An Integrated Approach to Records Management

By An, Xiaomi | Information Management, July/August 2003 | Go to article overview

An Integrated Approach to Records Management


An, Xiaomi, Information Management


PROVIDING COHERENT AND CONSISTENT SERVICE that meets users' needs has long been a challenge for records managers and archivists worldwide. It is even more challenging in a digital world. Timely access to accurate, reliable, authentic, complete, and readable records over time is always difficult for both users and custodians.

Some experts consider the internationally recognized and recommended records continuum model a best-practice model for managing electronic records and archives within a broader context of archival science. To fully understand the model, however, it is important to analyze its development periods, explore its best-practice methods in comparison with those of the lifecycle model, and examine its framework for managing electronic records.

The Records Continuum Model

As defined in Australian Standard 4390, a records continuum is "...a consistent and coherent regime of management processes from the time of the creation of records (and before creation, in the design of recordkeeping systems) through to the preservation and use of records as archives." This definition suggests an ideal integration for documents, records, and archives management.

The earliest view of the continuum concept came from Australian national archivist Ian Maclean in the 1950s. He said records managers were the true archivists, and that archival science should be directed toward studying the characteristics of recorded information, recordkeeping systems, and classification processes. His view promoted the search for continuity between archives and records management.

The word "continuum" was not widely used in Australia until Canadian archivist Joy Atherton made it explicit at the annual Association of Canadian Archivists conference in 1985. According to Atherton, all stages of records are interrelated, forming a continuum in which both records managers and archivists are involved, to varying degrees, in the ongoing management of recorded information. She explained how the lifecycle stages that records supposedly underwent were in fact a series of recurring and reverberating activities within both archives and records management. The underlying unifying or linking factor in the continuum was the service function to the records' creators and all users. Atherton's view pointed out the weakness of separating records management and archives administration under the lifecycle model.

The records continuum as a model concept was formulated in the 1990s by Australian archival theorist Frank Upward based on four principles:

1. A concept of "record" inclusive of records of continuing value (archives) stresses their uses for transactional, evidentiary, and memory purposes, and unifies approaches to archiving/recordkeeping, whether records are kept for a split second or a millennium.

2. There is a focus on records as logical rather than physical entities, regardless of whether they are in paper or electronic form.

3. Institutionalization of the recordkeeping profession's role requires a particular emphasis on the need to integrate recordkeeping into business and societal processes and purposes.

4. Archival science is the foundation for organizing knowledge about recordkeeping. Such knowledge is revisable but can be structured and explored in terms of the operation of principles for action in the past, the present, and the future.

In her book Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Continuum Responsibility, Sue McKemmish writes: "The model provides a graphical tool for framing issues about the relationship between records managers and archivists, past, present, and future, and for thinking strategically about working collaboratively and building partnerships with other stakeholders."

In Records Management: A Guide to Corporate Recordkeeping, Jay Kennedy and Cherry Schauder explain the four dimensions that Upward used in his concept of the continuum model:

1. …

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