Create a description for your archive or collection at the highest level (scenario 4)

This article explains how to describe an archive as a whole. For more information about archive access and the various tools you can use for this, please see the article: Create an access pass and describe your archive.


In some cases, you need to describe your whole archive or collection, for example for inclusion in a heritage database. This scenario differs from the methods above because you're only actually making one description. A description of the whole archive or collection also gives only the most common shared characteristics, so it can't be used to describe the content of an archive or collection in detail or explain how to access it. In practice, descriptions at archive or collection level are usually complemented by more detailed access instructions.


ISAD(G) is a standard that is used in the archive sector to describe archives at the highest level. There are six required basic fields within ISAD(G):

  • Reference;
  • Title;
  • Archive creator;
  • Date;
  • Size;
  • Description level.

In addition to these six required fields, there are twenty optional descriptive elements. For an overview, see the Dutch manual for ISAD(G) and the template for a full ISAD(G) information sheet.

See the examples of completed ISAD(G) information sheets below to get a better idea of exactly what's expected:

COMETA stands for 'collection metadata' or information about collections. It's a model for creating structured descriptions of heritage at collection level that came about following the comparison of existing standards, such as ISAD(G) (see above), RSLP and current practices, but it isn't a standard or recognised norm in itself.

Archiefbank Vlaanderen, the online database of private archives, uses the ISAD(G) standard and the Cometa model. See the Registration in Archiefbank Vlaanderen article for more information.


  • Be concise in your descriptions, but always try to include the most important details. The more detailed the descriptions, the easier it is to find the right items.
  • You don't need to invest in an expensive archival description system, which are mainly intended for professional archive institutions. Software programs such as Word or Excel (or their equivalents) are more than sufficient for describing your archive or collections.
  • Take inspiration from fellow institutions for the description (and possible organisation) of your archive. Archive institutions and service organisations can help you here and provide you with the necessary documentation.
  • If you need help to describe an archive or collection, please contact a partner organisation.

Author: Florian Daemen (AMVB), Het Firmament, Wim Lowet (VAi)

TRACKS is a collaboration between these partners: