Work in this area was suspended. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

Choosing where to invest scarce cataloging resources in the under-described collections inventory currently is informed largely by local strategies and priorities. Current archival descriptive practice is time consuming and therefore expensive. It does not scale economically or quantitatively.


Archivists did not create MARC records for archival collections until the early 1980s, when the MARC AMC format was deployed. In the ensuing decades, descriptive practices have evolved significantly, as have the educational opportunities for and skill levels of archivists who do this work.

No systematic study has been done of the one million records created to date in order to determine how, and to what extent, archivists have applied the various standards. We know that archival MARC records are less consistent than those for library materials in a variety of ways, but we lack objective data.

Discovery systems also have evolved over the decades, and it is important to understand whether archival descriptions include information that leads to effective discovery.


Providing institutions with a system-wide view of archival collection descriptions will provide new data for decision making. Changes in descriptive practice could be informed by an understanding of how existing norms have been applied.

Change could be further informed by evaluating descriptive norms against what is valued and necessary for discovery and delivery. This change could be accelerated by corresponding enhancements to the technology platforms used to capture data.

Institutions? ability to create descriptions more effectively and efficiently could help inform funding agency support.


This project will:

  • Analyze the 1,000,000 MARC records for archival materials in WorldCat to provide a system-wide view of descriptive practice over time.
  • Test and refine the definition and scope of which materials are considered "archival."
  • Determine system-wide data patterns, such as how consistently present or absent various data elements are, what effect the promulgation of standards has had on practice, etc.
  • Provide a system-wide view of under-described collections by determining the descriptive data patterns associated with them, particularly for collections of significant size that warrant high priority for discovery.
  • Recommend practices that would lead to improved discovery of relevant archival materials.


We will publish a detailed report summarizing the most significant conclusions. Other outputs will be determined in due course.

Most recent updates: Page content: 2010-11-11