1. Executive summary
The main purpose of the National Archives of Australia‘s descriptive work is to facilitate public access to the archival records it holds.
The main mechanism for facilitating access is the entry of data about record items onto the collection management system, RecordSearch. This enables researchers to search directly for the person, event or place they are interested in.
Archives staff also create and update agency, person and series registrations on RecordSearch to enhance understanding and control of the Archives' holdings and to improve access to them.
While the greater part of the Archives’ holdings comprises significant records, because of the quantity involved, it is not possible to describe the entire holdings at the agency, person, series and item levels in the foreseeable future. The Archives therefore describes only those records that are highly significant and/or are likely to be heavily used by the public. In some situations where descriptive work is required to enable urgent preservation treatment, records that are not as highly significant and not as likely to be as heavily used by the public as other records that do not require urgent preservation treatment, may be described.
The Archives measures the descriptive work by the number of items, series, agency and person registrations that have been created or enhanced in accordance with descriptive standards.
2. Purpose and scope
The policy is intended to inform planning for, and guide staff engaged in, description work across the Archives.
3. What does the policy apply to?
The policy applies to descriptive work comprising enhancement or creation of agency, person, series and item registrations in RecordSearch.
4. Policy statement
The National Archives identifies, describes, preserves and makes accessible those records created by Australian Government agencies and by significant individuals associated with the Commonwealth Government that form the archival resources of the nation. It describes records using the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) system of archival control. A fundamental policy of CRS is that all records in the Archives‘ custody must be linked to a series1.
The Archives describes records for two reasons:
- to establish control over the records and establish when, how, why and by whom the records were created; and
- to facilitate access to them.
Records descriptions are the basis of RecordSearch which can be searched online at the Archives website, http://www.naa.gov.au/.
By describing the records it holds, the Archives ensures that Australians have access to a national archival collection that assists them to understand their heritage and democracy.
5. Policy context
The Archives has registered more than 9600 Commonwealth agencies, 750 Commonwealth Persons, and 98,000 series. This means that its entire holdings, occupying more than 370 kilometres of shelf space, are controlled – that is, it is known when, how, why and by whom the records were created.
Some of the agencies, persons and series that have been registered require further descriptive work to enhance their registrations. While all registrations have the basic mandatory registration requirements, some require enhancement in order to provide a comprehensive description of the agency, person or series. Such enhanced registrations will facilitate a better understanding of the Archives' holdings.
At the item level, the Archives created entries in RecordSearch for approximately 23 per cent of its holdings, and a considerable amount of descriptive work remains to be done to enhance control of its holdings at this level significantly.
Entry of item registrations is one of the main ways the Archives facilitates access to the records it holds. It enables researchers to search directly for the person, event, place or topic that they are interested in. The growing demand for online access to the Archives' holdings also necessitates that item registrations as an item can only be digitised if it has been registered and described.
6. Mechanisms for implementation
Given the extent of the Archives' holdings, and the amount of descriptive work that is required, identifying the 'best' records to describe is a priority. The best records will be those records that enable the Archives to fulfil to the greatest extent its role of facilitating access.
The priorities for description are those records that best meet the following five criteria:
- The records are confirmed as having a status of ‘Retain as National Archives'.
- The records are either in the open period (available for public access) or due to enter the open period or otherwise available for public access.
- The records are either heavily used or have the potential to be heavily used by the public.
- The records are highly significant. They relate to either a key historical event or person, or illustrate the workings of Australian democracy.
- The records require descriptive work to enable either preservation treatment or digitisation.