ISAD(G) si aplicare la noi. Partea 1.

International archival standards have been welcomed by many professionals as a solution for synchronizing and unification of divert parochial practices; although, in other countries their evolvement has not been felt as an absolute utility, so the attitude has been more reluctant. In some countries, the national archival service immediately adopted ISAD(G), as a long-expected solution. On the other hand, one may say even that the countries with a well-established archival system, with archival standardized practices at the national scale, felt these standards as a new task; they are in the situation of checking—at least—in what measure their own standards are compatible with ICA’s. This is the case for Romania, where the release of ICA’s standards generates a very little interest among professionals. Although there are full versions in Romanian for all four ICA’s standards, the debates are only at an academic level, mainly among young archivists. Unfortunately, these debates do not approach the substance and the essential implications of this phenomenon, but they are limited to find out and exemplify the standards’ provisions.

The present paper essays to overcome this approach and to analyse if there are incompatibilities between ISAD(G) and national archival standards’ provisions. More precisely, it approaches the bond between National Archives of Romania (here it follows: NAR) and records creating organisations (here it follows: creators) on managing records.

Accordingly to National Archives Act, NAR has the function of developing standards and working procedures for the ‘uniform archival activity on the territory of Romania”. These working procedures shape a model of a records system, with proper control tools

The first of these tools is the register for incoming and outgoing records that supports, based on the registry techniques, the capture and the control of records, at their arrival or exit, in and from, creator. In this point, the capture of main metadate also produces, in order to allow the identification and tracking of records.

The classification of records is done with a file plan. Traditionally, the file plan is mirroring the organisation chart, divided on services and offices, together with the titles of files organically created or accumulated by each office. Each file title/topic represents a class to which is assigned an indicative; in the register above mentioned, this indicative should be indicated, in order to locate the formal filing place for each record. This was the initial mechanism. But during decades, the Romanian archivists noted that in a class, under the same title, important and unimportant records gathered and a general retention period for a file is not enough for a good appraisal, even if all the records dealt with the same topic. The classical example is a payroll that has some bookkeeping records attached. According to the Romanian act, a payroll has a retention period of 50 years, while the general bookkeeping records are to be retained for 10 years. As a consequence, a new criterion has been introduced in records classification: the retention period. All these lead to the assignation to each title in the file-plan of the suited retention period. Therefore, in Romanian records system, to each class is assigned a retention period, so that to one indicative (i.e. to one file title) corresponds also a retention period. This tool is called “nomenclator” and it is intended to serve as a basis also for classification and for disposal: the records are classified under the proper indicative, based on their topic and their retention period.

After the records’ classification, when the files are closed, the control tool changes. If initially the main ‘finding aids” was the register for incoming and outgoing records, after the closure of the file the creator should make an inventory. The level of control changes from the records level to the file level. Each office ought to compile an inventory of the created files and, based on this inventory, the files ought to be send to the in-house records centre and arranged accordingly. In an inventory, files are listed volume by volume, every one of them being identified by: a reference number, the indicative of the file, a short intellectual description and the dates. In order to facilitate the disposal, not all the files are listed in the same inventory, but separately, according to the retention period. For instance, all the files identified as having permanent value are listed in one inventory, all the files with 5 years retention—on other inventory and so on. In this model, when the retention period expired for a group of files, their disposal is done using the proper inventory. When the permanent files will be transferred to the National Archives, these inventories will serve also as finding aids at the NAR reading room.

But let us have a closer look the result of this model. There is an archival fond; it comprises all the creator’s records (aggregated into files). Inside the fond, there are sub-fonds that correspond to the whole of files created by services. Inside sub-fonds, there are series of files, created by offices. If one takes a look to the “nomenclator”, one can see that the classes from the file-plan represent the sub-series of records. Therefore, an inventory of permanent files would group together many sub-series. On the timeline, the accumulation of inventories would lead to a structure like this:

Service

Office

Year

File No.

Indicative of file

Retention period

I. Management

B. Deputy

manager

1999

1.

I.B.1

Permanent

2.

I.B.2

3.

I.B.3

2000

1.

I.B.1

2.

I.B.2

3.

I.B.3

SUB-FOND

SERIE

SUB-SERIES

or

Year

Service

Office

File no

Indicative

of file

Retention period

1999

I. Management

B. Deputy manager

1.

I.B.1

Permanent

2.

I.B.2

3.

I.B.3

2000

1

I.B.1

2

I.B.2

3

I.B.3

SUB-FOND

SERIE

SUB-SERIES

Based on ISAD(G) model, the structure of files should look like this:

Service

Office

Indicative of file

File ID

Retention

period

I. Management

B. Deputy

manager

i.b.1.

1/1999

Permanent

1/2000

I.B.2.

1/1999

1/2000

I.B.3

1/1999

1/2000

SUB-FOND

Serie

Sub-serieS

It is obvious, from the analysis of the above tables, that actual model of aggregating files based on inventories generates a structure that is not compatible with ISAD(G).

