes and thus
chivists are interested in providing access the creation of union databases. In the same
to categories of information beyond those vein, it makes possible the sharing of au-
normally assigned by librarians. These cat- thority data. Descriptive standards provide
egories include physical form of material, a common base for the profession to de-
function of creating agency, and occupa- velop, refine, and improve descriptive
tion of creators. In the U.S., several the- practice and allow the creation of computer
sauri have been developed or are under systems based on standard data structures.
development to control these particular kinds Archival descriptive standards also encour-
of vocabularies. Three thesauri of particu- age more consistent and better archival ed-
lar interest are the Art and Architecture ucation and training because they offer a
Thesaurus, the Descriptive Terms for corpus of agreed-upon knowledge, skills,
Graphic Materials: Genre and Physical and techniques that students must learn.
Characteristics Headings, and the "Seven
States Spheres of Activities and Processes
Lists." 18 The Problems
With so much to gain from the devel-
Why Develop Standards? opment and implementation of archival de-
scriptive standards, why have archivists
In the for-profit world of industry and
avoided the process until recently? Because
technology there are obvious economic in-
there are real obstacles as well. Several kinds
centives that either motivate or discourage
of barriers exist. Successful description
standards development. In the archival
standards need to have well-defined objec-
profession, the economic incentives are not
tives comparable to those of the library cat-
so apparent. Nonetheless, there are com-
alog. Archivists do not have clearly
pelling reasons on a local as well as na-
articulated, precise statements about de-
tional scale for archivists to put resources
scriptive requirements. Quite frankly, the
into description standards development.
profession lacks a clear understanding of
Development of description standards the role of archival description. We do not
avoids the "reinvent the wheel" syndrome know what the purpose of our descriptive
and forces archivists to make decisions once, systems is, other than the broadly defined
document them, and not return to the same goal of improving access to materials. We
questions endlessly. Although the devel- do not understand the relationship among
opment effort initially increases the work- various kinds of finding aids or how to in-
load, implementing descriptive standards tegrate them into a whole descriptive sys-
makes for a more efficient internal opera- tem. It is difficult if not impossible to
tion in the long run. In a larger context, develop adequate standards to guide the de-
mutually agreed-upon description stan- velopment of archival description when we
dards create a variety of possibilities, in- are so vague about its very purpose.
cluding the exchange of information about
Included in this general problem of in-
adequate descriptive requirements are the
18
Toni Peterson, et al., eds., Art and Architecture complex issues of depth and levels of in-
Thesaurus (New York: Oxford University Press, dexing. The British and Canadian archi-
forthcoming 1990); Helena Zinkham and Elisabeth Betz
Parker, Descriptive Terms for Graphic Materials: Genre vists are approaching their standards
and Physical Characteristics Headings (Washington: development from the perspective of levels
Library of Congress, 1987); "Seven States Spheres of arrangement and description. Though
of Activities and Processes Lists" is being incorpo-
rated into the forthcoming Art and Architecture The-
American archivists are concentrating on
less hierarchically confined levels of ac-
512 American Archivist / Fall 1989

cess, all archivists must be concerned about project, the agreement to participate in the
these issues. At what depth and level should endeavor usually entails adherence to spe-
archivists provide access? What kinds of cific standards. For example, both the Re-
access points should be made available? search Libraries Group (RLG) and OCLC
How specific or broad should the terms be? have minimum-level catalog record re-
Shifting to the economic arena, the cost quirements that commit repositories con-
of consensus standards development is high tributing USMARC AMC records to their
for the often resource-poor archival profes- databases to use the description standards
sion. Consensus standards must represent of AACR 2, APPM, and LCSH.
a general agreement among interested par- Informally, archival description stan-
ties which, in turn, requires participants to dards are enforced by peer scrutiny. When
meet, discuss, develop, and review stan- archivists enter into cooperative projects that
dards documents. Standards are not static; put their descriptive work on prominent
they must be monitored and revised as the display, they want to create exemplary rec-
context in which they exist changes. It is ords for their colleagues to view. When
exacting and time-consuming work. The browsing through a national database, one
costs in travel, time, printing, and distri- quickly makes judgments about the quality
bution are not trivial. Inextricably tied to of work and recognizes which repositories
the fact that consensus standards develop- create superior descriptions. As the number
ment is expensive is the question of who of archival repositories involved in coop-
should pay for the work. erative projects increases, peer scrutiny will
Equally important is the question of re- become more widespread.
sponsibility for standards development and
maintenance. The U.S. archival commu- Conclusion
nity is currently working to determine the
group or groups to be responsible. Added There are exciting changes in the archi-
to the confusion is the fact that some stan- val profession that may provide some an-
dards affect both the library and archival swers to the various archival descriptive
communities, thus cutting across profes- standards questions. The first is the pro-
sional boundaries. In these cases the ques- found impact of automation as a tool to
tion of responsibility becomes more clouded. provide access and as a force moving the
Numerous standards-setting bodies already profession towards developing description
exist, but the fact remains that consensus standards.
standards need to be developed and main- The second concerns the expanding
tained by groups with adequate resources. knowledge of archival theory and practice.
One final problem associated with stan- One of the most valuable lessons U.S. ar-
dards development is enforcement. Once chivists learned from developing the data
national description standards are avail- element dictionary and the USMARC AMC
able, how can we ensure that people will format was the recognition that archivists
use them? In business and industry, the collect and distribute different categories of
strongest motive for following product information. These categories include data
standards is economic. Additionally, some about the provenance or context, data about
standards are mandatory and enforced by the content, data about the physical aspects
laws and regulations. For archival descrip- of the materials, data about access to the
tion standards, enforcement, although less materials, and data about the actions ar-
obvious, still exists. On a formal level, if chivists perform on the materials. The abil-
an archival repository is part of an auto- ity to separate these categories is helping
mated network or cooperative description us to articulate what we do and to see new
Concepts, Principles, and Methodologies 513

options and possibilities. The expansion of If we are to succeed with the develop-
the conventional library use of authority ment of useful archival descriptive stan-
control is one example of a formerly un- dards, we must remember two things: first,
recognized option. The use of authority the adoption and implementation of archi-
control to provide better access to archival val description standards is not a goal in
materials holds much promise.19 itself, but a strategy to improve access; and
Even more encouraging are the positive second, because we are building these re-
steps being taken to develop and promote trieval systems for users (including our-
archival description standards in Canada, selves), we must study users in order to
Great Britain, and the United States. Al- implement successful descriptive practice.
though we are taking different tacks, the We may think that we know who our users
fact that we are communicating with each are but in truth these are only unverified
other within and across international impressions. We need analytical research
boundaries means that our varied experi- based on scientific methods and models to
ences and insights will only help us to cre- find out how people really achieve access
ate the most successful description standards to archival materials.
possible. Description and access are the most im-
portant aspects of the archival profession.
19
See Lisa B. Weber, "Development of Authority What is the point of collecting and saving
Control Systems Within the Archival Profession" in materials if we cannot provide access to
Archives and Authority Control [proceedings of a what we preserve?
seminar sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, 27
October 1987], Avra Michelson, ed., Archival Infor-
matics Technical Report 2:2 (Summer 1988).