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Descriptive standards

AtoM is built around the ICA's descriptive standards

AtoM is built around the ICA’s descriptive standards

At its core, AtoM was originally designed to provide archivists with a freely available, user-friendly access system that would facilitate international standards adoption. Consequently, AtoM implements a number of standards-based edit templates, which are based on the International Council on Archives’(ICA) international descriptive standards, including:

  • General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD)
  • International Standard Archival Authority Records (Corporate bodies, persons, and families) (ISAAR-CPF)
  • International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings (ISDIAH)
  • International Standard for Describing Functions (ISDF)

While AtoM was originally designed around the ICA’s international descriptive standards (ISAD, ISAAR, ISDIAH and ISDF), it is intended to be flexible enough to accommodate other practices based on other (national or local) descriptive standards, including those intended for libraries, museums, and art galleries.


“Support” means that users of another standard should be able to use AtoM to produce outputs that are compliant with that standard. This includes the ability to enter data in fields that represent all of the data elements required by the standard, interact with (view, edit, search) data in ways structured by and labeled according to the terms of the standard, and output (print, export) data in formats compliant with the standard.

Design principles

To implement support for other standards:

  • Map the data elements of the target standard to the related ICA standard and - via this “metadata crosswalk” - to the underlying database architecture in AtoM
  • Use existing AtoM fields wherever the crosswalk establishes a direct correlation between elements in the ICA and target standards
  • Create “custom fields” for all other elements in the target standard using AtoM’s “property” database table (where “type” is the name of the element and “value” is the data itself)
  • Create additional PHP methods for managing the data as required
  • Add user interface templates (view and edit pages) using page divisions and field labels based on the structure and terminology of the target standard

Adding support for another standard requires a developer to work on the underlying software code. Once support has been added, however, AtoM provides an interface allowing administrators to easily select their preferred standard and to switch between the various standards.

Other (non-ICA) standards currently supported

Users of other descriptive standards should be aware that this manual is generally based on the ICA standards for its examples and screenshots. Standard-specific sections are noted below.

Rules for Archival Description (RAD)

The Canadian Rules for Archival Description

RAD is maintained by the Canadian Council of Archives and is available at RAD-specific sections of this manual are available at: Rules for Archival Description (RAD).

Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)

The U.S. Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)

DACS is maintained by the Society of American Archivists and is available at (PDF). DACS-specific sections of this manual are available at: Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)

Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1

AtoM implements unqualified Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1.. Dublin Core-specific sections of this manual are available at Dublin Core (DC).

Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS)

The MODS standard, maintained by the US Library of Congress Network Development and MARC Standards Office, is available at Currently AtoM supports the Digital Library Federation second level of adoption for MODS (see DLF Aquifer MODS Guidelines Levels of Adoption). MODS- specific sections of this manual are available at: Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS).