CRS Manual - Agency depth of description

Depth of description

These amount of research into a particular agency and the amount of detail included in an agency registration is a separate issue from the decision to register it in the control system. However, a minimum level of description based on certain mandatory elements is required for each agency registered.

Above this minimum level, several factors determine the depth of description. These include:

Reason for registration

Where an agency is being registered to show relationships with records, the nature of the relationships can provide a rough guide to the extent of work required. If the agency is being registered to show an agency recording relationship with a series, a relatively greater depth of description is desirable than if the agency is being registered simply to show a current controlling relationship. If the agency is being registered to facilitate control over, for example, a self-service arrangement, the depth of description should be minimal. In many cases, but certainly not all, the one agency will have a variety of relationships with records that need to be documented. Therefore, the depth of description should be apt for the highest value relationship(s).

Significance of the agency

The position of an agency in the administrative structure is an important factor when documenting agencies that have a recording relationship with records.

In broad hierarchical terms the relative depth of description, from greatest to least, should be:

However, staff should also take into account factors such as the volume and value of the records of the agency when considering the depth of description required. A quality description is not necessarily a lengthy description. Accuracy is more important than quantity.

Availability of information

In some cases there will be a paucity of information about an agency, and the research cost will have to be measured against the reason for registration and the significance of the agency. On the other hand, the ready availability of information about an agency should not necessarily be translated into a more detailed agency registration. For example, for minor agencies where sufficient information can be gleaned from the other data elements present there may be no need for additional notes to be prepared.

Also, if relevant information is readily available in secondary sources or in existing registrations for agencies in the same hierarchy, it is possible and desirable to include a cross-reference to those sources in the Agency Descriptive Note rather than to duplicate the information.

Bearing in mind these general factors in determining the depth of agency description, an agency registration is essentially a brief description and should include:


An agency registration functions as part of a publicly available finding aid - primarily as a key to records held or soon to be held by the Archives. It must not contain subjective assessments of the historical significance of the agency, or partisan comments on its policies, activities and personnel.

The Agency Descriptive Note should consist of statements of fact, with particular emphasis on the agency's role as an administrative entity producing records in association with other agencies and organisations. It should seek to place the agency within its administrative context and not attempt to interpret its social or political background.

Care needs to be exercised when quoting from sources so as to make the registration as objective as possible.

Attributes in agency registrations

Each Agency Registration consists of several attributes. Staff must choose the attributes and amount of information which are appropriate for the agency being described. Information does not need to be included in every attribute. However, some are mandatory to establish a registration.

The attributes have been categorised according to the role they play in the registration and description process. Four broad categories of relative importance have been established.

Category 1 Must be present for all registrations
Category 2 Must be present, where applicable, to provide essential context or facilitate management
Category 3 Should be completed, where applicable, to provide additional context
Category 4 Should be completed for significant registrations; may be completed in other cases

Attributes of agency registrations are listed below.

Identification and descriptive elements Relative importance
Agency number1
Agency status code1
Agency title1
Institution title1
Alternative title3
Agency date range1
Agency location code1
Agency function2
Agency descriptive note4
Previous title note3
Registration standard2
Relationship of agencies to organisations / departments
Organisation controlling1
Minister responsible2
Relationship to other agencies
Previous agency4
Subsequent agency4
Superior agency2
Agency controlled2
Agency unregistered links note4
Control and management elements
Archivist note2
Visibility and availability indicators2
Date modified1
Registration date1
Modified by1

Provisional registrations

In doing agency registration work, it is possible to add a provisional agency registration to the identification system. This gives you an opportunity to register and describe an agency despite some uncertainty regarding specific aspects of the description.

Provisional registration status should be assigned to agency registrations only when there are doubts about the accuracy of the information in the registration. The Agency Descriptive Note for provisional registrations should explain the problems associated with the data. Provisional agency registrations should be made in very few situations.

The status of provisional registrations should be reviewed (and updated where possible) six to twelve months after their initial registration, resources permitting.

Expression of dates

The registration and description procedures require dates to be entered in certain fields. Some of these fields are formatted in a predetermined way to facilitate searching, sorting, validation, and consistency in reports. The standard date format is:

DD Mon YYYY, eg 01 Jan 1954

If exact start and end dates are not easily identified, observe the following conventions:

Dates occurring in text fields are not subject to validation. For consistency, follow the standard for formatted date fields. In the Unregistered Links Note follow the format:

1954-1962: South Australia, Department of Harbours

In the Agency Note and similar 'prose' areas, give the names of months in full, and cite dates as shown in the National Archives of Australia Style Guide.

Permitted date qualifiers are c (circa) and by. Use a date qualifier only if the year is in doubt. (Unless notes are kept to indicate the part or parts of the date to which a qualifier applies, the use of the qualifier can be misleading, especially when just year ranges and qualifiers are presented in reports.)

Responsibilities for registration

Staff involved in the identification, control and description of records are responsible for identifying the need for and initiating registrations. They are also responsible for updating and revising registrations.

There is no formal system of delegation. However, the officer in charge of registration and description in each office should nominate those who will undertake registration activities such as research, quality control, data input and retrieval.

Update privileges to the database are more restricted. As a rule, only those staff who have a good understanding of control and description procedures and have been trained in database input procedures should be recommended for update rights.

Signals for agencies needing registration

Awareness of agencies needing registration comes from several main sources:

Preparing for registration

Preparing an agency registration involves two major steps:

1. Check to see that the agency is not already registered

It is essential to make a thorough check of the registration database (RecordSearch) to see whether an agency has already been registered. Related agency registrations, for example the central office or other regional offices of an agency, must also be consulted to ensure that the new agency registration is consistent with related agency registrations. Changes may need to be made to existing agency registrations. If you want to adopt a title that varies from the way that the titles of related agencies have been expressed, consult the officer responsible for registration and description.

These checks are important because the Archives does not maintain formal authority files for agency titles. Seek advice from the officer if there are doubts about the appropriate forms of titles.

2. Assemble information by completing an input form

Information can be assembled by working through an agency input form. While information does not need to be included for every data element, you must provide information for the mandatory fields (refer to RecordSearch help text for information about which fields are currently mandatory). The description should be tailored according to the significance of the agency and the reason it was registered, and the potential use (sometimes 20 or 30 years later) of the registration as a finding aid.

Quality control and monitoring arrangements

If you are preparing or revising registrations you are primarily responsible for ensuring that each registration is accurate, well presented and has an appropriate level of information in accordance with the Archives' procedures. A simple step is to have someone else proofread or check the registration. Quality control and monitoring of registration and description are also undertaken by local supervisors and staff responsible for quality control nationally. Never add registrations in draft form to the publicly available database.

Other sources of information