Rules for Archival Description (RAD) Survey Results

14 Jun 2016 8:42 AM | Danielle Robichaud

Information for Regional Consultations

1. Complete this section if you are responding for a GROUP.

Contact person: Marissa Paron, President

Name of Organization: Archives Association of Ontario (AAO)

Date that the community consultation was held: Survey open from October 30 to November 30, 2015.

Number of participants: 48 survey respondents (43 AAO members, 5 non-members)

Purpose and scope of the standard

2. Is there a need for a separate Canadian standard or could Canadian archivists adopt some other existing standard(s), e.g. the ICA standards or DACS?

To answer the following questions, the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) surveyed its membership and the local archival community. 48 responses were provided.

Asked to rate six potential options, our respondents cumulatively put their choices into the following order:

  1. Simple RAD based on core elements that is mapable to current ICA standards.

  2. Replace RAD with ICA standards.

  3. Undertake an extensive revision of RAD on the basis on the recommendations of the Meeting of Experts.

  4. Allow the use of other archival descriptive standards in Canada.

  5. Adopt the RAD2 draft that was prepared in 2004.

  6. Do nothing.

42% of respondents said their preferred solution would be to reduce RAD to a core set of descriptive elements that are interoperable with current ICA standards.

23% preferred to scrap RAD entirely and replace them with ICA standards in Canada.

21% voted first for an extensive revision of RAD based on the recommendations of the Meeting of Experts. However, an almost-equal number of votes put this in their least desirable outcome (19%). Open-text responses indicate that this could be seen as a waste of scarce resources:

  • “In my mind, it would be a pity to spend hundreds of volunteer hours updating RAD when there is already an international standard.”

  • “I would sooner we work on archival identity and funding challenges.”

Respondents seem to be torn: many believe it would waste already-invested time to redo all their descriptive work in a new format; an equal number believe the format is currently useless and should be either deprecated or extensively rewritten.

48% rated “do nothing” as a last resort; 48% put the adoption of the 2004 draft RAD revisions as the second least favoured option.

Arguments for maintaining RAD in some form include:

  • “It would be a shame to lose all the hard work that created RAD.”

  • “Any review of RAD needs to consider the significant investment that archives have made in transitioning legacy records to the current RAD standard, the development of new descriptions and the investment in technology to support RAD.”

  • “I am happy that there is an awareness that a lot of time and money has already been used to create RAD-compliant descriptions. Whatever is done or created needs to consider this so that these past resources are not wasted.”

  • “RAD currently comprises consistent patterns of implementation that have been communicated over a substantial period of time -- i.e., it is a workable wheel that is widely understood and does not need to be re-invented.”

  • “With hundreds of thousands of on-line descriptions based on RAD available now, let's not make it impossibly difficult for archives to map to a new standard.”

Arguments for replacing RAD entirely with other standards include:

  • “Completing RAD is only possible when there is sufficient staff on hand. Even then, it's not realistic as there are so many other needs in an archives that need tending to. For a one-person archives operation RAD isn't even on the table as a priority. Who was RAD developed for?”

  • “The Canadian archival community is silo-ing itself by using a Canadian-centric standard when we should be moving towards adopting a standard that works well globally.”

  • “I'm not sure what is specific to Canadian archives that requires our own standard. Resources in the archival community are tight. Why not adopt the international standard and spend our time advocating for better funding, more cohesion, tackling the issue of electronic records, etc.”

  • “It doesn't form a unified set of descriptions across Canada, as was intended. Many smaller institutions used either a variation of RAD, or no standard at all.”

  • “I just don't understand why, in 2015, we would be developing nation-specific standards. Why not pool expertise internationally, ensure Canadian interests are represented in ISAD, and in turn freeing up some resources/time at home for other pressing issues.”

  • “It doesn't reflect the research needs or vocabularies of non-advanced researchers, it doesn't adequately address digital records, it's incredibly difficult to align with established metadata standards, it doesn't reflect the needs of archivists or researchers in a digital environment, it's too long, it doesn't help demystify archives.”

