Metadata Strategies and Archival Description: Comparing Apples to Oranges

  • Heather MacNeil


Advocates of a "metadata systems approach" to the description of electronic records argue that metadata's capacity to provide descriptive information about the context of electronic records creation will obviate, or reduce significantly, the need for traditional archival description. This article examines the assumptions about the nature of archival description and of metadata on which metadata strategies are grounded for the purposes of ascertaining the following: whether the skepticism concerning the capacity of traditional description to meet the challenges posed by the so-called "second generation" of electronic records is justified, whether the use of metadata as archival description is consistent with their nature and purpose, and whether metadata are capable of serving archival descriptive purposes.


Les tenants de l'approche «méta informationnelle» de la description des dossiers informatiques soutiennent que la capacité de la méta information de fournir de l'information de nature descriptive sur la nature du contexte de la création des dossiers informatiques va parer à, ou réduire de manière significative, la nécessité de la description archivistique traditionnelle. Cet article examine les suppositions à propos de la nature de la description archivistique et de la méta information sur lesquelles les stratégies méta informationnelles sont fondées dans le but de vérifier les questions suivantes: si le scepticisme entourant la capacité de la description traditionnelle de relever les défis de la prétendue «deuxième génération» des dossiers informatiques est justifié; si l'utilisation de la méta information comme description archivistique est compatible avec sa nature et son but, et enfin, si la méta information est capable de servir les buts de la description archivistique.

Author Biography

Heather MacNeil

Heather MacNeil received her MA in English from Simon Fraser University in 1984 and her MAS from the University of British Columbia in 1987. She has worked as a Records Archivist at the University of Toronto Archives (1986-88) and as Project Coordinator for the Bureau of Canadian Archivists's Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards (1988-91). She is currently working for the National Archives of Canada's Vancouver Pilot Project. She has served on a number of national and regional archival committees, among them, the Subject Indexing and Textual Records Working Groups for the Bureau of Canadian Archivists, the Ethics and 1992 Programme Committees for the Association of Canadian Archivists, and the Freedom of Information and Privacy and Archival Legislation Committees for the Archives Association of British Columbia. Her study of privacy issues affecting archivists, Without Consent: The Ethics of Disclosing Personal Information in Public Archives, was published by Scarecrow Press in 1992.

How to Cite
MacNeil, Heather. 1995. “Metadata Strategies and Archival Description: Comparing Apples to Oranges”. Archivaria 39 (May), 22-32.

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