CRS Manual - Introduction to the CRS System

CRS Manual

Registration & description procedures for the CRS System

Recordkeeping & Descriptive Standards

December 1999









Commonwealth of Australia 1999

This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any
process without prior written permission from the National Archives of Australia. Requests and inquiries concerning
reproduction and rights should be directed to the Publications Manager, National Archives of Australia,
PO Box 7425, Canberra Mail Centre, ACT, 2610.


Prologue to the CRS Manual

The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System Manual, known as the CRS Manual, is a set of procedures to which staff of the National Archives of Australia refer when preparing descriptive information about Commonwealth records. The descriptive information reflects the descriptive standards required by the CRS or 'Series' System and is used to manage records of archival value and to enable retrieval of those records. The descriptive information is contained in the RecordSearch database, where it is validated against system rules to ensure accuracy and consistency, and is displayed in a variety of ways for reference and management purposes.

The CRS Manual contains an introduction to the CRS System and, in each chapter, statements on descriptive policies and practices. The main part of the Manual concentrates on the purpose and content of each element of description or attribute. For each descriptive element the following information is provided to assist staff make correct decisions about the required descriptive information, often referred to as registrations:

This 2000 edition of the CRS Manual contains many new attributes at item, series and provenance level (some have been automated for the first time). The Manual will continue to evolve as the set of attributes that make up the CRS System are further developed and implemented. Mapping to revised international descriptive standards is also an ongoing process.

The CRS Manual would be of interest to archival institutions implementing the series system and to students wishing to learn about one interpretation of the series system.

If you have any further queries on the CRS Manual, please contact Marian Hoy at


Adrian Cunningham
Recordkeeping & Descriptive Standards


Introduction to the CRS System

Purpose of an archival control system

Any archives needs a control system to help manage, locate, retrieve, describe and make accessible the records with which it deals. An archival control system, therefore, performs a number of important functions both from an internal management perspective and from a researcher's perspective.

The National Archives, under s. 6 of the Archives Act 1983, has powers to:

These and other activities benefit from the application of a consistent, integrated, and systematic approach to archival control.

The broad aims of the National Archives in its choice of archival control system are to have a system that:

Previous archival control systems

Before the mid 1960s, the Archives and its predecessors generally used a control system called the Accession System. The Accession System was first introduced in the 1940s. From the mid 1960s, it was gradually replaced by the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System and was finally superseded in 1984 when the New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian offices adopted the CRS System for all incoming transfers of records.

Although the CRS System has been used since 1984 for all new registration, transfer, arrangement and description work, as at 1999 about half of the records in the Archives' custody were still controlled under the Accession System.

The methodology used to control records under the Accession System is quite different from that used under the CRS System, so an understanding of the characteristics of both systems is necessary for effective exploitation of the Archive's national finding aids and control documentation.

The approach used in the Accession System was to allocate an accession number to an accumulation of records (known as an accession) transferred by an agency at the one time. An accession could comprise one or more whole series or portions of series, each of which was treated as an 'Accession series' and numbered separately within the accession. Under the Accession System it was possible for parts of the same series to be transferred at different times by different agencies, with each part being allocated a different and unrelated control number. Relating the different parts of a series was achieved through cross-referencing.

Under the CRS System, the record series is the basis for the arrangement, control, description and analysis of records. Each series is registered and controlled as a separate entity with links to its provenance: that is, its recording and controlling agencies or persons. The series number is applied to all parts of a series in the Archives custody, even if transferred at different times. Moreover, a series may be identified and registered without any records from it necessarily being in the Archives' custody.

Early policies of the Archives required the intellectual and physical conversion of records from the Accession System (and several experimental systems) to the CRS System. In many instances during the transitional phase, Accession series were converted to CRS System series on paper only, without any physical reorganisation of the records concerned or change in physical control. In other cases, both intellectual and physical conversions were achieved.

Since the comprehensive automation of finding aids and control documentation in the mid 1980s, there has been a concerted effort to make the documentation for records still controlled under the Accession System conform to standards designed for the CRS System. This has provided consistent access points for all records, regardless of the control system used, and reduced the need for intellectual and physical conversion. While Accession System series have not been re-arranged to conform to the CRS System, nevertheless accessibility has significantly improved.

For more detail on the Accession System see: Mark Wagland, The Australian Archives Technical Training Scheme - Archival Control Systems, Open Learning Institute, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW, 1992.

CRS System

The Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System is the archival control system the Archives has used since the early 1960s to classify and control Commonwealth records. As a metadata scheme, it offers a structured and systematic approach to gathering and presenting information about records and their context. The CRS System facilitates both intellectual and physical control.

