Determining Data Standards for Collections Management Systems

Margot Note

Margot Note

September 14, 2020

Tracking collection information is an essential part of archival work. Adhering to a set of collection information and cataloging standards through organizational collections management policies helps preserve the history of your holdings for the future and makes your day-to-day activities more efficient—from acquisitions to outreach.

Using standards preserves the context of archival materials and helps protect the evidential value of records over time, facilitates their authentication, and assists users with their analysis of the materials. Finding aids, catalog records, and indexes capture this information, as well as descriptive documentation created while managing archival records. 

Benefits of Data Standards

Archival materials carry with them metadata that results from their creation, management, and use. Archivists also apply value-added information they create to arrange, describe, and enhance access to collections. Community-developed standards and best practices to ensure quality, consistency, and interoperability govern such metadata. Reliable query results are an output of controlled data. Standards better protect collections by ensuring that information is never lost, making workloads more manageable. Data standards facilitate:

  • Increased access to records
  • Consistent information retrieval
  • Increased data quality
  • Easier adaption of technology or documentation developments
  • Efficient exports into other systems
  • Better data exchange within the repository and with other institutions
  • Easier web publication

Focus on the structure of the information. A data standards policy provides guidelines for the records structure and identifies mandatory fields along with their formats and contents. It also enables information sharing and ensures against data loss. Data management reaps benefits when data is controlled and consistent. Archives-wide collections management policies—especially those that focus on how information is structured and entered into a collections management system (CMS)—can achieve this effort. 

Data Standard Elements

Three elements of data standards enable consistent ways to find related items. Data structure standards determine the information archivists want to record; they identify required or optional fields. Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set are examples of data structure standards.

Data content standards describe the field’s content, such as what archivists enter as information. They provide guidelines for the format and syntax of the data values that archivists use to populate metadata elements. Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) and Resource Description and Access (RDA) are common data content standards. During planning, create guidelines for entering data into fields. For example, determine the fields’ style, grammar, and abbreviations.

Data value standards define the terminology used for a field and authorities—lists of acceptable values—that guarantee the consistency of the entered information. These are the actual data that populate a data structure or metadata element set. They usually take the form of a vocabulary, classification, or thesaurus. Library of Congress Subject Headings and Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus are two examples of data value standards. 

Creating and Updating Policies

Archival policies establish guidelines for collections documentation. CMS policies ensure access to and control of collections information. A data standard policy can document the new system structure guidelines, such as mandatory fields, and content and format for each field. Other policies may include a maintenance and authority policy, which identifies staff permitted to add, modify, or delete records, clarifies procedures for editing information, and notes procedures for maintaining database backups. An access authority policy denotes who has access to view and use collections information.

Continued Accessibility and Utility

Data standards deployed in collections management systems result in crucial information management in both the short and the long term. Consistent practices allow archivists to use the information in new and unforeseen ways to meet the needs of researchers, and the existence of metadata proves critical to the continued accessibility and utility of archival records. Information preserved through data standards allows archivists to decode information and transform it into knowledge in the collections management systems of the future.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, “Preparing a Transition Plan for Your New Collections Management System”.

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