RECORDS MANAGEMENT BASICS NOTES

The not-so-recent focus on information governance has generated a renewed interest in records management, records management profession, and the value of records management to the organization. The role is redefined in business to be a strategic resource to the CEO as organizations look to better understand, measure, and manage the unprecedented growth in electronic information and the complexities inherent in determining what information to trust, to keep, to secure, to connect, and of course, to discard.

The recognition of the records manager as key component of information governance, and the focus of information governance as a business enabler, are long overdue. Today, the most critical asset to any organization is its business information and records. Organizations are struggling to use huge volumes of information for better business outcomes. At the same time, the number of high-profile examples of data mismanagement is growing, making the need for proper oversight and use of information key to success.

Defining the Current State of Records Management

  • Over the last 10 years, as electronic information has grown to represent 90% of all information, information management strategies have been in reactive mode, responding to gaps in principles and infrastructure exposed by legal or regulatory imperatives.
  • Most information management technology investments have also been reactive, stopgap measures designed to address a specific problem, such as electronic discovery.
  • Massive adoption of collaboration tools including Sharepoint, the web, and social media has blurred the distinction between content and records and increased risks associated with over retention, information loss, legal and regulatory compliance.
  • End-to-end information management automation across electronic and physical records does not exist. If it did, it would allow the enterprise to address record keeping principles intelligently and declare, classify, store, secure, retain, discover, and ultimately dispose of content based on policy and automated, defensible enforcement.
  • Poorly architected solutions have turned information assets into liabilities – systems that once satisfied basic requirements laid out decades ago buckle under the increased pressure for interoperability, scalability, end-to-end security, and discoverability. This predicament has fielded unsustainable solutions along with upward spiraling integration costs.
  • Progress on establishing an information management strategy, which is essential for mid-size to large enterprises, has been extreme slow. For example, according to the AMA only 1% of all healthcare providers have an electronic records management strategy, and 94% have yet to start planning for the information management requirements of HITECH.
  • Records managers cannot get the e-discovery monkey off their backs. Even in 2010, records managers will be consumed with managing e-discovery risk leaving little time for strategic records management programs and activities.

Back to Basic Principles

On the Wikibon Peer Incite call February 16, 2010, the primary organizational message was “get back to the basics” of principles of records management and use these principals as the basis for sound information governance. These principles, originally defined by ARMA International, a not-for-profit professional association and the “authority on managing records and information” are expressed and embellished on below:

Basic principles of records management

  1. Accountability – Assign a senior executive who will oversee and be accountable for record keeping program (aka information governance program, or IGP) and delegate program responsibility to appropriate individuals; adopt policies and procedures to guide personnel, and ensure program auditability. Make all business managers accountable for information governance and the records management principles, policies, and costs.
  2. Integrity – Construct an IGP so that records generated or managed by or for the organization have a reasonable and suitable guarantee of authenticity and reliability. Identify technologies and processes that can provide suitable and reasonable guarantees. To do this of course requires an organization to first define and classify the difference between official records and business information.
  3. Protection – The IGP must ensure a reasonable level of protection to records and information that are private, confidential, privileged, secret, or essential to business continuity. These attributes are the core differentiators when comparing content management to records management systems.
  4. Compliance – The IGP must be established to comply with applicable and jurisdictional laws, regulations, and the organization’s policies. The challenge for most organizations is not developing policies but instead enforcing these policies across a vast number of information repositories and file systems.
  5. Availability – The IGP must maintain records in a manner that ensures timely, efficient, and accurate retrieval of needed information, as more and more organizations are turning to information governance and IGP to do more than meet compliance regulations.
  6. Retention – Maintain records and other information for an appropriate time (and for no longer), taking into account business, legal, regulatory, fiscal, operational, and historical requirements.
  7. Disposition – An IGP provides for the deletion for records that have no incremental business value or that create liability for the business.
  8. Transparency – The IGP must be implemented in a defensible, understandable, and efficient manner and be available and understood by internal and external business stakeholders.

Recognising Records as a Strategic Resource

Record Keeping and Accountability

Record keeping is a fundamental activity of public administration.  Without records there can be no rule of law and no accountability.  Public servants must have information to carry out their work, and records represent a particular and crucial source of information.  Records provide a reliable, legally verifiable source of evidence of decisions and actions.  They document compliance or non-compliance with laws, rules, and procedures.

