Digital cataloguing practices at The National Archives

19 May 2017

The disruptive impact of digitised and born-digital records has shaken ways of working as well as ways of interpreting the international standard for archival description ISAD(G). Change is not new, however, as over the last seventeen years of digital catalogues archivists have moved forward with new technologies, new ways of balancing access and privacy, the impact of user experience, social media, content sensitivity and the challenge of digital transfer.

This paper introduces some new concepts and considers what a second generation of born-digital records may look like. We share our understanding of born-digital, digital surrogates and digitised records while concepts such as probabilistic, contextual and temporally aware description are also defined. Although fairly new for us, we are conscious that these ‘new concepts’ are in fact interdisciplinary propositions that have been around for some time, and that colleagues around the globe are having similar thoughts and ideas.

The National Archives is aware that the UK archive sector and some international archives may look at our digital practice as a benchmark. A word of caution: our approach is not being shared in this document in order to become a set of best practice cataloguing guidelines for digital records. This position paper summarises our current practice and aims to open the conversation as widely as possible, recognising that both technology and archival practice will continue to evolve.

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