Archival and Records Management Automation

By Rhodes, Steven B. | Records Management Quarterly, April 1991 | Go to article overview

Archival and Records Management Automation


Rhodes, Steven B., Records Management Quarterly


Just as Athena sprung fully armored from the head of Zeus, so too were records managers born from archivists. Almost at once after the birth the child went on its way. In the decades following World War II records managers and archivists split to pursue different goals along separate paths. On occasion however, their objectives and methods have overlapped. To a greater or lesser extent, both archivists and records managers now have come to grips with automation, although the goals of each group have been different when dealing with computer technology. Because of these differences, it appears records managers and archivists have taken divergent automation paths. Appearances are deceptive. Although it is not at first apparent, at the most basic level the aims of archival and records management fit as do two pieces of a puzzle.

BASIC RECORDS

MANAGEMENT

In the records management text, Information and Records Management, Mary F. Robek, Gerald F. Brown and Wilmer O. Maedke describe the objectives of a records management program as follows:

1. to furnish accurate and complete information when it is required to manage and operate the organization efficiently

2. to process recorded information as efficiently as possible

3. to provide information and records at the lowest possible cost

4. to render maximum service to the customer ((user of the records). (1)

The computer fits nicely into these objectives. It takes no great mind to see that automation increases the speed of information retrieval, provided the computer is up and running. Records can be maintained on floppy or hard disks, theoretically eliminating the need for excess paper clutter and filing cabinets. Indeed, records managers have seen computers and word processors as a means to decrease paper and improve work efficiency. Yet automation is not without its pitfalls. According to Robek, Brown and Maedke, "Soft copy, the material that is displayed on the terminal, reduces the amount of paper that must be handled, but the printers that can be activated by the terminals generate a deluge of information on paper." (2) At the same time, the authors note, "Magnetic tapes present new problems, particularly in divising retention schedules.' (3) For records managers then, the two foremost challenges presented by automation are using the computer to promote efficiency while determining methods of retention for computer records.

At the core of a records management program is the life cycle concept of records control. John Grundman describes records management in terms of the life cycle concept as "not merely to filing and finding, but to control of information in a much broader sense: monitoring it from the time of its creation through the stages of filing, retrieval, inactive storage and eventual destruction, and providing standards and procedures for carrying out these tasks." (4) In addition to these stages, archivists and most records mangers are also concerned with permanent retention of some documents. To achieve this control, the records manager tracks a document or form on its journey through the office world. The records manager makes not of where a copy of a document is retained, simplifies forms for efficiency, and improves filing systems and techniques for quick retrieval of records. Once the information flow is under control, the records manager can begin to examine the possibilities automation may offer to the office. Without control, automation is useless. As Ira A. Penn puts it, "If you've got a mess and you automate it, you'll have an automated mess! And that's a lot worse than a manual mess." (5)

INTRODUCING AUTOMATION

Assuming the information flow is under the records manager's control, automation can be introduced into the office environment. The first step in automating an office is determining whether or not automation will improve the efficiency of the operation. …

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