Workbook on Digital Private Papers > Arranging and cataloguing digital and hybrid archives > Standards for archival description

Standards for archival description

The use of standards by the archive profession arose from the increasing use of computerised systems in the 1980s. Automation demands consistency, and consistency demands standards. Archivists, unlike their library colleagues, felt for many years that the 'uniqueness' of their holdings exempted them from standardisation. Large-scale automation projects challenged this notion. It was soon recognised that inconsistency in archival descriptive practices was hampering both in-house and collaborative initiatives. The widespread adoption of standards would enable the virtual reunification of archival fonds, which had been scattered between archives, or even between countries, in union lists and other finding aids. Standardised data would also facilitate metadata sharing with colleagues in the closely related museum and library worlds.

Standards detail how to structure archival descriptions as well as prescribing preferred forms to be used when indexing place, person and corporate names. The key standard governing the content of archival description is ISAD(G), the General International Standard Archival Description.