CRS Manual - Definition of a series


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

A series may be recorded by successive agencies or persons, or by several agencies or persons simultaneously.

The records in a series generally comprise one or more items.

One of the goals of the CRS System is to show series in their administrative and recordkeeping context. While every series must have at least one agency or person recording, it is quite common for a long-running series to have been recorded by several agencies, each of which should be shown on the series registration along with the appropriate dates of that recording relationship. Each series registration must also include references to the current agencies or persons controlling the series.

Recordkeeping context is shown in the series registration through references to previous, subsequent, controlled, controlling and related series. Sometimes the linkages are very complex and require extensive research to identify and describe. In other cases, the linkages are simple.

Whether the linkages are simple or complex, the correct identification and description of contextual links greatly facilitates the retrieval of records by staff and clients.

Identifying a series

The identification of a series is basically a process of matching records to the criteria in the series definition. Series identification therefore, involves an examination of the records and, in the case of electronic records, analysis of system documentation and consultation with records managers and information technology professionals.

Common problems associated with identifying series are discussed below.

Separate sequences within one series

Some series have what could be called 'sub-sequences' or sub-series, as in a subject based multiple number series. These sub-series should be treated as part of one system of arrangement and control, and therefore only one series should be registered. There is no provision for the separate registration of sub-series. Refer to sub-series in the Series Descriptive Note under the sub-heading System of Arrangement and Control.

Single item series

Where a single item, for example, a register or logbook, does not belong to an identifiable sequence and has not been accumulated or filed with other items, it should be treated as a separate series. Take care to establish that the item does not have an obscured relationship to other items. Checking for control symbols, physical format, function, information content - and above all, provenance - should clarify whether the item is a separate series or part of an unregistered or already registered series.

Records without a control system

Most records have some form of numerical, alphabetical or alpha-numeric control system. If no such control system exists, but the records have a similar format, function or information content - and they have been assembled or filed together as part of the same administrative process by the same agency or person (or succession of agencies or persons) - then a genuine series exists and should be registered. If you encounter such a series, you should impose a single number sequence - based on an underlying chronological or other sequence - to make intellectual and physical control easier. If you impose a control system, you must indicate this fact in the series registration in the System of Arrangement/Control and Series Descriptive Note fields.

Determining a series after top-numbering

When an agency brings together items from several series because of their relevance to a particular subject or activity, and subsequently wants to keep the records together for reference and archiving, Archives staff need to decide whether the records should be controlled as a new series, or treated as part of their original series. The principle to be followed is that items should be kept with or returned to their original series unless there are strong reasons for not doing so. Staff should avoid situations that will result in the unnecessary fragmentation of soundly controlled original series. Treating items as part of the original series will best reflect the circumstances of creation and official use of the records, as opposed to promoting convenient reference, sometimes years later, by the agency or its successors. Where there is evidence of renumbering or where a new control system has been partially or wholly imposed, the records may be treated as a new series. It is important to investigate whether the control records of the previous series have been annotated appropriately.

Where there is no evidence of a new control system, it is best to treat the items as part of their original series. The agency may opt to develop a supplementary control record to list the items, their relationships, and archival control numbers (if available) for future reference.

Archives Act requirements relating to the alteration of records over 25 years of age apply. Also, the Archives requests that agencies not top-number records over 10 years of age.

Centralised control of records management systems

When one system for the registration and indexing of records, for example, correspondence or case files, is managed from a central point for several distinct offices or posts of a department or authority, it can sometimes be difficult to determine whether one or more series are involved. You also need to decide whether each distinct office should be treated as an agency recording for the records that it created and managed locally, or the records shown as recorded by one agency only. There are further complications if a simple numeric control system has been used rather than block allocations or a multiple number system that includes an office of origin code.

To determine this, investigate how the system was used and viewed by the principal recording agency or agencies. If agencies view the system as being recorded and or used in common, regardless of office or geographic location, that is, files move fairly freely between offices, then register one series recorded by the principal agency. If they view the system as one in which each office independently created and managed its own accumulations of records, apart from the somewhat remote and incidental sharing of a number allocation system, it would be more appropriate to register separate series, each recorded by the relevant agency.

There are advantages and disadvantages in regarding the records as:

There is currently no provision for showing a series as recorded by a whole organisation. However, the agency registration of the principal office of a corporation of agencies can stand for the corporation as a whole, provided clarification is given in the Series Descriptive Note.

One series recorded by one agency

This is the most commonly adopted approach in which one system of arrangement and control is recognised. If records are centralised for archiving in one location, a method of indicating the local office(s) of origin (if relevant) should be found on the transfer record. The disadvantage is that the series will not be included in the Archives' finding aids for each agency separately, unless it has been transferred to the Archives. However, if the description of the series contains a clear reference to the scope and coverage of the series, this difficulty will be minimised.

One series recorded by many agencies at the same time

This method shows the series as collectively recorded by each separate agency or office, although for archiving purposes the particular recording agency for each transfer record should be indicated. This approach may require considerable effort in documenting agencies.

Many series, each recorded by a different agency

This method is the clearest for showing the provenance of the records and for decentralised archiving and retrieval. However, it ignores the significance (if any) of the centralised system of arrangement and control. It is also the method that requires the most documentation and has the highest risk of inconsistency. Complications may result if records are moved between agencies for administrative convenience. Each series is likely to be controlled by the same index or indexes.


Registration policy

This policy covers records both in the Archives custody and in agency custody. For records held by Commonwealth persons (CPs), refer to the Personal Records Service Manual. Series registration is the central process in the management of transfers, and lays the basis for the ongoing control of those records in the Archives' custody.

Priority must be given to the registration of series containing high value records with a retention period of greater than 30 years from date of creation.

Which records need to be registered?

Records in the archives custody

The following broad policy applies to the registration of records already in custody:

- if the conversion is absolutely necessary to improve the control and/or accessibility of the record items concerned; or

- if arrangement and description work is already under way and there would be negligible additional work in converting.

For an explanation of the Accession System and also unserialised accessions, refer to the National Archives of Australia Technical Training Scheme Unit 3 subject Archival Control Systems.

Records in agency custody

You will find that some records in agency custody are registered already because they belong to series that have previously been transferred to, and registered by, the Archives. In such cases the existing CRS System series registration is to be respected for subsequent control of permanent and long-term temporary consignments, and may be respected for the control of sentenced short-term temporary records (see below). If the records have not already been registered, you will need to identify and register a series for the following types of records:

Registration of short-term temporary records

Do not register series wholly comprised of temporary records that are likely to remain in agency custody until they are destroyed.

From July 1995, the adoption of new custodial and storage arrangements has meant that series comprising wholly short-term temporary records are now unlikely to be approved for transfer to the Archives.

You do not need to identify or register series for the control of properly sentenced records that have a retention period of less than 30 years from date of creation. However, should short-term value records be approved for transfer, and are easily recognised as part of an existing CRS System series, accession them as consignments of that series.

Minimal effort should be put into identifying, registering and controlling the records as separate series where short-term value records:

While it is necessary to register records on RecordSearch to obtain valid control numbers, such records may be registered and controlled as if they were unserialised, that is, unserialised accessions. Records from more than one genuine series may be included under the one registration provided the records have the same provenance and are functionally related. Registration standard codes can be used to clearly identify the series as unserialised.

Registrations for short-term temporary records can be continuing, to manage transfers over time. However such a situation is likely to be exceptional and the reasons should be clearly explained in an Archivist Note.

Self-service and similar physical control arrangements

Where the Archives enters into a special custodial arrangement, for example, as for agency self-service or records stored temporarily on behalf of other institutions, and is not required to describe the records involved for intellectual control purposes, allocate a series number to facilitate management through the physical control system. Do not attempt to serialise the records according to the series definition. Keep the depth of description of the material controlled in this way to the minimum, consistent with management needs.

Information about records needing series registration

A major source of information about records needing registration by the Archives is the agencies or persons that are transferring records in accordance with the Archives Act. The process of physically transferring the custody of records is not in itself a criteria for registration. There is a need to capture information about significant records that will not be transferred to the Archives, but will remain in agency custody, both in paper and electronic format.

Agencies should submit the appropriate appraisal documentation if they propose to transfer high value items from an unregistered series, or whenever they become aware of unregistered, permanent value records in their custody - particularly those over 25years of age. All information supplied from external sources should be verified.

You may need to conduct a survey (for which there is provision under s. 28 of the Archives Act) to verify or gather information about records in priority registration categories that are in agency custody. Regular reporting by agencies on whether they hold records in priority registration categories is desirable.

Appraisal documentation can provide useful information about the existence, function and content of records in agency custody.

Where the Archives has appraised electronic records for permanent retention in agency custody, upon issue of the relevant disposal authority, a copy of the authority should be referred to the officer responsible for registration and description as a signal to register the records or amend any existing registrations to the effect that the records will remain in agency custody.

Where staff of other Archives' programs become aware of unregistered records in high priority registration categories, the matter should be referred to the officer in charge of registration and description in the relevant Archives office.


A series registration will eventually function as part of a publicly available finding aid. For this reason it should consist of statements of fact with particular focus on the function of the record series being registered and its immediate administrative context.

The registration should attempt to be as objective as possible, providing facts, not interpretation. It must not contain subjective assessments of the historical significance of the series, or partisan comments about the policies, activities and personnel documented within the records.

When should series registration occur?

Do not register series before the Archives or the public has any significant interest in them except in major and more obvious cases.

High priority categories of records should be registered as soon as practicable after the Archives becomes aware of their existence. There is a continuing need to monitor registration requirements especially when resources are not immediately available to undertake all required registration work.

Series containing temporary value items only should not be registered until transfer to the Archives' custody is imminent and if they are security classified records.

Where a series is being registered to cover the transfer of a temporary consignment, but the value of the remainder of the series has not been determined, the initial depth of description of the series should be minimal, and should not be done until transfer to the Archives' custody is imminent. If later material of enduring value is identified in the series, the series registration must be upgraded.

Extent of new registration required for related series

The CRS System provides for documenting relationships that exist between series. Each new series registered brings with it the potential for documenting additional series, which can have a 'snowballing' effect. Therefore, when registering any series which has complex relationships use your judgment in deciding how extensively to explore and document these relationships.

Where previous, subsequent, controlling, controlled and other relationships exist between the series being registered and series that have already been registered, it is important to mention these series relationships in the relevant fields.

However, if such related series have not been registered, it is not necessary to seek them out and register them unless they are also in a high priority registration category. If a choice has to be made, precedence should be given to investigation and registration of control records, for example, registers or indexes to files, over documenting previous and subsequent relationships. The latter will often be relatively easy to identify if and when they are registered, whereas the connections between a series and its control records may be less obvious for persons using the Archives' finding aids. However, it is advisable to document all important relationships as soon as practicable.

Documentation of unregistered links

Unregistered links, that is, relationships between series and agencies where one of the series or agencies is not registered (documented) in the control system (CRS or Accession System) can be documented in an Unregistered Links Note

Unregistered links should be kept to an absolute minimum and avoided for new registrations. If important, document details in the Descriptive Note, for example, a State Government series that is previous to a Commonwealth Government series, but which remains with the State Government.

In general, all agencies or persons that have recorded, and all agencies that currently control, a series should be registered in order to provide access points to the series. Do not use unregistered links entries to save time or to avoid the registration process for series or agencies that should be registered according to the Archives' policies. Nor should the unregistered linkage entries be used for information that is dubious, uncertain, or unconfirmed: a more appropriate area for this sort of information is the Agency, Series or Person Descriptive Note, where an explanation may be given.

Control of copies

There should be a indication in the description of a series between copies made by the Archives in the course of exercising its disposal, access and preservation functions and all records, whether originals or copies, generated by agencies when they were responsible for the records. Copies made by the Archives are controlled at item level.

Copies made by the Archives

Copies of series made by or on behalf of the Archives, by convention, are controlled under the series number allocated to the originals. The copies should be controlled for disposal purposes by the relevant office of the Archives. The agency controlling the original records would still determine access to the copies.

The use of the series registration for the original records allows easy reference to the description of the content and function of the original records.

Copies made by agencies

In most cases, copies made by agencies as part of the administration of their functions are registered as separate record series and linked through relationship entries in the documentation. Although copies for which an original exists will not usually be transferred to the Archives, some copies may assume the value of the original should the original be missing or accidentally destroyed. If both versions are transferred over time, having separate series registrations provides for separate documentation of the agency-generated original and copy.

Amendment of registration details following transfer of ownership

There are several situations that can arise following changes in the ownership of records. Each requires action to update the affected registrations.

Transfer of ownership - records remaining in custody

Where the Archives continues to have custody of a series whose ownership has partially or wholly passed to another government or non-Commonwealth corporation, appropriate amendments to the Agency/Person Controlling and Agency/Person Recording entries should be made as soon as possible after the transfer of ownership. This may involve recognising joint control of the series in some cases. A brief explanation of the circumstances should be given in the Series Descriptive Note.

Transfer of ownership - registered series never in custody

Following transfer of ownership, series that have been registered but never transferred to the Archives may be considered for withdrawal from publicly available finding aids.

Transfer of ownership - records withdrawn from Archives

Amendments to a series registration are required following the transfer out of custody of some or all of the series to another government or corporation. The guidelines below assume that documentation has been updated to show changes of ownership or control, where necessary, by amending agency controlling references.

Series wholly transferred from custody

(Series registrations in this category may ultimately be withdrawn from publicly available finding aids.)

For series wholly transferred from the Archives' custody, the amendments should be as follows:

Series title

Add the following message to the end of the title to indicate what has occurred:

[transferred to {name of government or corporation} custody, {year}]
Series partially transferred from custody

For series partially transferred from the Archives' custody, the amendments should be as follows:

Series title

Add the following message to the end of the series title to indicate what has occurred:

[portion transferred to {name of government or corporation} custody]

Quantity in agency custody

Subsequent amendments, if any, should be limited to the Commonwealth-owned portion.

Significant information regarding quantity can be documented in the series descriptive note.