National Library Standards Activities

The library and information community has adopted a range of standards which facilitate the interchange of library data, promote the inter-operability of library systems, and support the operation of national and international networks of libraries. Adherence to standards plays an important role in improving access by users to the information resources which are held in library collections, in collections of other cultural institutions, or which are accessible on the Internet.

The National Library sees it as important to maintain a watching brief over national and international standards activities to ensure that the appropriate standards framework is in place or under development to support its business objectives. The Library is an active participant in the definition and promotion of selected standards for the library and information community. 

Standards framework

The National Library is represented on the Standards Australia / Standards New Zealand Technical Committee IT-19 (Computer Applications in Information and Documentation). This Committee addresses standardisation practices relating to libraries, information services and related tasks. Its workplan is driven primarily by the activities of the International Organisation for Standardization's Technical Committee 46, Subcommittee 4 (ISO TC 46/ SC 4) - the equivalent international standards body. Committee IT-19 also maintains a watching brief over other areas of the work of TC 46 that relate to computer applications in information and documentation.

The Library publishes information about its standards activities through this web page and also maintains a Research Guide on how to identify and locate standards from Australia and overseas.

Collection descriptions

The use of common collection description standards is of major importance in supporting consistent access to library materials by users and in promoting the interchange of descriptive data.

Descriptive cataloguing

The library community in Australia bases its description of library materials on RDA : Resource Description and Access. The National Library has been active in the development, interpretation and implementation of RDA, the replacement for the Anglo American Cataloguing Rules.

In particular, the Library

  • has participated in the membership of the Joint Steering Committee over a significant portion of the last four decades
  • is an active member of the RDA Committee of Principals
  • is actively involved in the Australian Committee on Cataloguing, which establishes the Australian viewpoint on cataloguing rules and issues
  • provides administrative and secretariat services to the Australian Committee on Cataloguing
  • has worked actively to support Australian implementation of descriptive cataloguing standards through its support for the National Bibliographic Database
  • comments on documents developed by IFLA working groups, such as the Functional requirements for bibliographic records (FRBR).

The National Library, as the major Australian cataloguing agency, regards these as priority activities. The Library will continue to be active, nationally and internationally, in this area through appropriate committees.

Subject cataloguing and indexing

The most commonly used subject cataloguing standard in Australia is the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). While LCSH was developed in the United States, it has significant international use. The library community in Australia will generally not diverge from LCSH except for specifically Australian requirements. 

Dewey Decimal Classification

The Dewey Decimal Classification system is the classification standard most widely used by Australian libraries, although a number of libraries use the Library of Congress classification scheme. The Library recognises that it is important that the Dewey scheme should cater properly for Australian places, cultural themes, etc. The Library participates in the development of the Dewey Decimal Classification through the Australian Committee on Cataloguing.

MARC (Machine Readable Cataloguing) standards

The MARC format, created in the United States in the 1960s, is a well established standard for the exchange of cataloguing data. MARC has been critical in supporting the efficient international distribution of cataloguing data, thus underpinning bibliographic utility services such as OCLC and Libraries Australia.

The Library regularly provides comments to the Library of Congress on developments in the MARC 21 standard that are being considered by the MARC Advisory Committee. In general, there are no requirements for a peculiarly ‘Australian’ input to the MARC format, but the Library has contributed to the development of code lists within the MARC standard, which may include codes for Australian places and languages.

The Library is monitoring the development of new ways to represent and exchange bibliographic data, particularly linked data models such as BIBFRAME and

Special collection descriptions

The discovery of special collection resources, such as manuscript items, often relies on combining collection-level catalogue descriptions with finding-aids or captions for item-level descriptions. The Library has implemented the Encoded Archival Description, which is a standard for encoding archival finding aids, and is progressively converting its existing manuscript finding aids to the EAD standard.

In its descriptive practice for finding-aids the Library adheres to the two standards issued by the International Council on Archives’ Committee on Descriptive Standards:

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, and

ISAAR (CPF): International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families.

The Library will maintain its relationships with the International Council of Archives, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the RLG Primary Sources Program in the archival standards area.

Data used in library systems

While the Library places an understandable emphasis on cataloguing and other standards for the description of library materials, there are a number of underlying standards which are also of major importance in ensuring the interchange of library data.

Item Identifiers

A key type of data element is a unique number which identifies a book, serial, journal article, electronic resource, or other type of information resource. Most of the standards applicable to this area have been developed within Subcommittee 9 of ISO Technical Committee 46. Examples include ISBN, ISSN, ISMN, Serial Item Contribution Identifier (SICI), Book Item and Component Identifier (BICI), and Digital Object Identifier (DOI).

The Library has historically had a strong interest in item identifiers, and it has endeavoured to ensure that processes are in place for the routine assignment of several of the above identifier types to Australian information resources. The Library is the national centre for ISSN and ISMN.

System interconnection

Library networks are based on the interconnection of distributed library systems, and the use of client/server technology. Key technical standards such as the international Interlibrary Loan Protocol, and the Open Archives Initiative Metadata Harvesting Protocol allow functions such as searching and interlibrary loan to be managed cooperatively between two computer systems.

Interlibrary Loan Protocol and related standards

The Library has contributed to the development of the latest Interlibrary Loan Protocol (ISO 10161-2:2014) and is participating in the associated working group, particularly in its first year of implementation.

Open Archives Initiative (OAI) Metadata Harvesting Protocol

The National Library uses the Metadata Harvesting Protocol to support resource discovery of digital Australiana. Metadata is gathered from a wide range of information managers according to the OAI protocol.

 Preservation standards

Preservation of physical collections

Despite the growth in digital collections, the Library will continue to be responsible for its very large, important and growing non-digital collections. Preserving these collections draws on a range of best practice approaches. The Library takes an active role in monitoring and contributing to developments, especially in the areas of conservation treatment, storage environments and strategies for dealing with intrinsically unstable information carriers such as cellulose acetate photographic materials and acidic newspapers.

The Library digitises physical collection items in order to enhance access and to support preservation programs. Standards play an important part in ensuring widespread accessibility, and in defining formats and methods capable of surviving a number of technology changes. The Library has developed best practices for capture, delivery and metadata creation.

The Library has developed its own Digitisation Policy, which sets out many of its own intentions, and is engaged in a major digitisation program.

Preservation of digital collections

The Library is involved in developing digital archiving and preservation procedures to support both born digital and digitised assets, including both online and physical format digital resources. The Library is developing systems for recording preservation information required to manage both its digital and non-digital collections.

Preservation of audio resources

The Library takes an active role in developing informal standard procedures for sound archiving through the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), and applies best practice approaches in managing its analogue and digital audio collections.