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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 125-164-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Cataloguing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 164
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No  

Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship: a comparison of the description and access to the object of interest between the libraries and archives

Eeva Murtomaa
Helsinki University Library
Helsinki, Finland

As a member of IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records (FRANAR) I have had an opportunity to attend twice the working meetings of the ICA (International Council on Archives) Committee on Descriptive Standards. This Committee revised the General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G). The second edition of the ISAD(G) is the result of a five-year revision and commentaty process. It will be published in English and French at the International Congress on Archives in Seville, Spain 2000.

During the meetings I realized, that the libraries and archives have the same goal , that is to create user-friendly ways to find and obtain access to information. According to the ISAD(G) "the set of general rules for archival description is part of process that will make possible the integration of descriptions from different locations into unified information"

Why not co-operate to reach this goal together ?

Let's do our best for finding a deeper semantic interoperability between libraries, archives and also with museums. We have to create tools, standards and interfaces to make the systems to co-operate in searching and record transfering. With international standards like the Z39.50 applications we can have transparent access to wide variety of dissimilar systems e.g. of libraries and archives, even if these organisations are not using the same rules or formats internally.

Why and how to find hoards?

Let's image that the user looking for illustrations about Christmas will find the below record from the library catalogue

The Christmas birthday story / by Margaret Laurence ; pictures by Helen Lucas. - New York : Knopf, c1980. [32] p. : col., ill. ; 22 x 28 cm.

I am sure, that she or he would be very happy to discover that the original pictures and additional information about the pictures of the Christmas birthday story belong to the York University Archives in Canada. In the archival database the material concerning the whole of the records is given on the fonds level: Helen Lucas fonds (fonds). The series-level information contains The Christmas Birthday Story production records, and finally the item level relates to The Christmas Birthday Story itself.

In the same way, the patron interested in the North Polar Exploration Stories of Robert E. Pearcy would be delighted to know that "The Robert E. Pearcy Family Collection" at the US National Archives includes 32 linear feet of photographs, maps and charts, and textual records.

So, the question is: how can the user have simultaneous access to all kinds of material irrespective of its location. Could we find a common, "core level" of description containing the areas/elements needed, that the user could find, identify, choose and obtain the relevant documents.

Tools for description and conceptual data modelling

General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), General International Standard Bibliographic Description, ISBD(G), and The IFLA Study on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, FRBR

For creating "a core level" of description I made some comparisons of existing standards and looked at the existing "crosswalks" between library and archival standards. (See Appendix) In this connection The IFLA Study on Functional Requirements For Bibliographic Records (hereafter FRBR) could not be surpassed, because it contains quite many principles in common with the General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G) .

All three documents mentioned above are based on accepted theoretical principles. They present a conceptual data model or framework for re-assessing data recording conventions and standards.

The frameworks are intended to meet all kinds of uses and user needs. The models are intended to be broadly applicable regardless of the extent, form and medium of the units of description.

According to the ISAD(G) and ISBD(G) the model for description should be independent of any national or existing standards. On the contrary, they are meant to be used as the basis for the development of national rules for descriptive cataloguing and to facilitate the sharing of descriptive records from different sources either in a unified information system or in a shared information environment.

The objective of the FRBR-report is to recommend a basic level of functionality for records created for national or international exchange of information. For the same purpose a recommendation for essential elements for international exchange of descriptive information is presented in the ISAD(G). In addition the standards may take into account the wide variety of applications in which the data in records is used, such as collection development, finding aids etc.

The conceptual models described in the FRBR and ISAD(G)

The goal of the documents above was to provide intellectual and physical control for the objects to be described. In addition the ISAD(G) includes elements for controlling the description itself (e.g. Archivist's note, Rules or conventions, Dates of description). The FRBR study contains a framework that identifies and clearly defines the entities (representing the key objects of interest to users of bibliographic data) , the attributes of each entity and the types of relationships that operate between entities.

