Records Management in the Soviet Union: Part II the Manageme

By Stephens, David O. | ARMA Records Management Quarterly, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Records Management in the Soviet Union: Part II the Manageme


Stephens, David O., ARMA Records Management Quarterly


As the title for this column states, what follows is a discussion of inactive records management in the former Soviet Union--that great Eurasian empire that existed from 1917 to 1991 and that, despite many problems, achieved excellence in numerous fields of human endeavor. But what of records management? In the preceding edition, we presented some background information relative to this question, and then went on to describe the records management situation concerning active records in organizations and institutions throughout Soviet society. This time, we want to focus our attention on the management of inactive records--records appraisal concepts, records retention and disposition, and records center storage of inactive records--and see how these elements of records management compare to practices in North America. But first, in case you missed it, let's present a short summary of some background data that appeared in the last issue, so that you will have a proper framework for understanding the former Soviet Union and its archival/records management practices.

SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES

The following principles are basic to understanding records management in the former Soviet Union:

(1) Because pre-Revolutionary Russia had been a nation strongly oriented towards the West since the days of Peter the Great, the Soviet records management system was heavily influenced by the European archival traditions of Germany, France, and other Western European countries.

(2) Under the communist form of government which was implemented after 1917, the Soviet records management system was highly centralized and tightly controlled by the Soviet state archives in Moscow, which imposed mandatory rules applicable to recordkeeping in both government and non-government institutions throughout the fifteen republics.

(3) Because the Soviet government was the sole owner of all public and business information, the state imposed very stringent and mandatory rules for its management. The concept of private ownership of records and information over which the state had no jurisdiction was very limited in the USSR.

(4) The centralized management of records in a secretariat, chancellery, or general services once was widely practiced in the USSR. This system of central document "registration" evolved from the Western European archival traditions and continued in modernized form under the Soviet archival system.

(5) Records management in the Soviet Union was practiced as a component of the archival profession. The Soviet records management system was operated by Glavarkhiv--the Main Archival Administration under the USSR Council of Ministers, which administered a vast state archival system consisting of over 3,000 separate archival institutions throughout the nation.

(6) The history of modern records management in the Soviet Union may be considered to have begun in 1959, when the Council of Ministers enacted a law establishing the first "all-union" records management program-the Unified State System of Records Management, or EGSD (Edinaia gosudarstveniia deloproizvodostua, also translated as the "Single State System of Record Keeping").

(7) Within Glavarkhiv, the organization which was responsible for administering the EGSD was VNIIDAD--the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Documentation and Archival Affairs. Three of VNIIDAD's organizational units had primary responsibility for records management: The Division of Systems for Document Preservation and Records Management, The Laboratory for the Improvement of Agency Records Management, and The Division of Archival Affairs. The latter division was responsible for providing records appraisal and retention guidelines, which is the main focus of this article, so we will discuss the work of this division in greater detail later.

These, then, were the basic elements of the nationwide system of records management in the Soviet Union as administered by Glavarkhiv. …

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