2. RAD Explained (Table of Contents)

2.1 What is RAD? (Table of Contents)

RAD is a system for creating archival descriptions in the form of "finding aids" that identify and describe archival records and provide access to the information they contain. It is based on the principle that each archival document exists as part of a group and is linked to all other records in that group in specific ways that come about as a consequence of the way each was created, used and maintained. The archival term for such a group of records is a "fonds", meaning all of the records created, used and accumulated by a single organization, individual or juridical person during the transaction of daily business. RAD is used to describe groups of records with the same provenance (source) or arising from the same function or activity. It does this by:

1. identifying the provenance of the records, when they were created, how much of them there are and what their physical characteristics are;
2. providing information about the administration that created the records; and
3. providing information about the content of the records.

Using "multi-level description" RAD determines what information an archivist will have to capture and how s/he will present it, including authorized punctuation formats. The advantage of using RAD is that it helps institutions to eliminate idiosyncracies in their finding aids, makes it easier for users to find what they are looking for, makes it easier to to transmit archival information electronically and generally results in higher quality finding aids. Finally, the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) requires that all finding aids created as a result of work funded by CCA grants be RAD-compliant.

2.2. What is a Finding Aid? (Table of Contents)

A finding aid is a tool used to find things. Telephone directories and highway maps are finding aids; the File Manager on a PC is a finding aid, as is the index at the back of a book. An archival finding aid is essentially a physical and intellectual "map" of the archives that tells users what sort of information is available and how to find it. There are two sorts of finding aid: physical and intellectual.

In their most complex and useful forms, intellectual finding aids describe archival material in terms of the inter-relationships between a group of records and the administrative entities that created them, including data about physical characteristics of the records such as media and extent. The most complex - and most powerful - of these are multi-level inventories, created using RAD (more about this later). The least complicated finding aids of this type are file- or item-lists which list available files or items by whatever system seems appropriate (eg., files listed alphabetically by title, or books by author). A user consults this type of finding aid in order to find out what a particular group of records includes and to fine- tune any search. In many institutions the finding aids consist largely of file lists, sometimes with a short historical sketch or biography attached. While a useful tool for accessing archival material, file lists do nothing to explain the context of the records and in archives - as in life - context is everything.

Physical finding aids are administrative tools used by archivists to find the actual files, boxes documents, artifacts, etc., that a user has requested. They are quite simple; they identify a thing and note its location. Physical finding aids include shelf lists, (what is on a shelf, or what shelf a thing is on) and box lists (what is in a box, or what box a thing is in).

Some finding aids will contain elements of both. Accession Registers (an administrative tool archivists use to keep track of new accessions that have yet to be arranged and described) will note not only the contents of the accession (in more-or-less general terms) but also its extent and location in the archives and will occasionally include a full file list.

Finding aids can be maintained as database entries on a computer or as hard copy versions printed on paper, or both. Electronic finding aids are searchable, making them extremely convenient. On the other hand, most databases do not support RAD data elements as seamlessly as might be desired and it is often easier to work with printed documents than with electronic ones. While this is of course a matter of institutional policy, the best solution may be to have both electronic and hard copy versions of the finding aid available to the user, if this is possible. Those familiar with HTML will immediately see the ease with which it lends itself to RAD's multi-level format, providing yet another way to create archival finding aids.

2.3. What is multi-level description? (Table of Contents)

Multi-level description is a way of describing a group of records according to the structure of the administrative body that created them (their external structure) and the way in which the records are arranged (their internal structure). Describing records using a multi-level format begins with a description of the records at the broadest and most general level and then proceeds downward through its component parts, describing the records in increasingly specific terms at each level. Information about the records and their creators is captured in various data elements.

RAD uses six levels of description: the fonds (the broadest level of description), sous-fonds, series, sub-series, file and item. They are arranged hierarchically; that is, each level is a part of the level above it and the record descriptions at each level include a reference to the levels above or below. Sous-fonds and sub-series are not explicitly detailed by RAD because they are described in exactly the same manner as fonds and series. It is also possible to have sous-sous fonds and sub-sub-series. Before continuing further it will benecessary to define these terms.