ISAD(G) is a standard that was elaborated from the perspective of and mainly intended to historical archives. “While the focus of these rules is the description of archival materials after the point at which they have been selected for preservation, they may also be applied at earlier phases”[1], states the text of the standard. This approach should raise the question of the compatibility with the need of records managers. Is ISAD(G) suited for description of files in intermediate stage of the records lifecycle or for historical archives only? Some practical examples I had the opportunity to see in France showed that, if desired, ISAD(G) can be applied for intermediate stage of the records lifecycle. In an article from 2003, Elisabeth Shepherd mapped the provisional set of metadata elements for the implementation of ISO 15489-1 Information and Documentation – Records Management with ISAD(G). Her conclusion was that there is

“a large degree of correlation between the metadata that should be captured as part of a records management system to satisfy ISO 15489-1, and the information required to compile an ISAD(G)-compliant archival description. Most of the compatible information comes from the description area of ISO 15489-1 metadata elements rather than the management area. Out of the six mandatory elements for ISAD(G) interoperability, five, i.e. reference code, title, dates, extent, and creator, are present in the ISO 15489-1 metadata element set, albeit often in an abbreviated form”.[2]

Despite this conclusion, an ISO standard[3] has relatively recently identified the necessary metadata for records, ignoring ISAD(G) elements. Also, even if initially the elaboration of MoReq2 took into consideration the existence of ISAD(G), the final version does not use any correlation with ISAD(G) elements. Some personal talks I had with some members of the MoReq2 developing team revealed that most of the feedbacks from the interested parties showed a rejection of the usefulness of ISAD(G) for records management.

The above mentioned issues outline some incompatibilities between ISAD(G) and practices of arrangement and/or description currently used in records management. Even if Romania is not a country with records management tradition, some practices of managing the “records” showed also some incompatibilities with ISAD(G). Involved for 50 years in regulating and monitoring the records management practices, the National Archives developed a sort of continuum in managing both records and archives, where the control and reference tools in “records management” practice become those further used by the NAR. An implementation of ISAD(G) in the archives management practices of NAR would break this continuum.

For the sake of a theoretical discussion, let us have an imaginary reform of the system. How could the records system model be re-structured, as the final output be compatible with ISAD(G)?

First of all, for design of control and reference tools of an organisation’s records one must take into account the needs of that organisation for efficiency. That is, to control and to have a quick reference to the information needed at a given moment, but also to provide an efficient way of dispose the unneeded records. Examining the actual Romanian model, in my opinion it is obvious that the system agrees more with the second requirement than with the first one. The regulation issued by NAR emphasizes rather on the preserving of permanent records and the disposal of the temporary ones than to support the business needs of the creating agency for information retrieval. It is very useful to have separate inventories for the files with same retention periods, but this is a disposal perspective; is this truly useful for the organization, when searching and retrieving a certain file? The inventory (which holds for the physical and intellectual reference and control, at file level) is not structured or, better said, the structure has no meaning for description. The only solution to retrieve the information, therefore, is to read the entire inventory, point by point. It could be the possibility of using the ‘nomenclator’ for identifying the retention period and the reference code for file, but in practice it is seldom the case. Not to mention that a key element in structuring the inventories and arranging files is the year of creating a file, element that should not define a structure in ISAD(G).

Taking all these into account, there could be several possibilities of re-thinking the way inventories mirror the arrangement of files:

a). not involving the retention period:

one inventory for files in a whole series. That is, all the files created by an office should be listed, ignoring the retention periods. This solution have been suggested for two decades, but until now was only applied for some particular situations, not as a general rule. The disposed files should be marked in the inventory, preserving in the same time a full picture of the documentary production for the service.

b). involving retention period:

one inventory for sub-series. This approach implies that the reference and control tool represents the list of the sub-series from “nomenclator”, with a short description and the number of files for each sub-series.

one inventory for each sub-serie. This would lead to even a greater fragmentation and increase of number of inventories, and do not really help the creating agencies.

These approaches would imply a modification of the continuum, as seen today by Romanian archival theory and methodology. At the transfer to NAR, these inventories could serve as a control tool only, and the archivists should make a new re-presentation of units of description. That should change the workflow and for a good implementation it should be supported by the professionals.

The actual model system seems to work, even if, at a closer glance, some problems may occur. The ISAD(G) theoretical model is, in my opinion, a useful and a correct one, deriving from the best professional tradition, from both theoretical and practical perspectives. But often, rather than a significant change in methodology and practice, it is preferred to patch the current system. The match between a theoretical model versus a practical habit has still an unknown final score…


[1] ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description, Second Edition, Ottawa: 2000, para I.3.

[2] Shepherd, E., West,V., ”Are ISO 15489-1:2001 and ISAD(G) compatible?” Part 2 in Records Management Journal 13(2), 203, 62.

[3] ISO 23081:2006 Information and documentation—Records management processes—Metadata for records

3 thoughts on “ISAD(G) si aplicare la noi. Partea 1.

  1. Dear Bogdan,

    I enjoyed reading your paper. Your effort of explaining our ways of managing records and archives is especially commendable.

    However, in my opinion, your logic is “paper-bound”. You consider nomenclature, inventories etc. as paper documents – while they are quickly turn electronic databases (even while managing physical records and archives!).

    With database, you can display and use its contents in many different ways imaginable (and unimaginable) – including ISAD(G)-compliant representation. The “incompatibilities” simply evaporate. All you really need is collecting enough metadata – and reasonable database structure.

    Anyway, I think your thoughts will be of interest to our archivists and records managers (unfortunately, they are at a disadvantage: there are no Russian translations of ICA standards…)

    With best wishes,

    Natasha Khramtsovsky
    Moscow, Russia

    • Dear Natasha,

      Great to find you here too!🙂

      You are perfectly right, it’s all an issue of metadata. The problem here is that not even in the National Archives (the ‘master’ for regulation in this field) archivists do not know how to tackle the digital side. Can you imagine archivists begging for designing an elementary database, doable in 5-6 hours, to populate it with descriptions? And we are at large 10 people in NAR who can do that…

      You know, while it is fashionable to claim the improving of regulations, everybody asks for solution suited for paper environment. I can try to talk in digital paradigm, but I really do not want to ‘shout to the moon’ here… And, as a fact, the penetration of digital tool in managing records to our creating agencies is sooooo low…

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