3. Are there strengths in RAD that are not found in other descriptive standards and which should be preserved in any revision?

33 of the 34 usable responses to our question about RAD’s strengths did not refer to other standards and whether RAD provided unique solutions to problems. The only response that did so:

  • “I find that ISAD does not provide enough detail and guidance for the physical description fields, which I particularly like about RAD.”

This is an area that could use further investigation: many practicing Canadian archivists are working heavily with RAD and may have no other frame of reference.

One notable joke response had the same text entered as the answer to both the “strengths” and “weaknesses” questions:

  • “It is likely the only current archival descriptive standard still devoting a chapter to stamp collecting.”

20 answers (59%) referred to its consistent usage, an answer that is more generally applicable to any standard applied consistently (which, several other responses indicated, RAD is not):

  • “It provides a universal descriptive standard for Canadian archives permitting institutions to share data and providing researchers consistency.”

  • “The fact that I can go (most) anywhere in Canada and still understand the finding aid is also great.”

  • “It's good to have a standard. Hierarchy of description makes finding aids somewhat useful for users to drill down into collections.”

  • “The current form is well known by practising archivists.”

  • “Force of habit / Stockholm Syndrome.”

  • “RAD does allow for one-stop shopping. I still think that is its biggest benefit.”

  • “Consistency and clarity across archival institutions. Easy to implement.”

  • “Its level of acceptance across Canada.”

  • “It's better than nothing.”

  • “At least some set of rules exist.”

Four respondents indicated that RAD’s flexibility in levels of description was a strength:

  • “Ability to create one description for the entire fonds, and drill down as needed.”

  • “Can accommodate fonds level down to item level descriptions.”

  • “Relationship of parts to the whole; hierarchy is well outlined.”

  • “Hierarchy of description makes finding aids somewhat useful for users to drill down into collections.”

Some respondents identified specific features as strengths, particularly for traditional textual record description:

  • “Item-based descriptions and physical description areas.”

  • “Works well for description of textual archival holdings.”

  • “Thorough and complete for textual records and other traditional archives donations”

  • “It is useful for most traditional archival descriptions.”

  • “It's fairly flexible.”

One respondent asserted that the standard’s “strengths are historical:”

  • “I am proud that a leading standard was developed in Canada but I feel that future efforts should be international in scope.”

Four responses indicated that RAD had no strengths; 10 respondents skipped this question.

4. Are there defects in other existing descriptive standards that a Canadian standard should remedy?

As above, very few responses explicitly compared RAD to ISAD(G) or DACS when asked about RAD’s strengths or weaknesses. This is an area requiring further study.

When asked whether a revised RAD should align or diverge with ISAD(G), 35 respondents answered as follows:

  1. 13 respondents (37%) requested that RAD align as closely as possible with ISAD(G)

  2. 8 respondents (23%) requested that RAD keep a minimal set of elements in common but be free to follow its own structure

  3. 8 respondents (23%) reiterated that they preferred to replace RAD entirely

  4. 4 responses (11%) were unsure or not clearly decided.

  5. 2 respondents (6%) indicated that RAD could diverge entirely from other standards

The majority of respondents did not indicate any particular fields or functions where RAD could fill existing gaps. One response did indicate “an archivist’s gut reaction” about needing a standard that could be used in open data, to preserve context.

One respondent exhibited indecision, but noted Canada’s strong theoretical tradition:

  • “On one hand I think that we should just adopt ISAD and be done with this whole discussion. It would save a lot of time and effort and it would allow us to use a robust standard that is already in place and well supported with a large user community. On the other hand Canada is so unique in some ways when it comes to our core archival theory and that needs to be taken into account.”

Other qualitative responses of note:

  • “I believe we need to identify what the core requirements are to move forward with the transition to a primarily digital based repository.”

  • “Needs to be more practical, easily applied to the collection and its usage. It is good to have a standardized format but it needs to be less complicated. If aligning with an existing standard, ICA would be okay.”

  • “A minimal set of similar elements is the best way to go at this point in time. RAD is regarded as one of, if not the best example of a descriptive standard worldwide.... Because of this position, RAD should constantly adapt to the current international archival environment, while at the same time setting the tone for other standards to be measured against.”

  • “RAD also needs to reflect the unique nature of archival description (and arrangement) in Canada.”

  • “RAD should be closely aligned with ICA standards, particularly now that many repositories are using ICA-ATOM as their chosen descriptive software.”

  • “Should follow international standards, but should be tailored for Canada's archival principles.”

  • “Global. We need to speak the same language.”

5. RAD's approach was to be a "one-stop shop" for description at all levels in all media. Is this still a feasible aim? For example, ISAD(G) and DACS focus on aggregate levels of description and leave archivists to look to external media-specific standards for item-level description.

Many open-text responses to the question about RAD’s weaknesses (50%) indicated RAD cannot be used with digital or multimedia materials. This suggests that the standard is not feasible as a one-stop shop. Continuing in this vein would require the committee to incorporate more types of media at the item level, and, ideally, commit to more regular updates in the future.

Some responses from previous questions indicated that RAD’s flexibility in terms of levels of description was a strength; only one specifically mentioned the item level. Conversely, 11 of the 40 respondents on RAD’s weaknesses (27.5%) mentioned that it was too detailed. One respondent indicated that RAD does not “play well” with other metadata schemas, indicating that media-specific item-level descriptive guides need to be built into RAD.  

6. RAD's focus is on archival description. Should this focus continue in the standard or should it expand to take in other functions? – e.g. accessioning, arrangement, subject indexing, administrative and preservation metadata?

19 of the 36 responses to our question (53%) indicated that RAD should serve as a description-only module, fitting into existing standards that perform the remaining functions.

Four respondents desired RAD to incorporate all the example metadata we listed in our question: accessioning, administrative, arrangement, preservation.

A further 10 responses indicated some fields as more important than others, but these results were inconclusive: 6 responses asked for arrangement, 6 accessioning, 6 preservation, and 2 administrative. One response included among these asked that they be developed separately, not as part of RAD.

Qualitative responses of note include the following:

  • “RAD should focus on description, if it is to focus on anything at all, although it would be nice if it could accommodate arrangement to a better degree than it currently does. The ICA has separate standards for, e.g., functions, creators, etc.; let's not needlessly duplicate effort.”

  • “The lack of specific standards in the areas of accessioning and arrangement is problematic. Especially since description is supposed to follow these important processes. However, I don't think RAD should encompass standards for all other functions of an archives. RAD should have guidelines for elements that describe what other processes have occurred to the record(s) being described.”

  • “RAD should maintain its current scope, but changes should be undertaken with recognition of other standards in mind, and related elements to those standards mapped for crosswalk purposes.”

  • “Start with description, definitely. Others are nice-to-haves and I think we should cleave to international standards where possible.”

  • “Absolutely focus on other functions! Yes, yes, include all of the above but try to make them as simple/useful as possible for all institutions, not only large institutions with a full staff contingent.”

  • “Ideally RAD should be replaced by ICA standards with any subsequent revision focusing on crosswalking existing RAD description records to the ISAD(G) formatting. If done correctly it will, by default, help lay the groundwork for quality metadata creation and preservation of data.”

  • “You can't have a standard without an identity and right now too many archives are buried in other organizations - museums, libraries, historical societies - where archival knowledge and processing is limited. Or they don't even exist in many of our communities, which constitutes an even greater loss to the whole.”

Structure of the standard

7. RAD is organized into a general chapter and separate "media-based" chapters. Should the standard continue this structure? For example, ISAD(G), RAD2 and DACS organize the standard by area of description and element.

As mentioned in previous responses, survey participants did not spontaneously compare RAD to ISAD(G) or DACS. Thus, comparative strengths and weaknesses such as these require further study, as would usage of other standards in Canadian archives.

