APPROACHES TO Electronic Records Management

By Cox, Richard J. | Information Management, January 2001 | Go to article overview
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APPROACHES TO Electronic Records Management

Cox, Richard J., Information Management

For a long time, records professionals reflected a deep irony about their professional mission and day-to-day work. Although they were responsible in their organizations -- and ultimately to society -- for administration of all recorded information, archivists and records managers seemed unable to cope with the increasing use of electronic information technologies to create and maintain records. For a while, records professionals looked away, even concluding that electronic documents were, perhaps, not records at all. Then they worried about their loss of credibility, the future of their profession, and, ultimately, their jobs. Finally, archivists and records managers began to work on policy, legal, and technical solutions to electronic records challenges and problems, some even acknowledging that such matters really went to the very heart of their responsibilities.

Now, we seem to be witnessing another shift. Recent legislation, such as the Electronic Signatures in National and Global E-Commerce Act (June 2000) along with announcements of technical developments, such as the work of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) with the San Diego Super-Computer Center, Georgia Tech's Research Institute, and several other government agencies, seem to herald a new era of focus by records professionals on electronic records matters.

Increasingly, issues of The Information Management Journal reflect ARMA International's interests in the globalization of electronic records and in standards of practice (ISO 9000 and Australia's AS 4390) having information management implications. Accordingly, this issue of the Journal reflects the more recent, interesting, and successful phase of work with electronic records systems, as well as suggesting continuing needs. Here one finds discussions of legal, technical, policy, and theoretical approaches to resolving challenges posed by the constantly changing technologies being used to create records. It reflects as well the fact that electronic records concerns are an internationally shared problem.

The first contribution in this issue is David Wallace's analysis of the significant court cases concerning the federal government's uses of electronic mail and its scheduling of electronic records. Partially because of the landmark issues raised in these cases, new interest arose about electronic records management research and development. It also suggests an enhanced understanding of the role of records professionals in playing an accountability role in government -- and beyond.

These cases have other implications for information professionals. Many records managers and archivists in the United States look to NARA for leadership in such matters as electronic records management, especially for scheduling, but the court cases suggest a flawed legacy that, nonetheless, has value. Wallace argues for the cases' significance in revealing that a "greater awareness on balancing the best fit between recordkeeping requirements, technological infrastructure, and actual work practices" is desperately needed. The kinds of additional research questions Wallace develops in his conclusion are not very different from those others are asking as new federal records policies continue to be made.

The differing mechanisms for tackling the development of solutions to electronic records management are evident in the discussions of the ongoing InterPARES Project and the Indiana University research projects. The InterPARES endeavor described in an article by Luciana Duranti and Ken Thibodeau is a global effort based largely on the older archival science of diplomatics. While the description of this project seems highly theoretical, advocates for such work argue that it is the diplomatics approach that provides the soundest means by which to manage electronic records over the long term since it is based on centuries of prior experience in working with records rather than the shifting sand of information technologies that are here today, gone tomorrow.

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