Defining Electronic Records Management

By Menkus, Belden | Records Management Quarterly, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Defining Electronic Records Management

Menkus, Belden, Records Management Quarterly

After 25 years of what has amounted essentially to inaction, electronic records management finally appears to have been rediscovered. Thus far, it has become a serious issue only within US Government agencies, but this concern can be expected to spread into other parts of the economy. The current interest focuses on the handling of the records that are generated by electronic mail systems, but is expected to spread to other categories of electronic records during the next several years.


The current concern with electronic records management stems from an August 13, 1993 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Armstrong v Executive Office of the President (1 Fed 3rd 1274). The original case had been filed about 24 months earlier. The Appeals Court upheld the District Court's principal January 1993 findings that:

* Electronic mail records fall under the requirements of the Federal Records Act (44 US Code 3301).

* The Act's provisions were violated by the practice within the Executive Office of the President of having the contents of those records retained in paper form, and their electronic versions deleted. (The Court noted that these printouts did not include all of the information about the message's transmission - including the full names of all of those addressed by the message and when it was received.)

The Court's decision came down strongly in support of one of the basic principles of records management - the completeness of a record's content.


The late Everett Alldredge, Deputy Archivist of the US, discussed the need to move conventional records management into the electronic environment shortly before his untimely death in the late 1960s. He addressed, for example, problems with the survival of digital records, problems that only now are beginning to be discussed[1] outside of the records management community.

Unfortunately, because Alldredge was not followed in his influential position in US Government records management by a comparable leader and innovator, the issues that he was raising were not addressed. Largely, these concerns were ignored for most of the following 25 years. In the interim computing and telecommunication technology and the methods used to apply it have evolved rapidly. Thus, the practitioners of electronic records management will find that they will have to work exceptionally hard to catch up with what has taken place in the world of information handling. Fundamentally, they will have to apply rigor and responsibility to rapidly evolving information handling processes from which both conditions notoriously have been lacking for many years.


Those records managers who elect to enter this new environment will find that their working world will have been altered dramatically. These changes will impact records management practitioners both professionally and personally.

On the professional level these individuals will have to reeducate themselves thoroughly. Among other things they will have to learn about such things as information processing systems application analysis and design, telecommunication networking, information system security and auditing, and even such seemingly arcane things as the design of multi-media products. Because of this required reeducation and of the new professional relationships that will be associated with it, there may be a need to think of creating some sort of electronic records manager specialty within the framework of the existing professional certification in records management. It may be advisable to consider creating a completely new type of certification for those who will be functioning in electronic records management.

On the personal level, those records managers who undertake this type of work will find that quickly they will have to produce solid improvements in the way an organization does computing. …

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