There are three groups of entities. The fist group consists of works (intellectual/artistic creation), expressions (realization of the work), manifestations (physical embodiments), and items (single examplars of a manifestation). The second group includes persons and corporate bodies responsible for the intellectual creation or for the physical production, dissemination or ownership of the entity being described. The third group includes concepts, events, and places as the subjects of the work. In the comparison of descriptions the first group of entities is taken into consideration.

Levels and relationships

When the entities are isolated, the FRBR-study identifies the characteristics or attributes associated with each entity and the relationships between the entities. There are different kind of relationships (e.g. whole/part, accompanying, preceding/succeding relationships, summarizations, transformations) embedded within the descriptive elements. The relationships assist users in "navigating" in the bibliographic universe . They link the entities to the needs of the users of the records. They also provide the user ways to formulate a search query and explain relationships for identification and collocation.

The relationships play an important part in the description of archival material. Archival description proceeds from general to the specific. The purpose is to present the context and the hierarchical structure of the fonds and parts.The fonds form the broadest level of description. If description of the parts is required, they may be described separately. The parts form subsequent levels, whose decription is often meaningful only when seen in the context of the description of the entire fonds. The description of the relationships between these parts is very important. There may be a fonds-level, a series-level, a file-level, and/or an item-level description. In addition intermediate levels may be expected.

"Crosswalks" levels and functions

Comparison of the elements between the ISAD(G) and ISBD(G)

The ISAD(G) consist of 7 areas and 26 elements for the description of archival entity.
The ISBD(G) consist of 8 areas and about 33 elements for description.

I concentrated to the elements considered essential for international exchange of information.
In ISAD(G). The whole comparison is to be seen in Appendix.

Identity statement area  
3.1.1 Reference code(s)  
-the contry code  
-the repository code  
- a special local reference code, control number or unique identifier 8. Standard number or alternative and terms of availability
3.1.2 Title 1. Title and statement of responsibility area
  - Title proper
-general material designation
-statements of responsibility
3.1.3 Date(s)  
-date(s) when records were accumulated in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs
-date(e) when documents were created
4.4 Date of publication, distribution etc.
4.7 Date of manufacture
-dates of copies, editions, versions, attachements, originals etc.  
3.1.4 Level of description No equivalent as such
-fonds, sub-fonds, series, sub-series, file, item  
3.1.5 Extent and medium of the unit of description 3. Material or type of publication specific area
5. Physical description area
-specific material designation and extent of item
-other physical details
-dimensions of item
3.2.1 Name of creator(s) 1.5 Statements of responsibility
4.2 Name of publisher
(-link to the authority records)  

All other archival data elements given in ISAD(G) could be described in different Notes of the ISBD(G). (By the way these essential elements were the most "popular" in the examples given in Appendix B of ISAD(G)-standard . In addition the Scope and content, the Name of the creator, and the Administrative/biographical history were present in most examples).

The essential elements mentioned above are the most important for the basic level of functionality according to the FRBR-study. The elements were related to the following generic tasks of the users:

  • to find materials that correspond the user's stated search criteria
  • to identify an entity
  • to select an entity that is appropriate to the user's needs
  • to obtain access to the entity described

However, in this connection I would like to stress the importance of the preservation function for archiving material. According to the ISAD(G) the purpose of archival description is "to identify and explain the context and content of archival material in order to promote its accessibility.".

I analyzed the elements of ISAD(G) according to the generic tasks of the users given in FRBR. It seems, that the entity defined as Work (a distinct intellectual or artistic creation) corresponds with the entity defined as Fonds .1

1Fonds: The whole of the records, regardless of form or medium, organically created and/or accumulated and used by a particular person, family, or corporate body in the cource of that creator's activities and functions
The essential elements of the ISAD(G): Reference code(s), Title, Creator, Date(s), Extent of the unit of description, Level of description) serve well the identifying, finding and selecting functions. In addition, the Scope and content -element seems to be important for selection purposes. There are several additional elements which serve the obtaining , and partly selecting functions. These elements are e.g.: the Immediate source of acquisition and transfer, Physical characteristics and technical requirements, Conditions of access and user area, Conditions governing access and reproductions, Finding aids, Existence and location of originals, and Existence and location of copies.

