The relationship between records management and archives
by Bonnie Woelk
Archives management in an institutional setting and records management have often been understood as separate concepts. Archives management has mainly referred to the selection, preservation, and presentation for research of those organizational records which should be preserved permanently. Records management, on the other hand, has been mainly concerned with the efficient creation, classification, and use of records for business purposes, and their eventual disposal when they are no longer required. The interface between archives and records management has come, traditionally, at the point where records are selected for permanent preservation, either by accident, when they are about to be discarded, or, increasingly, by design, when the archivist is called upon to exercise professional judgement in selecting records from a mass of material that has become obsolete. At times, the appraisal for selection of archival records has been a source of conflict between archivists and records managers. 1
This potential for conflict has been examined by Derek Charman, former Coordinator of Records Services for British Steel Corporation in London, England. Charman has worked in both archives and records management and, in his 1998 article, "The Expanding Role of the Archivist", addresses the question of the interface between archives and records management.
"The records manager feels that he [or she] has a duty to ensure the destruction of the largest quantity of records at the earliest possible moment in order to maximize cost savings, whereas the archivist wishes to ensure that all the records of an organization are scrutinized at some stage, so that records of potential archival value are identified and transferred to archives when they are no longer required for business purposes." 2
However, Charman does not see an inherent conflict between these two views: "Both [records managers and archivists] have a vested interest in the preservation of that which should be preserved, and the destruction of that which should be destroyed".3
The present article will argue that archival science brings a helpful perspective to the practice of records management. It will argue that archivists and records managers are partners in the records endeavour and will discuss how that partnership might take shape in the future.
1. Serving the record first
What can archival science bring to records management practice? The most important contribution is the archival understanding of the role of records in society and how this relates to the mission of the records manager and archivist.
Why are records important? Any records management manual will provide a list of similar points. Records enable the organization to carry out activities and make decisions based on a complete and accurate understanding of what has occurred and been decided in the past. Records help the organization deliver programs and services more consistently and efficiently, and provide protection and support for the organization in the case of litigation. They help the organization fulfill responsibilities to employees and stakeholders, and enable compliance with recordkeeping and records retention requirements of government legislation.
Records managers are intimately familiar with these points. These inform what they do every day on the job as they serve their client organizations. However, if records professionals think only about serving the client without thinking about serving the record, they can actually do a disservice to the client, and certainly to the record. By serving the record first, records professionals can serve the client better, and can also serve the wider community.
A deeper understanding of the nature of records can be beneficial to records management practice. Archival science teaches that records are the material evidence left over after the activities of offices are completed, and that they are the product of particular actions that occur at particular moments in time. Because they fix actions in time, records can be referred to in the future to accurately portray those actions, that is, they can act as official evidence of the decisions and actions of an organization. Therefore, they provide accountability to stakeholders, including the public.
If records professionals keep in mind the significance of the records they work with every day, they will work towards making sure that the records that reveal the essence of their organization's functions and activities are preserved. If records professionals make serving the record their main purpose, they will work towards helping their organization avoid the loss or inadvertent destruction of important records, and will work towards protecting and preserving records that have permanent value.
The by-product of serving the record first, and by this means, serving the client, will be to join with other records managers and archivists in the records mission: to identify and permanently preserve the recorded evidence of society's actions, transactions, values and ideas. The preservation of this evidence will contribute to society's understanding of itself and ensure its continuation and development.4 Whether records professionals work for a private corporation, a government ministry, or a public university, we are all, in a sense, public employees - serving the public by preserving a record of our region's cultural heritage.
Armed with a deep sense of the significance of records, records managers can offer their knowledge to enable their organization to create and look after records that it has the mandate, competence and social duty to create and maintain. An organization needs and is obliged to this, whether it is a public or private organization. By making sure that meaningful evidence of administrative actions and transactions is created, maintained and preserved, records managers benefit their organization and ensure that good quality archival records are created and preserved. The role of the records manager is to deepen the organization's understanding of its interests in preserving the evidence of its own actions and transactions. By supporting this interest, records managers also serve society's need to understand itself.