Archival principles

The CRS System, like the control systems or archival metadata schemes of most archival institutions, is based on the application of two related archival principles. The first, respect for provenance, stresses the need for archivists to establish and document the administrative or biographical context in which records were created and maintained. The second, respect for original order, stresses the need to maintain records in the order of their creation and storage in active use. Even within electronic recordkeeping systems, it is important to maintain the accumulation of records for evidential purposes.

Respect for provenance is based on the belief that records can only be understood properly if the administrative context in which they were created, maintained and used is known. One of the major tasks of the CRS System, therefore, is to link series to the agencies or persons which created those records. In many cases, a succession of agencies have participated in the creation of a body of records over a number of years. This fact - known as multiple provenance - is reflected in CRS System documentation.

The documentation of provenance provides information about the context within which records have been (and continue to be) created, and the context through which records can be understood and retrieved. Information on provenance enables a user to identify, in the light of administrative history, the particular agencies which are likely to have dealt with the matters relevant to their inquiry.

Respect for original order involves an attempt by archival institutions to replicate the way in which records were assembled by the creating agency or person. The original order of the records can be the key to an intelligent appreciation of a body of records by both staff and users. Maintaining original order can be of considerable importance in preserving the evidential value of archival records.

In earlier days, the National Archives tried to physically locate all the items within a series in their order of creation. When additional items were transferred into archival custody, extensive reshelving (known as intersorting) was often required to physically maintain original order. Shelf space needed to be set aside to allow for additional transfers. The current approach is to ensure that information about original order is preserved, thereby allowing that order to be restored as and when required, without necessarily storing the record series together, thereby providing the flexibility to maximise storage efficiency.

Variations in the disposal status and security classification of the items within a series, and the need for special storage conditions for various record formats, such as photographs, films, sound recordings or computer tapes all contribute to the physical scattering of a series in archival custody. But as long the original order can be reconstructed on paper, or on computer, the original order will still be respected.

A key assumption underpinning the CRS System is that knowledge of the recordkeeping and administrative contexts from which records emerged is vital for the proper interpretation, authentication and evaluation of records and the evidence and information they contain. To obtain and record such knowledge simply and efficiently, the CRS System was designed as a system that could be superimposed on an existing records regime without unduly disturbing or obscuring that existing regime.

Considerable emphasis is placed on documenting the source of records within the recordkeeping systems of agencies and persons, and the contemporary mechanisms they used for control and retrieval. Emphasis is also given to documenting, by way of brief administrative histories, the particular agencies or persons that recorded or kept the records, and those that have continuing responsibility for them.

The series, as defined in the CRS System, has its basis in, and is a natural product of, the creator's recordkeeping system. The creator's own recordkeeping metadata, such as record identifiers, titles, finding aids and control records, are retained for archival purposes. This can be important for verifying the authenticity of particular records by pointing to other, contemporaneous records in which they are referenced. It also allows the original recordkeeping context to be preserved, to some degree, and permits records to be viewed and appreciated, today, as they might have been by a person at the time the records were in active use.


The CRS System is based on the identification and documentation of several records and administrative entities. These are:

For administrative context and provenance control Organisation
For records control Series
For management of groups of items
within a series in custody


The basic structure of the CRS System can be represented hierarchically as follows.

CRS Structure

Definitions within the CRS System

The following definitions are used in the CRS System.


An organisation is a whole government, learned society, church or company that is independent (or broadly autonomous), for example, the Commonwealth of Australia.

Organisations are a means of representing the high level administrative context of agencies. The business and functions of an organisation are regarded as being exercised through the agencies it controls.

Each organisation is identified by a control number, eg

CO 1 Commonwealth of Australia

CO 31 Colony of Norfolk Island

CO 91 Australian Constitutional Convention


An agency is a distinct and recognisable body, which has responsibility for carrying out administrative functions.

An agency will usually have:

Each agency is identified by a control number, eg

CA 12 Prime Minister's Department

CA 3167 Overseas Internees Investigation Board

CA 2641 Royal Commission on Television


A person is someone who created or accumulated records during their association with the Commonwealth, but whose records were not maintained in the recordkeeping systems of the associated agencies.

A person is usually registered in the CRS System when their personal records are transferred to the Archives.

Each person is identified by a control number, eg

CP 23 Rt Hon Viscount Stanley Melbourne BRUCE, PC, CH, MC

CP 555 The Hon James MUIRHEAD, QC


A series is a group of records created or maintained by an agency or person that, regardless of currency, value or present custody:

Similarity of format is secondary to the accumulation process, as the same accumulation or system of arrangement and control can produce unique electronic and paper-based records.

For control system purposes, a series may consist of a single item, eg a diary, register or file, if it is one of a kind.

