1. What are Arrangement and Description? (Table of Contents)


Processing of archival material involves first arranging then describing it. Arrangement involves analysing the records to see who or what created them, how and why they were created, what functions and activities they document, when they were created and what their physical nature is. While the records themselves provide the most concrete source for this information published histories and the recollections of the records creators themselves will also provide valuable insight to this procedure.

Description is the process of explaining that arrangement so that people - researchers, administrators, whomever - who want to use the records know where to look to find the answers to their questions. Arrangement, therefore, is the process of studying the records to discover how they relate to the entities that created them. Description is the way of sharing that knowledge with everyone else.

The language of description is RAD - the Rules for Archival Description. RAD is designed to capture and present information necessary for comprehensive and intelligible descriptions of all classes of record material in all possible circumstances. In so doing it makes the records useful. A basement full of undescribed records is not an archives, it is a fire hazard. Information that cannot be found is not information, it is landfill. This is why it is important to provide intellectual access to record material in such a way as to make the process of uncovering the information it contains efficient and effective.

Many people find the sheer size and complexity of the RAD manual daunting at first. However, most archival material can be quite adequately described using only a very few of the rules presented by RAD. That the official RAD manual must explain all of them and show how they are used in all situations is what makes it so big. The template for recording the physical description of a group of photographs may look like this:

Extent including specific material designation : Other physical details ; Dimensions + accompanying material (physical details). -- Physical description of subsequent class of material.

but 19 times out of 20 it will be recorded like this:

Extent: 35 photographs.

The purpose of this document is to explain what RAD (the Rules for Archival Description) is, what it is supposed to do and how to use it. The Guide also contains a "short version" of RAD, identifying and explaining the minimum elements necessary for an acceptable RAD-compliant records description. It is in no way meant to supplant the RAD manual but may be used in concert with the manual as a relatively painless way to ease oneself over the threshold from RAD-novice to RAD-user. Anyone wishing to use RAD must own a copy of the RAD Manual, which costs $30.00 (price includes all taxes and shipping charges) and is available for purchase from: the Canadian Council of Archives, 1009-344 Wellington St., Ottawa, Ont., K1A 0N3.