There are several elements reflecting and serving different kind of relationships like: Level of description, Related units of description, Publication notes (e.g. based on.), Existence and location of original, Existence and local copies, Accurals, and Provenance.


The comparison demonstrates that archival and bibliographic records have many data elements in common. However, the archival elements are sometimes intended to serve a broader function than their bibliographic counterparts. Regardless of the "level of description" entity, there are corresponding counterparts available. In some cases the equivalence is only partial. The level of description reflects the position of the unit of description in the hierarchy of the fonds.

There are some difficulties concerning the cataloguing practices:

  • the same material type may be catalogued differently
  • the same elements may have different meaning or function in libraries and archives
In order to achieve semantic interoperability the terms and definitions should be compared and the terms that are used as "general and specific material designations" should be harmonized.

Cataloguing as a dynamic process

The cataloguing of archival material is a continuous, dynamic process. The description may begin even before the creation of the record and it may continue throughout the life of the work. This dynamic process will be more and more reality in the bibliographic environment when the description (metadata) created by the author or publisher is distributed/converted to the systems of other parties involved. So, this idea of cataloguing as dynamic process for getting simultaneous access to infromation is a suitable model for co-operation in this area.

Collection level cataloguing

It is assumed in ISAD(G) that the rules used to describe a fonds and its parts may be applied to the description of a collection. It seems to me that this idea would be worth testing also in the electronic environment.

Co-operation concerning the authorities

By analyzing and sharing of authority information among libraries and archives we could find an economical method for authority control. There is co-operation between IFLA and ICA on this issue. Members of the ICA/CDS (International Council on Archives, Committee on Descriptive Standards ) commented the IFLA report on "Mandatory Data Elements for Internationally Shared Resource Authority Records" (http://archive.ifla.org/VI/3/p1996-2/mlar.htm).

The aim was to investigate the compatibility and potential interoperability of the IFLA and ICA authority record structures. The answer to the question "can archivists adopt the IFLA model on authority records as theirs" was YES, with certain conditions. According to the analysis " there were eleven areas that are straight or close matches between the two standards" but for full interoperability, some elements would need to be matched more closely. For example the commentators missed provenance information.

The co-operation will continue with the IFLA Working Group on Functional Requirements and Numbering of Authority Records, FRANAR (1999-) .

The model created by Barbara Tillett for FRANAR Working Group concerning the variety of relationsips between controlled names, and between these controlled names of entities and bibliographic entities would be worth analyzing from archives' point of view, as well.

Co-operation concerning subject headings could improve the indexes considerably.

"Could this be the beginning of a beautiful friendship"? My answer is YES.


ISAD(G) : General International Standard Archival Description : adopted by the Committee on Descriptive Standards, Stockholm, Sweden, 19-22. September 1999. - 2nd ed. - Ottawa, 2000. Issued also in French under the same time.

ISBD(G) : General International Standard Bibliographic Description : annotated text / prepared by IFLA Committee on Cataloguing. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. - Rev. Ed. - München : Saur, 1992. - (UBCIM publications ; N.S., Vol. 6) ISBN 3-598-11084-7

Society of American Archivists. Encoded Archival Description Working Group Encoded Archival Description Application Guidelines : version 1.0 / prepared by the Encoded Archival Description Working Group on the Society of American Archivists.- 308 p. ISBN 0-931828-42-2


The possibilities for co-operation between libraries and archives concerning the descriptive and authoritative standards and structures are described. The goal is to improve simultaneous access to the information of these organisations. For this purpose the main concepts and functionality of elements included in the General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G) and General International Standard Bibliographic Description, ISBD(G) within the IFLA Study on Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, FRBR framework are examined.

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