Introduction to NAAIRS

The National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS) serves as a finding aid to assist users of archives to identify and locate archival material that is relevant to their requirements. NAAIRS contains only information about archival material and not the actual texts of documents. Having identified relevant material, a user would usually arrange to visit the repository concerned to consult the documents, or request further information or copies where such services are available.

The maintenance of NAAIRS is a function assigned to the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) by the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act (No 43 of 1996 as amended), which also requires all provincial archives services to participate in it. The majority of the archives referred to by NAAIRS are therefore public records in the custody of the National Archives Repository and provincial archives repositories. However, NAAIRS also incorporates national registers of non-public records (private papers) in the custody of a large number of repositories throughout South Africa. (See Acronyms and names used to identify archival repositories and contact details.) NAAIRS is therefore an integrated archival information retrieval system which has the capability of identifying archival material on a given subject irrespective of whether it is public or non-public, its location or type. (See Types of archives.)

The automation of archival retrieval commenced in 1974 and is an on-going project with approximately 250 000 computer records being added to NAAIRS each year. Currently there are over six million records available on the system. Each of these records refers to an individual archival unit, like a correspondence file. In the case of the National Register of Manuscripts (NAREM) however, each record refers to a collection or group of papers.

As automation is an ongoing project, a significant part of the archival holdings, probably more than half, are not yet reflected in NAAIRS. Manual finding aids, such as inventories and lists, are used as retrieval mechanisms for these archives. The manual finding aids are available in the reading rooms of archival repositories, and some of them have been published. For information on published finding aids, see List of Publications for Sale. Useful synoptic overviews of the total holdings of archives repositories are contained in their Lists of Archivalia, which are listed in the List of Publications for Sale.

The information on the system has generally been prepared using the original descriptions given to archival records by the offices that created or received them. The data is therefore in "natural language" and does not include controlled vocabulary based on authority lists or thesauri. A significant proportion of the data is in Afrikaans (as are the archives to which they refer), and the balance is in English. The formulation of search queries to search the system should take these facts into account. (See Structuring NAAIRS queries.)

NAAIRS on the Internet has been designed on the assumption that the user has no previous knowledge of the use of the system. The user is therefore guided regarding options at each point which makes the system user-friendly. Enquiries about the use of NAAIRS may be directed by e-mail to enquiries will be scheduled for reply: immediate responses will not be possible. Enquiries about archival information should be directed to the relevant archives repository (depot).