However, many responses (50%) bemoan the lack of suitability for particular types of media, including digital materials. Media-based chapters would require regular updating as new media types become more common and demand specific treatment. Others mentioned family collections and mixed collections (including library materials and museum artefacts) as being hard to describe using RAD.

Many respondents (42%) opted for a RAD reduced to core common elements that could be supplemented by other standards. Therefore, media-based chapters, if kept, could refer to external media-specific schemas. Seven respondents of 40 (17.5%), in reference to RAD’s weaknesses, specifically mentioned its inability to map and crosswalk to other standards. One described an ideal RAD “as a core engine upon which building blocks may be attached or unattached.”

8. RAD groups elements into areas of description inherited from the bibliographic standards for describing publications (AACR2 and ISBD). Should the standard continue this form of organization? For example, ISAD(G) introduced new logical groupings of elements as areas of description (e.g. identity, context, content, etc.)

As mentioned in previous responses, survey participants did not spontaneously discuss the conceptual organization of the standard in comparison to competing standards. Thus, comparative strengths and weaknesses such as these require further study.

Only one response suggested that a basis on AACR2 was a benefit, and this response indicated that, generally speaking, any fallback standard that could be referred to for answering questions that arose through RAD’s ambiguities could perform that function.

In terms of weaknesses, 7 responses specifically mentioned its basis on AACR2 and bibliographic description as a hindrance.

Some terms used to describe RAD generally include “complicated,” “tedious,” “time-consuming,” “unintelligible,” “bulky,” “unwieldy.”

One response requested the ability to use RAD with a “More Product, Less Process” style:

  • “The inability to reflect description undertaken in MPLP environments (minimum set elements for file lists that do not have to include scope and content, for example).”

Another answered that RAD does not currently function well for describing orphan works.

9. RAD's style of writing and numbering conventions are derived from AACR2. Are there better models? For example, ISAD(G) provides standardized data for each element (number, name, purpose, rule, examples).

As in previous cases, survey participants did not spontaneously discuss the conceptual organization of the standard in comparison to competing standards. Thus, comparative strengths and weaknesses such as these require further study.

10. RAD includes prescribed punctuation rules. Are these still necessary?

Responses that related to punctuation issues were offered in response to the weaknesses of RAD:

  • “Focus in current written version on punctuation, formatting, etc., rather than more important aspects.”

  • “Perception of a requirement to conform to irrelevant and arbitrary notations of grammar and punctuation. Forget the humbug, such as (e.g.) "space dash space," and using "fonds" without a preceding definite article (the, this, or etc.).”

Five other respondents noted that RAD focuses too much on formatting in general. One example:

  • “Too technical, as in an over-emphasis on specifically how something should be typed or should display.”

11. Does RAD need a data model to underpin the standard? This could identify the entities involved in description, their attributes and their relationships. The data modeling approach was the basis for the thorough overhaul of the librarians' cataloguing standard (RDA replacing AACR2). The ICA is currently undertaking the development of a conceptual model for archival description (see http://www.ica.org/13799/the-experts-group-on-archival-description/about-the-egad.html).

Only one respondent bemoaned RAD’s inability to:

  • “reflect alternate models outside of traditional hierarchical description, i.e. interrelationship and links with other records.”

As before, another respondent mentioned the need for an archival description system that could be used for open data and preserve contextual information:

  • “How will our descriptive standards provide for open data initiatives? … As an archivist my gut reaction is ‘What about the context?’ Can we move forward with open data and preserve context?”

The need for adopting a data-modelling approach for RAD should be the subject of further study by the CCAD.


Digital archival materials

Integration of descriptive requirement for digital archival materials

12. RAD includes a chapter on Records in electronic form. Does this chapter still provide an adequate basis for description of digital archival materials?

50% of open-text responses to the AAO’s question on RAD’s weaknesses explicitly mentioned its failure to deal with digital materials.

