1. Policy aim and scope  

This policy provides a statement of the National Library of Australia’s current approach to describing its collections of Australian and overseas resources, both published and unpublished.  It covers all collection description activities undertaken in relation to the Library’s collections by Library staff as well as externally supplied descriptions from volunteers and other third parties such as publishers.  It also covers automated contributions to resource description and data enrichment, such as the aggregation of data from multiple sources in Trove.

This policy supersedes the Library’s previous Cataloguing Policy and Cataloguing Authority Control Policy.

2. Definitions

Authority control

Authority control is the establishment, recording and maintenance of distinct, consistent or standardised forms for names, subjects and works as well as relationships among and between them.

Catalogue record

A catalogue record is an aggregation of metadata about a specific information resource.  It is traditionally stored in a bibliographic database and displayed in a library catalogue.

Finding aid

A finding aid is an inventory, index or guide that provides detailed information about the contents of a collection.

Map series index

A map series index is a graphical finding aid for a map series, and consists of a map of the area covered, showing its geographical extent and the sheets within the series held by the Library.


‘Metadata is information about an object or resource that describes characteristics such as content, quality, format, location and contact information.’ Metadata can be created manually or automatically.

Australian National Data Service. (n.d.). Metadata. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from http://www.ands.org.au/working-with-data/metadata

3. Background

The National Library of Australia is the national bibliographic agency for Australia. The Library’s statutory role is to collect, preserve and make accessible Australia’s documentary heritage and contemporary publishing, both physical and digital, as well as to collect materials that enable the study of Australia’s cultural, strategic and political role in the Asia-Pacific region and the wider world.

Collection access, control, management, and preservation are underpinned by accurate, adequate and timely description of items and resources held by the Library. Historically, the principal method of collection description has been catalogue records created by Library staff or copied from national and international library databases, and the Library Catalogue has been the primary source and storage point for descriptive metadata.

However, the Library’s descriptive practices are evolving in response to the opportunities offered by the availability of descriptive metadata from alternative sources and by advances in systems and networks to support re-use and aggregation of metadata from disparate sources, both inside and outside the Library. Collection description, metadata creation, metadata storage and resource delivery are now distributed activities.

While the creation of metadata for the Library’s collections continues to be an important activity, particularly for published materials, harvesting and re-purposing of available external metadata is enabling the Library to improve the efficiency of its operations and reduce duplication of effort. For example, the Library is harvesting and re-purposing publisher metadata as well as metadata relating to persons and corporations.

Metadata on the arrangement, context and content of the Library’s collections created either by the Library’s subject experts or by creators and donors provides more detailed information than is recorded in a catalogue record. For example, finding aids for collections of personal papers and pictures may include biographical and historical information related to the collection as well as information about restrictions on use of or access to all or part of the collection. Map series indexes are used not only to supplement the catalogue record but also to provide an alternative method of access that is more in keeping with the inherent visual nature of the material. 

In addition, technology is enabling the Library to provide enhanced access to resources. For example, time-coded summaries and transcripts for the Library’s oral history and folklore collections are linked to the related audio recordings, enabling users to navigate directly to the relevant time points in the recordings. In addition, all delivered summaries and transcripts are indexed and discoverable in Trove.

In some cases, the content of an item itself is being utilised to enable users to find, identify, access and navigate resources relevant to their needs. For example, the full text of Australian newspapers, books and journals digitised by the Library has been made accessible via Trove, enabling users anywhere in Australia to discover and access information of interest.

4. Policy statement

The Library will:

  • Prioritise description of Australian resources as well as significant overseas resources.
  • Prioritise authority control of Australian names of persons, families and corporate bodies, series titles, places and subjects.
  • Use the most appropriate and cost-effective type, level and granularity of description for each resource or group of resources in our collections.
  • Accurately and sufficiently describe each resource or group of resources for inventory control.
  • Expose our metadata to support resource discovery and creative re-use by both people and systems, and to improve the visibility of the Library’s collections.
  • Actively seek better and more innovative and efficient ways to describe our collections;
  • Cooperate nationally and internationally in metadata creation and sharing.
  • Describe resources in a manner that allows the data to be re-purposed for use by people and systems.
  • Actively seek opportunities to utilise data created by others.
  • Store and maintain our metadata in a way that does not inhibit future opportunities for re-use or enrichment.
  • Adhere to and actively engage with international standards for metadata creation and sharing, when possible.

5. Key roles and responsibilities

Collection Strategy Group: Approval of the Collection Description Policy

Assistant Director-General Collections Management: Broad responsibility for the implementation of the Policy

6. Revision

This Policy is reviewed every two years.

7. References and related documents

Information about the standards adopted by the Library is available on the Library’s website.

The following documents were considered when developing this policy: