A summary of the first year - 2013

Jenny Bunn Monday, 06 January 2014 20:27

The Descriptive Standards Roundtable (DSR) was born in about January 2013, when a number of individuals, loosely connected through membership of the ARA Section for Archives and Technology (ARA SAT) came together around a shared niggle that had something to do with standards for archival description and with descriptive practice more widely. For some this niggle arose from their daily experience of attempting to fit the round shaped description of digital material into the square holes of ISAD(G) data elements, for others it came from the sense of deja vu they felt as yet another discussion of name authorities appeared on the archives-nra listserv. Either way, it arose and the fact that it did so (and seemingly kept doing so) convinced them that this was something worthy of their attention.

To that end they decided to start a Descriptive Standards Roundtable, which was ‘officially’ launched at the UKAD Forum, held at TNA in March 2013. Initially, interested individuals were invited to sign up to a Google Form and thanks are owed to the small number (22) who did so. Following on from this, the next manifestation of the DSR took place at the ARA Conference in Cardiff. Here was presented an issues log, which was DSR’s attempt to summarize all the issues that had been brought to their attention as being of concern (either through the comments of those signing up to the Google Form or in myriad other ways). There about 45 attendees discussed the issues log and also considered changes to descriptive practice more generally.

DSR is deliberately an informal body, for it seeks less to direct developments in standards and descriptive practice, and more to reflect them such that they become visible and force us to deal with them. For example, one firm finding from the session at the ARA Conference was that the rule against the repetition of information in multi-level description had seemingly been abandoned by most of those in the room when working in a digital environment. What does this mean for our descriptive practice? And what does it mean that it is still enshrined in the standards many of us purport to follow?

The best standards should formalise a consensus on good practice and a common way of doing things; however, that consensus is not built by everyone following a specific set of standards, but by everyone reflecting on and discussing what they are doing and thinking about how it might be changing. Many of us do this already, but we are perhaps not so good at doing it collectively. DSR is a collective designed to help this happen. Anyone can be a Knight of the Roundtable, so re-read those standards, have a think and join the conversation. DSR do not wish to dictate any one place for this conversation to happen, but will be monitoring the existing channels (e.g. the archives-nra listserv, Twitter, the professional literature, this group and so on). However, if you want to be sure that your contribution or comment is brought to our attention, please contact one of the following directly.

Jenny Bunn, j.bunn@ucl.ac.uk
Alexandra Eveleigh, alexandra.eveleigh.09@ucl.ac.uk
Sarah Higgins, sjh@aber.ac.uk
Chris Hilton, c.hilton@wellcome.ac.uk
Bill Stockting, William.stockting@bl.uk
Simon Wilson, s.wilson@hull.ac.uk