Some of the responses:

  • “To keep up with the rapidity of technological change we require either a descriptive format that is flexible or a core engine upon which building blocks may be attached or unattached. I believe that this was a part of the original intent with the general rules as a base for the specific media format rules. However, it has not proven to be as adaptable as hoped.”

  • “Little to no adaptability to describing electronic records or managing the intricacies of complex facsimile issues engendered by digitisation efforts.”

  • “The provisions for electronic and born-digital materials do not reflect current realities.”

  • “Designed in the pre-digital world.”

  • “Not enough explanation for appropriately describing digital materials or mixed media collections that include digital material.”

  • “Does not address digital records in a meaningful way.”

  • “Takes no account of digital environment.”

  • “Lack of clear physical description rules for electronic records.”

RAD’s description of digital materials was also described as “not suitable,” “weak,” “outdated,” and “not conducive.”

13. PREMIS is a metadata standard developed to record information relating to the preservation of digital objects. How should an archival description standard relate to PREMIS?

As mentioned above, 10 of the 36 responses (to our question about focusing on description) requested a preservation metadata section in whatever standard we adopt. These responses did not specify digital or analog preservation; interest in PREMIS interoperability can only be inferred.

However, since the majority of our responses have indicated that any future RAD revision should reduce it to a core set of descriptive-only elements that are interoperable with ISAD(G), it can be asserted that interoperability with PREMIS would be outside the scope of RAD’s authority.

Governance of the standard

14. CCAD currently maintains RAD. Within an archival network pressed for resources, what organizational structure will best ensure the standard can be maintained sustainably?

Of the 36 answers to our question, 25 (70%) responded that the CCA should helm this project. This includes some suggestions of other organizations in conjunction with the CCA, as follows:

  • There was one suggestion each of “ACA with LAC support” and “CCA with ACA.”

  • “CCA with LAC” was mentioned twice.

  • “ACA, CCA, and AAQ” was suggested once (the only time AAQ was mentioned).

The ACA was suggested in some way a total of 6 times; LAC, 4 times.

The ACA was suggested as the exclusive authority once.

The ICA was suggested as the authority three times, in conjunction with responses that preferred to discard RAD.

One stated:

  • “I don't know that we currently have any organisation with the structural capacity to govern and maintain RAD in any consistent or remotely responsive fashion.”

One respondent, whose first priority was to revamp RAD for use in conjunction with international standards, and whose second preference was to discard RAD, suggested that the ICA should be the main authority, working in conjunction with Canadian representatives. They also said:

  • “I do not think this is an initiative that can be undertaken by the CCA alone. It needs representation from LAC and representatives of various archival institutions (academic, municipal, volunteer, museum/galleries, etc.).”

2 responses were “not sure;” 12 participants skipped this question.

Some respondents suggested the types of participants on a committee for governance of the standard:

  • “I would like to see a committee of a wide variety of professionals from across the country.”

  • “Archivists who work on a regular basis doing arrangement and description.”

  • “Not archivists who are in administration or who are academics. This is why we are in this mess to begin with and have a tool that doesn't serve its purpose.”

  • “A committee of ACA and CCA members.”

One respondent asked for more transparency and communication from the CCA than there has been in the past about RAD maintenance.

Another asked about the existing maintenance:

  • “I am confused that LAC has contracted CCA to perform what I thought was one of the CCA's core functions.”

Another respondent asserts that funding is the first priority for this structure:

  • “At issue is not the governing body but the assurance that we have a guaranteed funding source. Funding cannot rest upon one funding source but rather should be from all levels of government. It should be a pan-Canadian solution.”

15. What are the costs associated with maintaining a standard and what models exist for ensuring sustainability? For example, RDA is subscription-based, the ICA standards are freely available online, and DACS is available for sale in hardcover and for free in pdf.

Very few of our respondents spontaneously mentioned sustainability, suggesting that this question needs more explicit exploration, possibly through environmental scans and best-practice evaluations.

As quoted above, some respondents asserted that funding is a problem in the field. It is important to ask whether Canadian archivists would be willing to financially support the development and maintenance of a standard: were, for example, subscription a requirement, it may change many responses.


