A Records Management Program That Works for Archives

By Deserno, Ineke; Kynaston, Donna | Information Management, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

A Records Management Program That Works for Archives


Deserno, Ineke, Kynaston, Donna, Information Management


Clearly defining records management responsibilities ensures the capture of significant records and facilitates their transition to archival custody and use

The quality of an archive's holdings depends on the effectiveness of the records management program responsible for the records before they reach the archives.

Without a records management program guiding the organization and disposition of active and semi-active records, an archives program will not receive a comprehensive, reliable, and authentic body of records, but rather a miscellaneous collection of varying value and usefulness, transferred on an ad hoc basis according to individual interests, priorities, and workloads.

A records management program is indispensable for an archives program. It ensures

* the identification of records of long-term historical value and their orderly transfer to the archives

* the regular, orderly elimination of large amounts of records that have no long-term value beyond their administrative usefulness

* efficiency and economy in the management of the archives program by facilitating planning regarding space, records description, and records preservation

A records management program contributes to an effective archives program by differentiating record value as identified in records schedules, which specify required retention periods and ultimate disposition based on that value. Permanent records document significant transactions, policies, decisions, or services and are of lasting historical, legal, or administrative value. Records of permanent value that are transferred to an archives program's custody in regular, orderly fashion are more readily accessible for reference use and provide more reliable information for future users. Fixed-term records have administrative, legal, or financial value for a specified period of time or until the occurrence of a specific event, after which they are destroyed.

Transitory records have no enduring value and are retained while there is genuine need for them. However, the regular and consistent destruction of transitory records saves time, space, and money and facilitates the identification and location of truly significant documents.

Effective records management programs ensure that records of permanent value that are transferred to the custody of an archives program in a regular, orderly fashion will be more readily accessible for reference use and will provide more reliable information for future users. An effective records management program also ensures that records of no enduring value are not transferred to the archives simply as a means of disposing of them.

If an archives program is implemented in an organization that has not had a fully operational records management program or has had a records management program that did not include all units within the organization, then special projects such as large-scale records appraisal and preservation projects must be undertaken in order to allow both the records management program and the archives program to function effectively.

The records life cycle is a key element for both records management and archives. Consideration of the records life cycle by both concerns ensures that only records worthy of permanent preservation are retained in the archives. The lifecycle approach to records is particularly important for electronic records because it is difficult to differentiate between electronic records of substantive, fixed-term, and transitory value. To do this, records managers and archivists need information on the creation process of records and the context in which they are created.

Clearly defining records responsibilities within the records management program ensures the ultimate capture of significant records in the archives. Without defined and acknowledged responsibilities for records management, an archives program may be left with no archives at all or with only occasional transfers, which will not provide an accurate and thorough reflection of the organization's activities. …

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