Serving the record first is particularly crucial when it comes to electronic records. If saving the client space and money is the records manager's main driver, valuable electronic records could be lost. This is because pro-active efforts must be expended when it comes to electronic records; that is, their management must begin even before they are created due to their fragility and changeability. The imperatives of space and efficiency tend not to prompt management actions in regards to electronic records because electronic storage space is relatively inexpensive. Therefore, the records manager must focus on ensuring the preservation of valuable electronic records as evidence of actions and decisions in order to better serve the client and our society.
It is interesting to note that in some European countries (e.g. Italy, France, Germany and Spain) the preservation of records created by private corporations is legislated by the central government. These countries see private records about property, for example, as supporting the common interest, scientific research records as supporting social activity, and the citizen as having a duty of community solidarity to preserve records of the society, whether private or public records.
2. The centrality of the record: links between records management and archival functions
The second important contribution that archival science can bring to records management practice is the archival emphasis on the centrality of the record. Archival science brings a profound understanding of the nature of records, the relationships within a body of records, and the relationship of the records to their creator and the functions and activities that generate them. These concepts can improve the quality and effectiveness of records management program elements such as the development and implementation of records retention rules, and the development of records classification systems. In addition, archival science has, in recent years, been influenced by the medieval science of diplomatics which has led to the development of concepts and methods to manage electronic records in ways that enhance their ability to serve as evidence.
a. Records appraisal and records retention scheduling
A strong link exists between records management and archival functions, such as records retention scheduling and archival appraisal. Records retention rules establish how long records should be retained by the organization. This period of time is based on administrative, legal, legislative or financial requirements for retention. However, while retention scheduling clearly provides for the records retention and disposition needs of the creating organization, it is also important as a means of identifying records of permanent value.5 When records professionals establish records retention rules, they are appraising records for their value; in other words, they are carrying out archival appraisal. It could be said that records retention rules are the expression of appraisal decisions.
The link between retention scheduling and appraisal is made in the online training course called "The Management of Public Sector Records", offered by the International Records Management Trust and the International Council on Archives.
"Appraisal requires the systematic implementation of decisions based on an assessment of the continuing value of the records for administrative, operational or other uses."6
The writers of the course go on to say that "[a]ppraisal and disposal must be undertaken with an awareness of the function the records serve and their context in relation to other records." 7 It is in the analysis of an organization's functions that archival science has much to offer records management practice. The archival science concepts of the structure of the fonds, the relationships of the records within the fonds, and the relationship between the records and the functions and activities of the creator can be applied to retention scheduling to improve the effectiveness and quality of retention rules.
The application of functional analysis, which analyzes the purposes, functions, activities and transactions carried out by an organization, to records scheduling is becoming more widespread amongst records management practitioners. One of the strong proponents of this approach has been Donald Skupsky. He supports a functional records retention methodology as a "systematic approach to records retention...based on the functional organization of information."8 Skupsky advocates organizing the records retention schedule by the functions performed by the organization. In come cases, each functional category or retention rule may represent one records series; in other cases, the functional category may group a number of records series together. His methodology matches these functional categories with groupings of legislative and legal requirements for retention, and then applies the longest retention period to the functional category.9
Skupsky believes that the functional approach to retention scheduling can be easily adopted by records managers because it is based on something they are already very familiar with, that is, the structure and functions of their organization. In addition, a functionally based schedule normally contains only 50 to 70 functional categories so that there are less rules to establish, review and edit than with a traditional approach. Finally, the functional approach adapts to organizational change more readily than would an alternate method. 10
The archival concepts of the structure of the fonds and the relationship between records and the functions and activities that generate them have been used to develop a strategy for the appraisal/records scheduling of voluminous public records. It was decided at The National Archives of Canada in the early 1990s that scheduling records in the traditional way, that is, creating retention rules by individual department or office and by individual records series was not adequate to the seemingly insurmountable task of scheduling the records of all government ministries, departments and agencies.11 A way had to be found to gain an organization wide perspective as to the value of any particular records to the entire institution and to identify records of value when functions crossed departmental boundaries or were reassigned to other offices over time. There had to be a method of ensuring that duplicate records pertaining to the same function but created by different offices were not being kept permanently. Hybrid recordkeeping systems, that is, systems that contain records in paper form, other traditional forms and electronic records also presented problems for appraisal/scheduling. All of the valuable records related to a particular matter or function needed to be identified and scheduled, no matter what their form, in order for the retention rules to be comprehensive.