The structural capacity of all our national bodies was identified as a concern, and sustainable funding sources were identified as a indicator of success:

  • “I don't know that we currently have any organisation with the structural capacity to govern and maintain RAD in any consistent or remotely responsive fashion.”

  • “At issue is not the governing body but the assurance that we have a guaranteed funding source. Funding cannot rest upon one funding source but rather should be from all levels of government. It should be a pan-Canadian solution.”


Some responses questioned the cost of moving away from RAD, in terms of work already done:

  • “Any review of RAD needs to consider the significant investment that archives have made in transitioning legacy records to the current RAD standard, the development of new descriptions and the investment in technology to support RAD. RAD 2 died at the gate because archives were too heavily invested in RAD, with many still expending to transition to RAD. As many archives are currently seeing their fiscal envelopes curtailed it may be a very tough sell to argue the case for a need for change. If we are to change or move away from RAD there must be a clear incentive to do so. What will the argument be to justify the change? Any messaging must be clear and it must be consistent. It can't simply be, ‘Hey we are thinking of changing RAD.’ It must also include, ‘... and here is why.’”

  • “Please keep in mind that any grand changes need to then be adapted by each repository and going back and rewriting descriptions will pose a significant challenge.”

  • “I foresee resistance if the new model of RAD required major reconfiguration of description databases or the re-description of fonds. If database modifications or re-description becomes necessary, will there be funding to assist institutions?”

Consultation

16. RAD is a community-based standard; what are the best ways to ensure community input in the revision process?

We asked no explicit questions about community input, but some comments were offered spontaneously. We did receive other information about who should be consulted, shared in questions below.

One respondent explicitly criticized the CCA’s previous levels of transparency, while endorsing their continued control of the standard:

  • “CCA [should govern RAD revisions]; however with more transparency and communication.”

Other suggestions ask for frequent consultations and updates on progress:

  • “Be transparent with monthly updates to the community and allow for more community input.”

  • “More information and direction from CCA would be helpful.”

  • “Need for a broad and transparent consultative process. Tired of waiting for decisions to be made from above/need updates on what is occurring at regular intervals.”

Ensuring community input is an area that would require further study.

17. Who else should be consulted and what are the best ways to engage them? Examples of potentially interested groups include archivists, archives advisors, archival educators, archives creators, archives users, digital preservation specialists, software developers, and professionals in allied heritage sectors (librarians and curators).

Of the 47 responses to this question, 100% agreed that archivists are to be consulted during this process.

Archives advisors were the second most popular choice, with 41 votes (87%); users, 37 votes (79%); archival educators in academic programs, 36 votes (77%); digital preservation specialists, 35 votes (75%).

IT developers, archives creators, and librarians/curators received the fewest votes, with 26 (55%), 22 (49%), and 21 (45%), respectively.

The divide - between practicing archivists, scholars, and advisors at the top, and semi-related professions at the bottom - is worth noting. Archivists clearly want a tool designed for ease of creation, and ease of use by researchers - not necessarily a format influenced by other disciplines. Consulting users is a high priority.

A notable qualitative response:

  • “All of the above should be consulted - especially IT developers and digital preservation specialists. We really need to consider how descriptive practices work in an environment where access is moving, more and more, to be mediated through an online environment.”

A few contributions illustrated the need to work with museums, galleries, and libraries, where archives are a part of those institutions:

  • “As a museum with an archives we are already managing several complex and interconnected standards. While we understand that born digital materials and multicultural changes affect how we manage collections, it is important that standards are reasonable stable. It is impossible to keep changing our data when having to integrate three streams of content - library, museum, archives and genealogical materials too.”

  • “It needs representation from LAC and representatives of various archival institutions (academic, municipal, volunteer, museum/galleries, etc.).”

  • “[RAD is] not great for small institutions that have a variety of material (archives, library collections, some artifacts), but don't have the resources to catalogue them with separate standards, particularly if using AtoM as their cataloguing software.”