Each series is identified by a control number, eg

A461 Correspondence files, multiple number series (third system),1934-1950

A29 Copies of speeches made by the Governor-General to Parliament, 1902-1917

AWM31 Troopship passenger lists, 1915-1920

J164 Quarantine roster, 1920-1937

The term `series' is also used loosely within the Archives to refer to collective units of description brought together under fundamentally different arrangement and control criteria, eg former Accession System series and unserialised accessions. The type of `series' under consideration can be distinguished by the types of archival control numbers, codes and descriptive information present. These distinctions and their underlying meanings will not be readily apparent to agency staff, public users and others who are unfamiliar with the Archives' control systems.

For a list of the prefixes used and their meanings see Series number or Mark Wagland, The Australian Archives Technical Training Scheme - Archival Control Systems, Open Learning Institute, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW, 1992.


An item is a discrete recordkeeping unit within a series.

Generally, an item will consist of a document, eg a letter, memorandum, report, image or sound recording, or a group of documents, eg a file, that is treated as a unit for control and retrieval.

Each item is identified by its original control symbol or number or, if necessary, one imposed by the Archives:

Bundle 606 HMAS Voyager

5/1/2 Control of Aliens in Australia

1938/4661 Majura School

G323/1/5 Trade with Siam

An item may also have portions that are described separately, for example a map. The control symbol remains the same, but the format may vary and its physical location may vary.

An item may be stored and retrieved in an electronic recordkeeping system, but will still have the descriptive attributes of items that exist in a hard-copy form.

An item can have several different control symbols over time and may be part of one or more series over time. Generally, however, an item retains its original control symbol and remains in the series into which it was first accumulated.

Other terms

Most of the terms used in the CRS System are explained in the manual when they first occur or else in the definition part of the attribute descriptions. A glossary containing terms commonly used in the Archives is included in the National Archives Style Guide. It should be remembered that the usage and meaning of terms is not necessarily consistent across archival institutions nor, sometimes, within institutions.

Registration and description

Each organisation, agency, person and series that the Archives registers is allocated a unique control or registration number.

The registration numbers for organisations, agencies and persons are allocated from three separate national registers. The numbers have no meaning apart from denoting the type of registration, that is CO, CA or CP. Series numbers were initially allocated from registers of each of the Archives' major offices and several national registers for specific types of records, eg for personal, corporate and intergovernmental records. Now all registration numbers are allocated from a centralised automated register.

Under the CRS System, a registration number has no meaningful connection with any other registration number; that is, no relationships between agencies and series, or relationships between series, are conveyed through the composition of the registration numbers. This provides flexibility to show changes over time in relationships between entities (eg of an agency to other agencies, organisations, persons and series) by making cross-references rather than completely re-working existing documentation and control, as is sometimes necessary with classified control schemes.

Identifying and descriptive information for the items in each series is also gathered, principally relying on the original details, if any, used by the recording agencies or persons. Item numbers or control symbols are cited in conjunction with their respective series numbers. If in the Archives custody, the unique bar code for an item may also be cited for precise location, reference and retrieval. Provenance information for items is available from references to the agencies and persons cited in the relevant series registrations and transfer documentation.

Employing each of the control levels, a basic identification statement for a record item in the Archives' custody can be built as follows:

Control level Identifying information CRS Control 
Organisation Commonwealth of Australia, 1901- CO 1
 Agency Prime Minister's Department, 1911-1971 CA 12
 Series Correspondence files, multiple number series (third system), 1934-1950 A461
Item G323/1/5 Trade with Siam, 1937-1949 G323/1/5

The content of this example may be interpreted as follows, the Prime Minister's Department, in carrying out its functions within the Commonwealth of Australia in the 1930s and 1940s, kept records of its correspondence in a series of files with a multiple number control system. One of the items in the series was titled `Trade with Siam'. The earliest document in this item is dated 1937, the latest document is dated 1949.

The Archives has registered this series with the control number A461. Item G323/1/5 from the series was transferred to the Archives in 1994. As part of the transfer the item was given a unique barcode number which is then used for further management. Retrieval is possible through a variety of paths, including control symbol, bar code number, title, keyword and descriptive notes.

The registration numbers are the key to retrieving the records themselves as well as the Archives information and documentation that is available at each control point. Information concerning administrative and recordkeeping context, transfer history and other internal administrative details would normally be assembled for each level within the CRS System (ie organisation, agency/person, series, item).

The registration and description process involves capturing information against a defined set of attributes to produce the following,

Organisation registration A set of attributes identifying an organisation
Agency registration A set of attributes providing concise information about the administrative history of an agency, its functions and its relationship with other agencies and organisations
Person registration A set of attributes providing concise information about a person and their relationship with the Commonwealth
Series registration A set of attributes providing a description of the records in a series and information about the administrative and recordkeeping context of the series, eg its relationship to agencies, persons and other series
Item description A set of attributes identifying an item and the series to which it belongs and, in many cases, describing its content, sub- items, quantity disposal status and medium.


Registrations are the basic descriptive `documents' that staff prepare or revise when controlling, arranging and describing records and the context of the creation and use of those records. Information from registrations is subsequently used in finding aids, such as information summaries and reports, which compile information dependent on the search query.

This manual provides instructions and guidelines for the completion, content and presentation of the attributes for registration and description of records in the CRS System. 

A certain minimum amount of information must accompany each registration. This information is required to:


In the documentation work that is done to support each registration, particular attention is given to showing the relationships between organisations, agencies, persons and series. Separate attributes (or fields) have been established for this purpose, and there is scope to provide additional information in text notes. The entries made to document the more important relationships, in most cases, must refer to organisations, agencies, persons or series that have already been registered. There is some provision, however, for showing relationships between registered and unregistered entities. The major relationships are listed below.

Documentation of provenance

Documentation of broader administrative context

Over the life of the agency:

Documentation of recordkeeping context

Over the life of the series:

 The CRS System is capable of representing a complex web of relationships. Some of these relationships are created through direct data entry against the attributes or through relationships created through the reporting process. Using this framework it is possible to move hierarchically and or chronologically from a known point in pursuit of relevant information. There are also very strict validations that operate between the structural levels to ensure correct application of the standards. An impression of the structural levels and their linkages is shown in the table below.

Major contextual links in the CRS System

The table below does not seek to include every attribute within the CRS System.  Also some attributes are only presented in reports, not as separate data entry attributes. Please refer to the table of contents for a comprehensive list of the individual attributes.


Descriptive elements



Alternative title
Date range

Agencies controlled



Descriptive elements



Title / Alternative title
Date range
Status codes

Minister responsible
Organisation controlling
Previous agencies
Subsequent agency
Agencies controlled
Superior agencies
Persons associated with agencies



Descriptive elements



Given names
Alternative name
Date of birth & death date

Agencies associated with persons


Descriptive elements



Accumulation date range
Contents date range
System of arrangement
Predominant form/ item dimensions
Range of control symbols
Significance code

Controlling series
Previous series
Related series
Series controlled
Subsequent series
Agency/ person recording
Agency/ person controlling


Descriptive elements


Series number
Control symbol
Contents date range
Accumulation start date
Alternative series number
Alternative control Notes

Copy item
Disposal information
Keyword headings
Located in
Aggregate item/ constituent item



The identification and registration of series, where possible, is done before or at the time of transfer. This allows for the processing of new transfers as serialised accessions. In some urgent, difficult or unimportant cases, however, control numbers may be allocated to accumulations of records that comprise several series according to the CRS System definition, to facilitate accessioning and to meet physical control imperatives. These are known as unserialised accessions and can be identified accordingly.

Records are considered to have been accessioned when they are formally received into the Archives' custody as part of an approved transfer and located in the repository. Where records remain in the custody of agencies, and have long term reference use, they are controlled under the CRS System, but not accessioned.

Revision, updating and cancellation of registrations

The information included in registrations may need to be revised periodically to reflect changes and developments in the history and relationships of organisations, agencies, persons, series and items. This is a normal and expected outcome of the dynamic control philosophy of the CRS System, in which organisations, agencies, persons and series may be registered while active. The level of revision required for individual registrations should be minimal once the relevant organisation, agency or person has ceased to exist, or the series has been discontinued. Item details are also affected by such changes, particularly if items are moved between series by agencies after registration and transfer.

There are some cases in which the cancellation of registrations is warranted; however, there are strict controls to ensure that cancellation of one registration does not have a flow-on effect on other registrations. For example, a series registration cannot be cancelled if the series contains items that are not eligible for cancellation.

As with new registrations, all revisions and cancellations have a flow-on effect on the finding aids prepared by the Archives. The timeliness with which staff identify the need for revisions to registrations and complete the work required has a considerable bearing on the currency, accuracy and coverage of the finding aids. Finding aids that are available through the online databases will usually be updated immediately. Revisions are updated almost immediately, so it is essential that information is as accurate as possible and errors are rectified as soon as they are noticed.

Finding aids

All the information gathered about Commonwealth records and their provenance is held in, and can be retrieved from, RecordSearch for management and research purposes. RecordSearch is an online database which is used by staff and the public to search for relevant information. Searches can be initiated by one or more of the options given below, though these are not a comprehensive list:

A innovative feature of RecordSearch as a finding aid is that there is no requirement to work from the traditional top down provenance approach. Searches can combine series and items, series and provenance or, as mentioned above, all objects in RecordSearch can be searched at the same time. RecordSearch also allows for navigation between items, series and their provenance without being fully conversant with the full context of the CRS System. The thesaurus supports all keyword searches on all objects in RecordSearch and is not restricted to functions described at agency level.

There are several options for displaying and printing information retrieved through RecordSearch, usually referred to as reports. These include:

Having retrieved a result display and print options can be customised to exclude certain attributes. This is useful if very specific information is required for a large result set, but contains more than the attributes in the summary lists.