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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


n. (DACS, abbr.) ~ A standard for creating access tools for all forms of archival materials, including their archival creators and the forms of creator names.


While DACS can be used with any type of descriptive output, its examples illustrate its application to MARC 21 and Encoded Archival Description (EAD). DACS is intended to supersede Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts. The standard is based on generally accepted archival principles, listed here but with extensive commentary in the standard.

  1. Records in archives possess unique characteristics.
  2. Respect des fonds is the basis of archival arrangement and description.
  3. Arrangement involves the identification of groupings within the material.
  4. Description reflects arrangement.
  5. Description applies to all archival materials regardless of form or medium.
  6. The principles of archival description apply equally to records created by corporate bodies and by individuals or families.
  7. Archival descriptions may be presented in a variety of outputs and with varying levels of detail.
  8. The creators of archival materials, as well as the materials themselves, must be described.

DACS is the United States implementation of rules proposed by the Canadian-United States Task Force on Archival Description.

(DACS, p. 113) Introduction for Form of Names. ¶ Part III of this standard provides information about creating standardized forms for the names of persons, families, or corporate bodies associated with archival materials as the creators, custodians, or subjects of the records.
(DACS, p. 3) Introduction to Describing Archival Materials. ¶ Part I of this standard contains rules to ensure the creation of consistent, appropriate, and self-explanatory descriptions of archival material. The rules may be used for describing archival and manuscript material at all levels of description, regardless of form or medium, and may also be applied to the description of intentionally assembled collections, and to discrete items.
(DACS, p. 83) Introduction to Describing Creators. ¶ It is insufficient for the archivist simply to include the name of the creator in the title of the description of the materials. Additional information is required regarding the persons, families, and corporate bodies responsible for the creation, assembly, accumulation, custody, and/or maintenance and use of the archival material being described. Part II describes the information that is required to establish this context.