Records Management and Archives: Finding Common Ground: Today There Is Increasing Integration of Records Management and Archives in the Workplace. but Can the Question of Ownership Be Resolved?

By Myburgh, Sue | Information Management, March-April 2005 | Go to article overview

Records Management and Archives: Finding Common Ground: Today There Is Increasing Integration of Records Management and Archives in the Workplace. but Can the Question of Ownership Be Resolved?


Myburgh, Sue, Information Management


Of all the changes in the turbulent environment of records management, perhaps none has had greater effect over the past decade than information and communication technologies (ICTs). This has prompted many leaders in records management and archives to urge cooperation between the two professions, as both need to be involved in the management and administration of electronic records. Indeed, some contend that an integrated approach among records management, libraries, and publishing has become imperative. In his article "Ensuring Essential Evidence," Adrian Cunningham warns that "[t]he case for a continuation of the strict separation of archivists from active recordkeeping has become completely unsustainable."

While the development of ICTs has been a major change agent, there are multiple simultaneous changes that have had significant effects upon the information management professions: globalization, the Information Economy, the influence of postmodernism, and changes in society at large, to name a few. Some of these are intertwined. For example, the use of ICTs can influence society by changing the ways in which people work, as well as their expectations of how their lives can be led, both personally and professionally. In turn, carryon effects give rise to new developments, such as the rise of e-commerce and the notion of the Information Economy. Finally, the concept of globalization is hard to put into practice without ICTs.

Changes in the environment have necessitated changes in the practice of both professions as they come to terms with concomitant issues such as privacy, security, intellectual capital, and digital preservation. These changes also are drawing the professions closer together. Perhaps records management and archives have always been similar in a number of ways, which are only now being recognized.

Similarities and Differences

There are some obvious similarities between the archives and records management professions. Both

* are called upon to identify which documents (records) they will manage

* need to be careful about maintaining the physical and intellectual integrity of the documents in their care

* describe and arrange records to provide access as well as contextual information

* observe necessary legislation regarding disposal, privacy, intellectual property, and other issues

* maintain the physical--including digital--condition of records

Differences between the two professions are based largely around cultural, societal, and historical dimensions.

Archives are political; they cannot be seen only as preserving records for historical research or as a warehouse for old records no longer in current administrative use. The institution behind archives--government or business organization--will provide a model for preservation, which frequently suggests keeping those records that support the dominant position, the metanarrative, or the status quo.

Records management, on the other hand, has emerged from a modernist, late-capitalist philosophy of management in both business and government. The emphasis is on efficiency, productivity, competitive advantage, strategic value, increase of profits, and avoidance of loss. Management of records is an integral part of business processes, is associated with workflow, and is based on administrative and legal necessity.

Evidence in the archival sense can be defined as the passive ability of documents and objects and their associated contexts to provide insight into the processes, activities, and events that led to their creation for legal, historical, archaeological, and other purposes. Evidence for the records manager means that the record must have sufficient integrity to be admissible in a court of law. The primary evidential values related to legal, fiscal, and administrative purposes are the domain of records managers; the subsequent cultural, historical, and social evidential values are determined and understood best by archivists. …

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