2.4. The Six Levels of Description (Table of Contents)

2.4.1 The fonds (Table of Contents)

Descriptions of archival material begin with the broadest intellectual unit; the fonds, which basically is the sum total of all the records created by a single entity. In large, complex administrative bodies it can be difficult to figure out what does and does not constitute a fonds. Common sense will help: the City of Saskatoon is obviously the creator of a fonds. But is the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan? Do the Department of Highways records constitute a fonds, or should we look to the provincial government itself before applying this designation?

The following criteria may be useful. For an administrative entity to be the creator of a fonds it must: have a legal identity, an official mandate, a defined hierarchical position, be capable of conducting most of its business without reference to a higher authority and have a defined and recorded organizational structure.[1]

2.4.2 The sous-fonds (Table of Contents)

Simply put, a sous-fonds is all the records of an adminstrative sub-unit of the organization that created the fonds. Thus, if the City of North Battleford records are a fonds then the Department of Parks and Recreation records are a sous-fonds.

2.4.3 The series (Table of Contents)

A series is a group of records within a fonds (or sous-fonds) that are created or accumulated from the same function, activity or subject, because they have a particular form or because of some other relationship related to the circumstances of their creation or use. "Personal Correspondence"or "Financial Records" might be the titles of record series. The series links the fonds (and the administrative structure that created it) to the actual records that were created.

2.4.4 The sub-series (Table of Contents)

A sub-series consists of records within a series that are readily identifiable as a subordinate or dependent entity on the basis of classification or filing, physical form or content.

2.4.5 The file (Table of Contents)

The file is the smallest aggregate unit within a fonds. It consists of documents filed together in a way that reflects particular activities, subjects, etc., and that bear the same title. A file may consist of any number of individual folders. Folders are merely physical document storage units while files are groupings used to impose intellectual order on records.

2.4.6 The item (Table of Contents)

The item is the lowest level of description and the smallest intellectual entity within a fonds useful for descriptive purposes. Like files, items are intellectual - not physical - units and can include many separate things. A letter in a correspondence file is an item, as is a ledger book, a photograph or an architectural drawing. Remember, however, that a letter may have several (or several hundred) individual pages. A set of committee minutes might include reports, correspondence and an agenda as well as the minutes themselves. Similarly, a sound or video recording may be so large that it is recorded on several cassettes or film reels, yet it is still the same item. Finally, items can be found in files or can exist independently of them.

2.4.7 Putting it all together (Table of Contents)

In its simplest form a fonds is composed of series which include files which are made up of items. Sous-fonds will have series of their own and series may be composed of sub-series. Some record material (maps and photographs, for example) can go straight from item to series without an intervening file level. The four basic rules of multi-level description are:

1) go from the general to the specific;
2) include only information that pertains to the level being described;
3) do not repeat information; and
4) provide a link between levels.

Ideally this description will reflect the pre-existing arrangement of the records. Records are created and maintained in the first place according to a certain arrangement which reflects their function, purpose and use. The archivist must analyse the records, identify that arrangement and then use RAD to describe it. It is not the archivist's job to impose a structure on records unless their original order has been disturbed or never existed in the first place. In the former case the archivist must try to reconstitute original order and in the latter case must create one. The prime principle here is respect for original order which means keeping things the way you found them.

At each level of description the archivist will record information specific to that level only. This is to avoid repeating information. At the fonds level the archivist will include information about the entire organization and all of its records in a general way. When writing up each individual series description the archivist will only include information specific to the records of that series and those parts of the organization that created them. Descriptive elements will be repeated at each level, but the information presented will not be repeated. For example, if access to the entire series "Financial Records" is restricted, there is no need to include a restriction note in the description of the sub-series, "Accounts Receivable".

These levels of description create a documentary structure that mimics the structure and functions of the entity that created it. It may look something like this: