This policy outlines the key principles that underpin sustainable description activities and practices for material in the National Library of Australia’s collections.
The National Library of Australia is a world-leading and respected custodian of Australia’s published, written, oral, visual and digital heritage. This policy is aligned with the Library’s corporate objective to deliver streamlined workflows and tools to support acquisition, management and description of collection material.
It is intended that this policy will ensure that material in the Library’s collection is managed and controlled effectively, that it is discoverable and available for use by readers ensuring Australian culture and knowledge is sustained for all Australian people, now and in the future.
This policy focuses on descriptive metadata that describes the content of the item or resource, identifies various access points such as title, creator and subject, and describes how the resource is related to other resources intellectually or within a hierarchy. It may also describe physical attributes of the resource such as media type, dimensions, and condition.
Descriptive metadata supports a number of user tasks, including discovery, identification, retrieval and citation of the Library’s collection resources. While descriptive metadata is used by and displayed to human users, it is also used by machine applications and widely shared in machine-readable ways. It is therefore essential that descriptive metadata for the Library’s collections is accurate, adequate, timely, and recorded consistently.
In accordance with the National Library Act 1960, the Library collects documentary resources, ‘particularly relating to Australia and the Australian people’ so Australians can discover, learn and create new knowledge. This policy informs individuals about the Library’s approach to collection description and the application of standards.
The policy covers collection description activities undertaken by Library staff, externally-supplied descriptions from third parties such as the creators, donors, publishers and vendors of material, and automated contributions to resource description and data enrichment, including the aggregation of data from multiple sources.
It is also intended to support the Library’s expanding digitisation program and the description activities undertaken as part of digitisation processes, outlining standardised practices designed to increase availability of and access to digitised content. With the growing volume of material being digitised, description of collections has become integral to the overall program and delivery of content.
4. Policy statement
The National Library of Australia’s policy on collection description is based on the following principles:
- Sufficiently describe each resource or group of resources to enable collection discovery and access, and to facilitate inventory management
- Use the most appropriate descriptive models for each resource or group of resources in our collections, ensuring the type, level and granularity of description are practical and sustainable while facilitating discovery
- Where possible, utilise existing description and metadata created by others in preference to re-creating it ourselves
- Description for digitisation purposes needs only to meet minimum level necessary to assist digitisation processes
- Record metadata consistently to facilitate resource exposure, data sharing and support interoperability and reuse by third parties (people and systems)
- Where available, links to summaries, finding aids and content are provided within metadata records to enable searching and discovery
- Seek better, more innovative and efficient ways to describe the Library’s collections
- Cooperate nationally and internationally in metadata creation and sharing.
The Library uses, creates, harvests, stores and maintains several different types of metadata, including descriptive, technical, administrative, and preservation metadata, which are variously used to facilitate ongoing collection discovery, access, control, management, and preservation. Descriptive metadata is the information about material that enables its identification, discovery and use. Descriptive metadata is the focus of this policy.
Descriptive metadata may be expressed as a catalogue record in MARC, hierarchical index, finding aid or structured data file, or be embedded into or stored with the content that it describes. When an item is in digital form, the content may be searched for discovery instead of, or in addition to, descriptive metadata. Full text searching augments or sometimes replaces descriptive metadata.
The National Library’s descriptive metadata is stored across several systems and aggregated for discovery depending on the type of data or resource, and its use. For most materials the National Library of Australia aims to provide straightforward, unmediated access to all collection material whether in physical or digital form via the online catalogue.
The approach used to describe a resource depends on the nature of the material itself, as well as cost-effectiveness, and discovery and access efficiency.
In looking for fit-for-purpose approaches to describing and making the collection accessible, the Library has made pragmatic decisions to maximise resources.
Where it is effective and efficient to do so, an individual item-level record is created for most single published materials.
Manuscript collections and similar original archival resources with multiple parts are described with a finding aid.
Finding Aids are also used for other types of material with multiple parts as a streamlined method to describe items with common characteristics. Finding aids can be used for listing the photographs in an album or describing a formed collection of ephemera, posters or maps. A collection- level catalogue record is made with a link to the Finding Aid for material so described.