Revision roadmap and transitional strategies

Much will depend here on whether or not there is any general consensus on the previous topics; however, any suggestions would be appreciated.

18. What are the priorities, how should consultation and revision proceed, what is a reasonable timeline?

Some respondents expressed apathy towards the revision of RAD. While “doing nothing” ranked last overall, in half of all cases it seemed a preferable solution to undertaking extensive revision, or dropping RAD entirely, depending on the respondent’s first priority.

Some responses indicated higher priorities than RAD in a constrained industry:

  • “I would sooner we work on archival identity and funding challenges.... we need our legislators and the public to recognize our role in society and push a mandate for regional archives. We can't describe what we don't have.”

  • “Clearly the community is feeling ambivalent. It would be a shame to lose all the hard work that created RAD -- the standard has served us well for the most part but needs some maintenance.”

  • “As many archives are currently seeing their fiscal envelopes curtailed it may be a very tough sell to argue the case for a need for change. If we are to change or move away from RAD there must be a clear incentive to do so.”

  • “I'm not sure what is specific to Canadian archives that requires our own standard. Resources in the archival community are tight. Why not adopt the international standard and spend our time advocating for better funding, more cohesion, tackling the issue of electronic records, etc. In my mind, it would be a pity to spend hundreds of volunteer hours updating RAD when there is already an international standard. International sharing of descriptive records will be increasing in the future, and we'd be better to find a way to make sure Canadian institutions can share their holdings and make them more discoverable. I think the development of an accession standard is a good idea (though again, it would be great if it was international). I just don't understand why, in 2015, we would be developing nation-specific standards. Why not pool expertise internationally, ensure Canadian interests are represented in ISAD, and in turn freeing up some resources/time at home for other pressing issues.”

Others believe now is the time:

  • “This process is long overdue, but the timing seems about right, now that more institutions are acquiring and trying to describe born-digital records.”

19. What is required to support backwards-compatibility, should RAD undergo revision?

Backwards-compatibility with existing records was a significant concern for a few respondents, regardless of whether RAD was revised or other standards were adopted, but solutions were not offered.

It is worth taking another look at the following responses:

  • “If database modifications or re-description becomes necessary, will there be funding to assist institutions?”

  • “Any review of RAD needs to consider the significant investment that archives have made in transitioning legacy records to the current RAD standard, the development of new descriptions and the investment in technology to support RAD.... As many archives are currently seeing their fiscal envelopes curtailed it may be a very tough sell to argue the case for a need for change. If we are to change or move away from RAD there must be a clear incentive to do so. What will the argument be to justify the change? Any messaging must be clear and it must be consistent. It can't simply be, ‘Hey we are thinking of changing RAD.’ It must also include, ‘... and here is why.’”

20. What resources and tools would the archives community require for transition to a new standard?

Respondents seemed united: where any replacement with another standard, or extensive revision, seems likely, archivists will require a crosswalk or mapping guide to transition existing descriptions to the new standard. No archivist should be left to transfer their work in isolation, or to make the choice between redoing work and developing their own crosswalking tools.

The CCAD could develop new rules in conjunction with standards in other areas, such as in technologies. The CCAD could work in tandem with Artefactual and other developers to provide resources and tools and ease any transitions. A few respondents mentioned this:

  • “RAD should be closely aligned with ICA standards, particularly now that many repositories are using ICA-ATOM as their chosen descriptive software.”

  • “[RAD is] not great for small institutions that have a variety of material (archives, library collections, some artifacts), but don't have the resources to catalogue them with separate standards, particularly if using AtoM as their cataloguing software.”

  • “Any review of RAD needs to consider the significant investment that archives have made in the ... technology to support RAD.”

  • “How one may document and perform accessioning may be constrained by the database in use at an archives or technological limitations.”

  • “I foresee resistance if the new model of RAD required major reconfiguration of description databases.”

  • “We really need to consider how descriptive practices work in an environment where access is moving, more and more, to be mediated through an online environment.”