It was proposed by some archival theorists and practitioners and articulated by Terry Cook that a rational, comprehensive documentation of an institution could be obtained by determining the value of the records to the organization and to society according to a contextual understanding of the functions and processes that generated the records rather than by assessing individual records in departments on an ad hoc basis. The proposed methodology, called macro-appraisal, assesses the archival value of records by analyzing the context in which they were created, that is, the organization, the systems, the business transactions, the communication processes and information flows, and from this identifies records creator sites that are likely to generate records of permanent value. What is left, after also appraising for administrative, legislative and financial value, are records not required permanently.12
Currently, macro-appraisal is being explored at a number of institutions worldwide. It is being applied at the National Archives of Canada to federal government records. A case study applying macro-appraisal to a number of ministries at the Ontario provincial government has been done at the Archives of Ontario. The methodology has been adopted as the foundation of the South African State Archives' appraisal policy. 13 The methodology could also be used to appraise/schedule the records of private corporations and improve the effectiveness and quality of their retention and disposition programs.
b. Arrangement and description and records classification systems
The connection between records management and archival functions also exists in the link between arrangement and description and the development of records classification systems. Archival arrangement and description is the process whereby all the records created, received and maintained by one creator are kept together, and the order in which the records were created, arranged and maintained by the creator is maintained or restored. This original order refers to the filing, classification and retrieval methods established by the creating organization as part of its records management program. The arrangement and description of records permanently preserved in an institutional archives is dependent on records classification in the records management phase.
The functional approach which can be applied to the scheduling of records can also be applied to the development of a uniform classification system for an organization. Functional analysis is applied to all of the business functions and activities of the organization. The functions that are managed by the organization to accomplish its goals are identified, and activities that are performed to accomplish each of these functions are determined. A classification system is then designed, based on the analysis.14
There are a number of reasons why a functionally based classification system is of benefit. First, a functionally based system will reflect the functions and activities of the organization even if the organization changes, and the system will not have to be revised unless functions and activities are added or discontinued. Second, this type of system provides the framework on which to "hang" functionally based retention rules.
The public sector records management course mentioned earlier links the functional approach to both classification and retention scheduling. "Classification organises records into categories, based on the functions and activities the records represent, so that decisions about their organization, storage, transfer and disposal may be made on a category-wide basis, not file by file and item by item." 15 The archival tool of functional analysis can provide a powerful basis on which to build these records management program elements in a systematic way.
c. Electronic records management
Another aspect of archival science, borrowed from the medieval science of diplomatics, can also be beneficially applied to records management practice and to electronic records management in particular.
Medieval diplomatics was developed in the late 1600s to outline the conditions required in the creation, maintenance and transmission of records that would ensure the integrity of the records. It was developed for the purpose of testing the authenticity of documents to prove legal issues. In the late 1980s, Luciana Duranti began reviving this science and developing contemporary archival diplomatics, which is an integration of diplomatic and archival principles, concepts and methods. She believed that this new diplomatics would bring insights into the understanding, management and preservation of electronic records as well as encourage the lost art of good recordkeeping in the paper realm.16
The findings of Duranti and her team were eventually published in "The Preservation of the Integrity of Electronic Records, "17 commonly known as "The UBC Project". The goal of the project was to identify and define conceptually the nature of an electronic record and the conditions required to ensure its reliability and authenticity during its active and semi-active life. The research resulted in standards to govern the development and implementation of a trustworthy electronic recordkeeping system.18 Many of the recommendations for electronic records management in the UBC project were included in the DOD 5015.2-STD, "Design Criteria Standard for Electronic Records Management Software Applications", now the de facto standard for records management applications in North America.
