Feds lay down metadata law

Feds lay down metadata law

The National Archives Authority follows the States into defining a standard for government records.

By Paul Montgomery

Records managers in Federal Government agencies are being asked, like their State counterparts, to abide by a set of guidelines on how to structure legal records, but the method of the National Archives Authority (NAA) diverges from the standards set by some of the States.

As Image & Data Manager has reported (May/June 1999, page 20), the Public Records Office of Victoria recently released its blueprint for the form and handling of government records in its Victorian Electronic Records Strategy report, which specifies technologies that records must use such as the Portable Document Format and the Extensible Markup Language.

The approach of the NAA is built on a different set of principles. It met with vendors of records management applications last year and signed the so-called Parkes agreement, which promised to produce a standard for metadata "that reflects vendor views" (see September/October 1998, page 2). Metadata is descriptive information about records that is associated with them when they are stored electronically.

Steve Stuckey, assistant director-general for government services at the NAA, emphasised in a letter to Image & Data Manager that the metadata standard would be "implementation-independent".

"It's no good us putting forward metadata requirements that the industry can't meet. This is one of the major reasons why we've been dealing with them from the outset," he said at the time.

The resulting report, entitled "Recordkeeping Metadata Standard for Commonwealth Agencies - Version 1.0", details 20 metadata elements - eight of which constitute a core set of mandatory metadata - and 65 sub-elements which make up what the NAA will see as encapsulating a standardised record.

Six key features of Federal government records were emphasised in the guidelines:

¥ flexibility of application;

¥ repeatability of data elements;

¥ extensibility to the management of agency-specific recordkeeping requirements;

¥ interoperability across systems environments;

¥ compatibility with related metadata standards, including the Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS) standard;

¥ and interdependency of metadata at the sub-element level.

The AGLS standard is itself a subset of an international initiative for standardised metadata called the Dublin Core, adding a global element to the NAA specifications.

"While the standard is designed primarily for electronic recordkeeping systems, many of its concepts are also applicable to traditional paper-based or hybrid recordkeeping environments. It should be regarded as a basic foundation which agencies can build upon in order to satisfy any additional specialised recordkeeping requirements they may have," the report said.

The NAA nominated the AS4390 records management standard and the requirement to implement recordkeeping systems approved as part of the Government's Shared Systems Suite as drivers behind the standard.

"Government online access initiatives and the emergence of electronic commerce provide added impetus for agencies to implement reliable recordkeeping systems. Agencies need to create and keep not only information about what transactions they have carried out via electronic means but also evidence, in the form of records, that captures the content and the context of these activities," the NAA report said.

The NAA said the metadata standard can be considered to be a supplement to the DIRKS (Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems) Manual, which is a joint product of the NAA and the State Records Authority of NSW.

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