Another respondent pointed us towards their entries in Archeion, our province-wide AtoM implementation, to show how RAD is incompatible with the technical requirements of the software. Their inability to input RAD records exactly into AtoM fields has been a hassle for them. This is but one example of how RAD could become more relevant.

General comments

21. Please provide any other comments, suggestions or questions relating to possible RAD revision.

Users were noted by 79% of our respondents as a demographic that should be consulted on RAD revisions, as seen in question 17. Further to this, 23% of respondents to our question about weaknesses noted that the accessibility of archival description was an issue that could be rectified in revisions of RAD:

  • “Unclear language. Needs to become more user-friendly and readable.”

  • “Overly complicated; language doesn't match users’ knowledge and archivists are always needed to interpret it.”

  • “Complicated, not useful to researchers.”

  • “It doesn't reflect the research needs or vocabularies of non-advanced researchers ... it doesn't help demystify archives.”

  • “Most researchers aren't interested in all the detail collected.”

  • “The rules are overly long, with lots of unnecessary material.”

  • “[We should adopt] ICA standards. Then we are all using a similar format which will help researchers understand how to access archives regardless of the country.”

  • “I have never seen any academic researchers respond to RAD the way archivists do. Researchers just want the basics and what to get to the documents.”

  • “Strongly hostile to users in both senses of the term (e.g. archivists AND researchers) — reinforces stereotypes of archives as hidebound fortresses of mirthless pedantry whose staff are more obsessed with esoteric trivialities than making records accessible or indeed serving users' needs in any way.”

As in the last comment, a portion of respondents said it was inaccessible even to archivists, often focusing on the time and skill constraints of small archives:

  • “Too much information. It needs a basic guide or map to follow for those who only do description occasionally because of staff and budget shortages.”

  • “Unintelligible to most and therefore not applied consistently.”

  • “In reality there is NO TIME to do full RAD - TOO time consuming. Not a practical tool.”

  • “Needs to be more practical, easily applied to the collection and its usage. It is good to have a standardized format but it needs to be less complicated.”

Several respondents mentioned that RAD is applied inconsistently between institutions:

  • “There are no format standards so even though finding aids across Canada have the same content they aren't organized the same.”

  • “Would benefit from a structure that included more examples.”

  • “Lack of consistency between institutions. Too vague, broad. Can be interpreted differently.”

  • “It doesn't form a unified set of descriptions across Canada, as was intended. Many smaller institutions used either a variation of RAD, or no standard at all.”

To summarize the majority findings of the AAO’s survey, our respondents requested a revision of RAD that:

  • reduces RAD to core elements

  • limits its scope to descriptive elements

  • maps to ISAD(G)

  • is backwards-compatible with existing work in RAD

  • is less detailed than the current version of RAD

  • works with digital materials

  • is governed by the CCA

  • consults archivists, archives advisors, users, archival educators, and digital preservation specialists in the process

To add to the majority findings, notable concerns would suggest a revision that:

  • has no ambiguities in interpretation, and will be implemented consistently

  • uses plain language in its guides, and encourages plain language in descriptions

  • is developed through a transparent process that keeps the community informed

  • tailors itself toward small archives and limited capacity

  • in some way values the input of practicing (arranging and describing) archivists over archival academics

  • reflects the technological changes in description and access in recent years

  • could give context to digital objects such as open datasets, or function in a linked-data capacity

  • is cost-effective for archivists to adhere to, and for the CCA to undertake

  • consults experts from other cultural heritage fields, especially multi-purpose institutions that catalogue a variety of materials with RAD


Areas of further research include:

  • an explicit comparison of RAD’s features to those of other standards, in terms of unique strengths, needs not currently met, hierarchical structure, data models, etc.

  • the costs of maintenance, and sustainable models used elsewhere

  • plans to ensure community input

  • plans to ensure backwards compatibility and sufficient resources for transition

Address: 411 Richmond Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, ON M5A 3S5

Phone: 647-343-3334 | Email: aao@aao-archivists.ca

     

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