Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Arranging and cataloguing digital and hybrid archives > Indexing and authority files

Indexing and authority files

Common indexing standards for archival description

There are provisions in ISAD(G) for 'access points' for creators and subjects. It was recognised that these access points needed to be controlled if they were to function effectively. The use of standard terms for name and subject indexing facilitates consistency in the exchange of data between repositories, and in the retrieval of data by remote, online users.

Library of Congress Subject Headings (LSCH)

The Library of Congress Subject Headings thesaurus was originally designed as a controlled vocabulary for representing the subject and form of the books and serials in the Library of Congress collection. Its purpose was to provide subject access points to the bibliographic records contained in the Library of Congress catalogues. In recent years, it has been widely adopted by the UK archival community. The LCSH terms are useful as they can incorporate multiple subdivisions. For example, subject terms can be further divided by geographic locality and chronological period:
Architecture--England--Oxfordshire --17th century

There are some drawbacks to the LCSH thesaurus. The headings are sometimes criticised as representing an American-centric worldview, which makes indexing some topics difficult. There are also differences between Anglo-Amercian and UK English spelling conventions. Despite this, the LCSH thesaurus is acknowledged as the most comprehensive subject thesaurus currently available. It also has the advantage of being maintained and updated regularly by the Library Congress.

Constructing LCSH headings

For advice on constructing LCSH headings please refer to the Constructing Library of Congress Subject Headings section.

Examples of LCSH headings

Place name:
Oxfordshire (England)
Economics--History--17th century
Diaries--19th century

National Council of Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997 (NCA Rules)

The NCA Rules were created in response to a recommendation from The IT Standards Working Party of the National Council on Archives, which, in March 1991, recommended that the national repositories and the Historical Manuscript Commission should 'examine the desirability of standardising name authority controls at national level'. The NCA Rules were developed in consultation with the authors of the International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families ISAAR (CPF), 1st edition Beijing, 1996, 2nd edition Canberra, 2004. This co-operation ensured that the UK National standard could adequately express the idiosyncrasies of British naming conventions whilst conforming to international naming standards.

After much research and consultation, the NCA Rules were published in 1997. The Rules represent a shift away from in-house conventions to nationally agreed standards. The Rules assist cataloguers in forming names for persons, places and corporate bodies which are unique and readily identifiable by users. By ensuring consistency in the structure of proper names (person, family, place and corporate) the Rules facilitate the exchange of data between repositories and greatly enhance data retrieval; for this reason NCA Rules are used by major archival gateway services such as the Archives Hub, AIM25 and Genesis: Women's History Sources in the British Isles.

Constructing names with NCA Rules

For advice on constructing names using the NCA Rules please refer to the NCA Rules section.

Examples of names constructed using the NCA Rules

Personal name:
Bodley | Sir Thomas | (1545-1613) | Knight | Diplomat and Scholar
Family name:
Leigh family | Adlestrop
Corporate name:
Manchester Men's League for Women's Suffrage
Place name:
Grimsby| Lincolnshire| TA 2709

National Name Authority Files (NNAF)

A name authority record comprises the recognised, authorised or prescribed form of a name, usually supported by sufficient information and sources to ensure reliable recognition and use of such a name. The Historical Manuscript Commission (now part of The National Archives) showed a great deal of interest in creating a database of National Name Authority Files and launched a pilot study assisted by several institutions which created an extensive NNAF database. The evolving NNAF is likely to comply with the ISAAR(CPF) standard and be encoded using the Encoded Archival Context (EAC) standard.