Functional or procedural requirements and metadata standards have become very important in the design and acquisition of electronic recordkeeping systems and to the admissibility of electronic records as legal evidence. On April 1, 2003, the provincial Electronic Transactions Act 19 was proclaimed. The Act makes it possible to transact business in a completely electronic environment if it can be demonstrated that there is "a reliable assurance as to the integrity of the information contained in the record in electronic form" (s.14(1)(a)); in other words, if the record can be shown to be reliable and authentic. These archival terms and concepts are being applied to records management practice, interestingly, by government legislation.
The standards and rules presented in the UBC project and the DoD standard can help an organization comply with the Electronic Transactions Act . The Act and the corresponding amendments to the Alberta Evidence Act stipulate that the electronic recordkeeping system's creating organization must be able to provide evidence about the standards, procedures and practices governing the creation and maintenance of electronic records, that is, how the records are used, created, transmitted, received, stored and maintained. The UBC project and DoD standard outline design criteria and procedural rules which, if followed when acquiring an electronic recordkeeping system and designing procedural rules, can be referred to in order to provide the evidence required.
Contemporary archival diplomatics can inform and improve records management practice by ensuring the integrity of electronic records, allowing the records to act as evidence. This takes the records management professional beyond simply fulfilling the organization's immediate need for locating and sharing electronic documents to serving the record first.
3. Convergence of records professions and the Continuum of Care concept
This paper has shown that there are strong parallels between records management and archival functions. It has also argued that records management practice can be informed and enhanced through the application of archival concepts such as the records professional's primary duty to serve the record, and the centrality of the record to records management and archival practice. It has also shown how contemporary archival diplomatics can assist with electronic records management.
Is it possible that the records professions of records management and archives could converge in the future? It is becoming more and more apparent that the separation between the two professions is artificial and that collaboration between the two is essential if the client organization and our society are to be well served. In order to ensure that records retain their administrative and archival value, records and archives managers must be involved with the record-creating process itself.20 Records and archives managers have to be more involved with and understand the processes that lead to the creation of records. They must study both the record, its physical nature and characteristics, and the business functions, activities and recordkeeping practices that generate records and cause them to be used and maintained. 21
The creation and classifying of records is of concern to both professions. The records manager wants to ensure that the right records are found quickly by those who have a right to see them as they carry out their business, while the archivist needs to ensure that the format and arrangement of records are adequate to ensure the long-term retrieval and preservation of permanent records. 22
It is also important that the records be transferred out of the direct custody of a creating department as soon as possible after they have passed out of current use (i.e. if they have not been scheduled for destruction), both because of the records manager's concern about storing obsolete records in expensive filing cabinets and because of the archivist's concern about inactive records being at risk of destruction once they are no longer needed for everyday use.23 There must be a means for the records manager and archivist to take joint action to ensure the preservation of valuable records. 24
Records and archives managers must be involved with records care from the beginning, when records are created, and through all stages of the life cycle, in order to provide a continuum of care. In the continuum concept, four actions or processes continue or recur throughout the life of a record and cross the traditional boundary between records management and archival administration: creation/acquisition of records; placement of records within a logical, documented system that controls their arrangement and facilitates retrieval throughout their life; appraisal for continuing value (i.e. scheduling/disposal actions); and maintenance and use in the creating office, records center, or archives.25
