My recent foray into the archival world has provided me with a renewed appreciation for standardization of descriptive techniques. Rules for Archival Description (RAD) is a national (Canadian) set of rules for archival description. The first edition of RAD was established in the 1990s and has since become common place in most quality archives in Canada. Outside of Canada similar rules to RAD exist. In the United States the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, second edition (AACR2) serves the same purpose as RAD.
RAD and similar codes provide standard outlines of how descriptive data and general metadata is recorded and organized. This allows collected information to maintain uniformity between organization, provides structure to data, and establishes professional standards. Granted, there is room to develop internal policies which work with RAD to meet organizational needs. Even with these adaptations of RAD most archival descriptions are created in a very standardized manner.
I recently accepted a position in an archive, this move from the museum world to the archive has highlighted the overwhelming lack of descriptive standardization in the heritage field. Most heritage organizations have internal policies which dictate how metadata should be organized and outline descriptive practices. However, in Canada there currently is not a professional standard which unifies descriptions (or anything else) between organizations.
Creating a professional standard and an agency to maintain that standard isn’t an easy task. But, considering the success of standardization in the archival field and the library world it is surprising that more attempts haven’t been made to regulate the museum field. Formal guidelines for description have the potential to help museums which currently lack quality metadata procedures and to create assist in ensuring the quality of information being collected by museums.