Volume 23 Number 4


PAA Response
In Profile
Archives Advisor
Editor's Comment
City of Calgary
Glenbow Archives
Grande Prairie
Jasper - Yellowhead
Legal Archives
Provincial Archives
U of C Special Collections
U of A Archives
U of C Archives
City of Edmonton
Brett Lament
Submissions? Questions?

Home Page



RAD2 - What is it all about?

Janet McMaster

You may have seen some of the postings on our national list serve, arcan-l, recently about the second edition of the Rules for Archival Description, referred to as RAD2. You may be wondering what impact this new initiative will have on your day-to-day work. In this article, I will discuss the background of this initiative, outline the common principles between RAD and RAD2, summarize some of the major changes in RAD2, and then talk about future steps.


a)   RAD
The Bureau of Canadian Archivists published the first four chapters of the Rules for Archival Description (RAD) in 1990 in order to standardize archival descriptive practices in Canada. Since RAD was first introduced, a number of new chapters have been added, including media chapters on sound recordings and electronic records. Based on feedback received from the archival community, revisions to the existing rules have been done on an annual basis. The full text of RAD and the recent rule revisions are available in PDF format on the Canadian Council of Archives' web site at: A comprehensive Index to RAD became available in November 2003 that it is also available on this web site. (If you have not yet reviewed this Index, I would encourage you to do so, as it is a very useful tool.) RAD is currently still the Canadian national data content standard, and all fonds level descriptions in the Archives Network of Alberta (ANA) database should be compliant with RAD.

b)   DACS
In the mid-1990s, a joint initiative began when an invitation was received from American colleagues to discuss the possibility of reconciling the two North American standards, RAD and APPM (Archives, Personal Papers and Manuscripts, the American equivalent of RAD). It was agreed that this new standard would be developed within the framework of the descriptive standards that had been produced by the International Council on Archives: the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)); and the International Standard Archival Authority Record For Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families (ISAAR(CPF)). Funding was obtained for this project, and the first meeting of the Canada-U.S. Task Force on Archival Description (CUSTARD) was held in July 2001. The Task Force developed a Statement of Principles and four meetings were held over the course of two years. A preliminary version of the new standard, entitled Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) was completed in January 2003. As discussions continued about this proposed new standard, it became apparent that there were divergences between the Canadian and American points of view. By the summer of 2003, it became evident that it was not going to be possible to come up with a joint standard that would meet the needs of both Canadian and American archivists. Ultimately, it was decided that each country would proceed on their own; however, friendly relations were maintained, and the door was left open for additional consultation in the future. (In April 2004, the American group published a draft of their new standard entitled Describing Archives: A Content Standard, that is available at

c)   RAD2 In the fall of 2003, the Canadian Committee on Archival Description (CCAD) unanimously agreed to use the final draft of DACS, with some revisions, as the basis for a comprehensive revision of RAD, referred to as RAD2. The notion of a comprehensive review of RAD was not new; as early as 1998, CCAD had proposed a roundtable to address the future of RAD. There had been a considerable amount of work done to develop DACS, particularly with regard to making the standard more compatible with the international standards mentioned previously, and the members of CCAD recognized the benefits of taking advantage of this work. CCAD undertook a thorough review of RAD2 and a number of revisions were completed in the fall of 2003. RAD2, as well as a detailed background document entitled "RAD2 Backgrounder", became available on the CCA's website in January 2004. Notices were sent out to the archival community, requesting that feedback about RAD2 be submitted by April 2004.

  • Common Principles
  • The following underlying principles are common to both RAD and RAD2:
  • Archival description is based on the principle of respect des fonds
  • Description reflects arrangement
  • Levels of description correspond to levels of arrangement
  • Description occurs after arrangement is complete
  • Description proceeds from the general to the specific
  • Arrangement is hierarchical
  • Relationships between levels of description must be indicated clearly
  • It is possible to describe materials in any form or medium, created by any creator
  • Creators, in additional to archival material, must be described

Major Changes
One of the most noticeable changes about RAD2 is the structure. In RAD2, the rules are divided into a number of different elements. There are no longer chapters on media types such as textual records or graphic materials; instead, information about specific media types is included within the relevant element. Part I, Describing Archival Materials, includes the rules for providing those elements of description that describe the characteristics, content and structure of the archival materials themselves.

Part II, Describing Creators, includes the rules for providing those elements of description that describe the persons, families and corporate bodies associated in some way with the creation of the archival material in question.

In many ways, RAD2 is more flexible than RAD. Punctuation is optional, and while a list of prescribed punctuation is included as an appendix, it is left up to the repository to determine how descriptions are presented to the end user. The use of abbreviations is also optional, and again, institutions are given the discretion to determine what is most appropriate for them. There is a wider range of date types permitted by RAD2. Another significant change is that either the fonds or the series can serve as the highest level of description in RAD2.

RAD and RAD2 both allow information about the creator (generally found in the biographical sketch/administrative history field) to be included in the archival description or maintained in a separate authority record. There is more of an emphasis in RAD2, however, on the creation of separate authority records.

A few elements included in RAD, such as the General Material Designation, do not appear in RAD2. Other elements have been expanded, such as Dates and Conditions Governing Reproduction. A number of new elements have been incorporated into RAD2, including Reference Code, Relationships, and an Authority Record Control Area. In addition, there is more information provided in RAD2 about collections, an area that was only briefly touched upon in RAD.

Future Steps
In early May 2004, CCAD met in Ottawa to discuss the feedback that was received from the archival community about RAD2. This is being followed up by a second round of consultation, that includes presentations at various national and provincial association conferences. In Alberta, an information session about RAD2 will be held in conjunction with the ASA's Annual General Meeting and Institutional Forum held June 11th/12th in Edmonton. In the fall of 2004, a RAD2 Report will be prepared by CCAD, with recommendations provided for future directions.

Janet McMaster is System Administrator for the Archives Network of Alberta, and a member of the Canadian Committee on Archival Description (CCAD)