The continuum approach was first suggested by Jay Atherton in 198626 and subsequently provided the basis for the records management model adopted by the National Archives of Australia and the Australian Standard for Records Management (AS 4390).27 The model provides records managers and archivists with a way of thinking about the integration of recordkeeping and archival processes, and brings records managers and archivists under one recordkeeping umbrella. It focuses on the unifying purpose shared by all records professionals which is to provide a framework for accountable recordkeeping regimes that enable access to essential, and useable evidence of social and business activity. 28
If the continuum approach is generally adopted in future, it will mean the end of the traditional boundary between the functions of the records manager and the archivist. The person responsible for looking after records at a particular phase in their life cycle will certainly need specific knowledge and expertise. However, input will be needed from others who have been or will be responsible for records at other phases of the life cycle. The records manager and archivist will still perform their own duties but their work will be done within an integrated structure, with no boundaries to limit professional collaboration and development.29
This collaboration and partnership between records and archives managers would have the best chance for success if these professionals worked within a records and archives division responsible for all aspects of records care throughout their life cycle. A records and archives division would establish a records service for the whole of the government, corporation or organization that would include staff working in records offices, records centers, and archival repositories. The records and archives division would develop an appropriate system of service and job descriptions for all records staff, and training programmes to prepare staff at all the necessary levels to provide efficient records services throughout the life cycle. 30
Charman concludes that the records management and archives professions have already converged:
[As] the archivist searches deeper into the present for the records that he [or she] needs, so the records manager searches backwards in time to determine the criteria by which [he or she] should develop retention policy. Both disciplines, too, are directly involved in the problems of departmental organization and reorganization and in the style and format of current recordkeeping. The only conclusion to be drawn is that archives and records managers are not separate disciplines, but they are two facets of the same discipline. 31
Derek Charman, "The Expanding Role of the Archivist", Records Management Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 4 (October 1998): 18-19.
Luciana Duranti, "ACA 1991 Conference Overview," ACA Bulletin vol. 15, no. 6 (July 1991): 25-26.
Eldon Frost, "A Weak Link in the Chain: Records Scheduling as a Source of Archival Acquisition," Archivaria 33 (Winter 1991-1992): 78.
Michael Roper and Laura Millar, eds. The Management of Public Sector Records: Principles and Context, Managing Public Sector Records: A Study Programme, no. 1. (London: International Records Management Trust, 1999), 99.
Donald S. Skupsky, "Applying Records Retention to Electronic Records", Information Management Journal, (July 1999): 32.
Donald S. Skupsky, "The Functional Records Retention Schedule..An Alternative That Works!" Records Management Quarterly, (October 1989): 38, 40.
The following description is based on Frost, especially pp. 82-84.
Terry Cook, "Mind Over Matter: Towards a New Theory of Archival Appraisal," in Barbara L. Craig, ed., The Archival Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh A. Taylor (Ottawa, 1991), 38-70.
Richard Brown, "Macro-Appraisal Theory and the Context of the Public Records Creator," Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995): 121-172.
For an example of a functionally based classification system, see the University of Calgary's University Classification System, published at http://www.ucalgary.ca/archives/UCLASS.html
Roper and Millar, 95.
Heather MacNeil, Trusting Records: Legal, Historical, and Diplomatic Perspectives, The Archivist's Library, ed. Terry Eastwood, vol. 1. (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 87-90.
Luciana Duranti, et al, "The Preservation of the Integrity of Electronic Records", http://www.interpares.org/UBCProject/index.htm
Electronic Transactions Act, Chapter E-5.5.
Roper and Millar, 16.
Roper and Millar, 20-21.
Jay Atherton, "From Life Cycle to Continuum: Some Thoughts on the Records Management - Archives Relationship," Archivaria 21 (Winter 1985-86).
Laurie Sletten, "Lessons from Down Under: Records Management in Australia," The Information Management Journal, (January 1999): 28.
Roper and Millar, 23.