The decision on level of description (collection vs item) and approach to description (catalogue record, summary, finding aid) is determined by a number of factors:
- effectiveness of the description in enabling discovery and use
- nature of the material to be described (collection vs item)
- relationship of the components and whether they lend themselves to a collection based descriptive approach.
For digitisation processes, available existing description representing the physical items is assessed for suitability to achieve access to the digitised content. Description is not upgraded to conform to current standards, except to remedy incorrect or missing data. Any description creation or enhancement is completed to a level necessary for Library systems to function and appropriate to the size and format of the collection.
Where there is no existing description (or it is contained in an offline format), and creation of catalogue records or finding aids is required, including for digitisation the Library will:
- prefer bulk or automated processes to create description
- prefer grouping material at the collection level where it is practical for the format
- create finding aids to the appropriate level depending on the size of the collection.
RDA is the preferred format for new or original item records. If a record is available in non-RDA, then it is acceptable not to upgrade to RDA.
ISAD (G) EAD encoded finding aid is the preferred format for collection-based description. Where a listing is provided or created with the collection material, it is acceptable to ingest that subset and make it available.
Description of First Nation’s collection material is guided by Indigenous cultural protocols and advice from the Library’s Indigenous Engagement Section. Records for Indigenous material are enhanced where the description is potentially culturally inappropriate and/or to include cultural sensitivity notes, Indigenous language (Austlang) codes, geographic and subject terms and creator names.
The National Library actively works with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to develop protocols and continually improve culturally appropriate approaches to describing Indigenous collection material. The Library adheres to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library, Information and Resource Network’s ATSILIRN protocols for libraries, archives and information services and is preparing an Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) Protocol.
Libraries around the world are finding that long-established thesauri no longer have suitable terminology for many concepts, especially when considering equity, diversity and inclusion. The National Library actively utilises a variety of subject vocabularies as alternatives to Library of Congress Subject Headings (see 4.4 Third party metadata).
4.4 Third party metadata
It is the Library’s preference to utilise third party metadata where available, or to cooperate in metadata creation where possible, in order to maximise the value and effectiveness of metadata creation activities undertaken by Library staff and to ensure that collections are described, discoverable and available in an efficient, equitable and timely way.
The National Library of Australia obtains and reuses descriptive metadata from a range of sources including creators, interviewers, donors, publishers and vendors. The Library is increasingly receiving donor-created lists of the contents of archival collections, transferred via spreadsheets and ingested into the Library’s metadata systems. Transcriptions and summaries for oral history interviews are created as TEI encoded XML/RTF files that are also ingested in a similar way.
The Library sources MARC records along with the publications from some vendors, as well as those supplied with subscription databases. In general, the Library does not routinely enhance this metadata.
The implementation of National eDeposit (NED) as well as the Prepublication Data Service has introduced the use of Thema a multilingual subject classification system used by the book publishing industry. The publisher-created records produced by these systems via dynamic webforms are harvested with this vocabulary, as are records generated by the Australian ISBN Agency and included in the Books in Print database. The Library accepts these records with little amendment, preferring to reuse the publisher generated and supplied metadata.
The National Library utilises technological solutions to enrich description and discoverability where available and appropriate. Current technologies supported are:
- optical character recognition (OCR) is a standard addition for all published text digitised resources
- atomisation enables contextualised access to component-level description and digitised content described in finding aids.
As collecting institutions explore opportunities with machine learning technologies there is more capacity to expose content through automated means including automated summarising, keyword identification, handwriting recognition etc.
While libraries are keen to open data silos, a sustainable transition to linked data based on widely used and properly maintained data models is yet to be developed.
The National Library of Australia shares catalogue records nationally through Libraries Australia/Trove and contributes internationally via WorldCat. The Library follows current national and international metadata standards for description as well as specialist resources for different formats of collection material.
- National Library of Australia Corporate Plan 2021–2022
- National Library Act 1960 (Cwth)
- Copyright Act 1968 (Cwth)
- Collection Development Policy (2020)
- Draft Collection Description Strategy and Roadmap, 2019–2021 (working document)
- Sustainable Description for Treasured Voices Digitisation Policy (2020)