In many countries around the world, record-keeping systems are unable to cope with the growing mass of unmanaged papers.  This is particularly true in countries with limited financial or administrative resources or unable to provide their records and archives managers with training or professional development opportunities.  Administrators find it ever more difficult to retrieve the information they need to formulate, implement and monitor policy and to manage key personnel and financial resources.  This situation impedes the capacity of these countries to carry out economic and administrative reform programmes aimed at achieving efficiency, accountability and enhanced services to citizens.  Moreover, the decline, and in some cases total collapse, of record-keeping systems makes it virtually impossible to determine responsibility for actions and to hold individuals accountable.

Records are vital to virtually every aspect of the governance process.  The relationship between key governance objectives and the records required to support them is illustrated in Figure 5.  The effectiveness and efficiency of the public service across the range of government functions depends upon the availability of and access to information held in records.  Badly managed records adversely affect the broad scope of public service reforms.  Consider the following brief descriptions of the importance of good record keeping.

Human Rights

The ability of government to protect the rights of its citizens and to improve citizen‑government interaction is a critical issue in an increasingly electronic environment.  The rights and entitlements of citizens are based on records.  The ability of a government to continue to respect these rights and entitlements is based on the quality of the policies, standards and practices employed for the care of those records.

Governance and Accountability

Governments are being asked to be transparent, open and engaged with their citizens.  And citizens are becoming more concerned about their roles in the governance of the country.  They want to be able to trust in their government and they expect their government to function in a manner that engenders this sense of trust.  Records and the evidence they contain are the instruments by which governments can promote a climate of trust and demonstrate an overall commitment to good government.

Similarly, accountability is critical to a responsible government. The foundation for accountability is based on records.  When managed in a way that ensures their integrity and authenticity through time, records allow employees to account to their managers, permit managers to account to the heads of government institutions and help the heads to account to elected officials and others who represent the interests of society.  Without records there can be no accountability framework, and without an accountability framework there can be no responsible government.

Infrastructure and Sustainability

In an era of globalization, governments must position themselves to be competitive on the global marketplace even as they improve the delivery of their programmes and services to citizens.  An infrastructure of polices, systems, standards and practices is required to meet the se goals, especially with the emergence of electronic commerce and electronic service delivery.  Such an infrastructure will be without value, however, if it does not have the capacity to keep and maintain the authenticity of the records required to support the delivery of programmes and services and the transaction of government business, electronically or otherwise.

Knowledge Management

Public and private sector organisations are recognizing the benefits that can be derived from exploiting information in records and publications.  At a broader level, nations are recognizing the value of the information held in records and archives as the basis for defining and nurturing a national identity and building knowledge based societies.

Records have tremendous power as the basis for society’s understanding of itself.  Consider the efforts by some societies to destroy the archives of other societies, such as in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Kosovo, East Timor and other regions.  The attempt to destroy people’s evidence of themselves as a people is testament to the power of records as part of a nation’s culture and identity.

Management of Human Resources

Improved human resource management is central to good policy management in government.  Yet in many countries it can be difficult to find personnel files that are complete.  Although public sector reform programmes typically include a significant reduction in the size of the public service, governments are unable to find the basic information needed to accomplish this task, such as accurate staff numbers or details of their grades and location.

Moreover, as governments focus attention on improving the incentive structure of the civil service, the need for accurate and complete records becomes more critical.  For example, performance-related human resource management – designed to reward the most competent staff and penalize poor performers – is dependent upon information about the present and past performance of individuals.  This information is not accessible of the relevant records cannot be located.

Financial Management

Good record keeping is essential to clear and accountable financial management.  Without accurate records of actual expenditures, the process of preparing budgets can become almost meaningless.  Poor record keeping affects the entire accounting function, with the result that reporting and auditing may become virtually impossible.  Corruption and fraud become difficult to detect.  Debt management also suffers because records of borrowing may be divided among different government offices or may be incomplete.  Virtually all approaches to improved financial management rely upon more efficient use of information, but these approaches cannot succeed if financial records are badly managed.

Payroll Control

In many countries, government payrolls have been inflated with ‘ghost workers’: non-existent employees who draw a salary, taken by someone else.  The personnel file should be the

 

  • primary source of evidence that a person actually exists,
  • Primary source of evidence that the grade is appropriate to the salary paid
  • Primary source of evidence that any additional benefits are appropriate and have been authorised.

In the absence of complete personnel files, the ‘ghost workers’ problem cannot be addressed.  Entries on the payroll database cannot be checked against an authoritative source to ensure that the person actually exists and that payments have been authorised.  Head counts and questionnaires do no more than provide a temporary solution, and payroll projects often fail because of a lack of reliable data.

