From Australia: The World's First National Standard for Records Management

By Stephens, David O.; Roberts, David | Records Management Quarterly, October 1996 | Go to article overview

From Australia: The World's First National Standard for Records Management


Stephens, David O., Roberts, David, Records Management Quarterly


Records management, as a management discipline, business practice and professional endeavor, has existed for nearly half a century. During this time, people have written books on the subject. Governments have enacted laws requiring its installation. And professional associations, like the one which publishes this journal, have issued countless technical reports, guidelines and studies about it. But no nation has ever issued a "national standard" defining the scope of records management and including technical details relating to its implementation in organizations, public and private, throughout the nation. Until now.

An organization known as Standards Australia, the national standards body of Australia (that country's equivalent to the American National Standards Institute in the United States) has recently issued a document called Australian Standard AS 4390 "Records Management." So far as these writers know, nothing else like it exists in the world today - it is a "world's first."

This national standard comprehensively describes "best practice" in records management. Perhaps its most important features are:

* It articulates the basic concepts of business recordkeeping to include the concept and definition of a record.

* It covers electronic records as well as conventional physical ones.

* It contains a comprehensive methodology for designing and implementing recordkeeping systems.

* It includes strategies for ensuring the creation and capture of records.

* It expands the traditional concept of records appraisal by defining what records to create and capture.

* It expands the concept of record classification by defining multiple uses which a classification system can serve, in addition to the traditional role of indexing and vocabulary control.

* It is designed to provide a framework for the management of records in all organizations, whether public or private, large or small.

Each of these features will be discussed.

A NATIONAL STANDARD FOR RECORDS MANAGEMENT: ITS SIGNIFICANCE

The significance of this national standard can hardly be overstated; indeed, its significance extends from individual businesses and government agencies to an entire nation, and finally to the practice of records management on a global scale. We believe these assertions are justified because a national standard, comprehensively describing "best practice" in records management, issued by the nation's standards setting organization, has the potential to elevate records management as a professional business practice in a way that nothing else can, not even legislation.

From the perspective of the individual organization, a national records management standard provides organizations and the records managers who work in them with a benchmark, a model, against which to evaluate the status and effectiveness of their records management programs.

Moreover, a national standard provides one of the strongest "selling tools" any records manager could possibly use, as it serves to highlight areas of deficiency and required improvements in a records management program.

But perhaps the greatest significance of a national standard lies in its potential impact on those thousands of organizations, in both the public and private sectors, which have no formal records management program at all. While not mandatory, a national standard for records management will provide a strong incentive for an organization's management to take a serious look at records management and its benefits in improving the quality of information and recordkeeping throughout the enterprise. When used in this way, a national standard will provide a legitimacy for records management that is, in some ways, even better than laws mandating the implementation of these programs.

In the balance of this article, we will discuss the background and current status of the Australian standard, and we will consider its content in detail. …

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