Initiatives to computerise payroll and personnel information do not always work because insufficient attention has been paid to ensuring that personnel files are accurate and complete.  Consequently, the integrated personnel and payroll database lacks accurate source data.  The database cannot be used for personnel management functions because the data cannot be trusted.

Private Sector Investment

Chronic weaknesses in government record keeping can adversely affect private sector investment.  For example, overseas firms may hesitate to invest in a country if they feel its courts do not handle civil cases (especially commercial cases) efficiently.  Likewise, large-scale infrastructure investments, such as the construction of gas pipelines, may be delayed or may incur significant additional costs if government land registries cannot provide complete and definitive statements of titles to property.

More generally, poor record keeping can contribute to a lowering of the general standard of service offered to businesses.  For example, there may be delays in replies to written inquires about the registration of businesses, the issue of licenses and other matters necessary for companies to pursue their business.

Decentralisation of Administrative Functions

The decentralization of central government functions to local authorities is increasingly recognized as a key factor in improving governance at all levels.  However, the information systems currently in place have been structured to support centralized government.  As yet, little thought has been given to the complicated task of decentralizing centrally held but disorganized government records, while taking into account the information needs of both the central and local governments.

  • The Collapse of Record-keeping Systems

In many countries of the world, public sector record-keeping systems are not just weak but have actually collapsed to the point where they do not function at all.  This collapse has been particularly evident in countries that had once been part of European-dominated colonial regimes.  In these countries, structured record-keeping systems were common, operating as part of a small, centralised civil service, often with a well-trained and experienced registry staff.  Senior civil servants had an understanding of the importance of information management, having worked in the registries themselves early on in their careers.

In many countries of the world, public records are unmanaged and government information is inaccessible.

In these countries in the years following independence, this situation deteriorated progressively as part of a general decline in public administration.  Informal practices supplanted formal rules, and efficient public administration was of secondary importance to providing employment.  While the civil service expanded steadily, bringing with it a corresponding increase in the flow of paper, more formal ways of working gradually collapsed, often replaced by ad hoc work methods.  In many cases, the institution grew used to making decisions without referring to records.  There was scant incentive to maintain effective record-keeping systems or to allocate adequate resources for records storage and staff.  In some more extreme cases, the failure to create and maintain records systems was sometimes motivated by the desire to conceal financial and other irregularities.

Even though records management is a valued and honourable profession, it is not recognised as such in many parts of the world.

Information users are well aware that there are severe problems in information retrieval, but they do not know what solutions are required.  They do not appreciate the complexities of establishing and maintaining records systems, nor do they recognise the connection between the breakdown of record systems and the larger problem of public administration.  As a result, record system reforms rarely feature in government priorities.

Donor support to governments has, in many cases, exacerbated the situation.  Donors have seldom recognized the significance of records management in supporting public service reform objectives.  Yet the expanding range of donor-supported government commitments depend on efficient record-keeping systems and place increasing demands on the existing ones.

Some of the symptoms of a failure to manage records effectively are

  • the loss of control over the creation and use of records
  • the loss of control over access
  • the fragmentation of official records
  • the existence of different versions of the same information and the absence of a definitive or authentic record
  • the loss of contextual information, such as the originator and the date of creation
  • the ease with which electronic records can be changed
  • technology-related difficulties in retrieving records
  • the misuse of records, such as unauthorised access to or alternation of records.

The breakdown of records control has prompted archivists and records managers to attempt to design national and international codes of practice and standards for records management.  These codes provide guidance on implementing strategies and procedures in any organisation that needs to control and manage its records in order to meet its own business, legal and accountability requirements, as well as the needs of staff and clients and society at large.

 Why Are Records Neglected?

Records and records management is a neglected area of public sector reform, despite the fact that many public servants and public sector advisers have first-hand experience of the problem of collapsed record-keeping systems. It seems that records have been taken for granted.  Records are so fundamental to the concept of a democratic society that governments and donor organizations have tended to assume they will be available to underpin constitutional arrangements and provide an institutional memory.  The deterioration in record keeping has been so gradual that it has gone largely unnoticed.

There is a widespread belief that the problem is so prevalent, ingrained and thankless that little can be done to improve the situation.  This and other false assumptions about the scope of the problem and its causes are in themselves obstacles to the effective implementation of sustainable solutions.  Some of the main assumptions and the realities of records care are described in the table shown in Figure 6.

The fact is, governments can no longer justify taking action with little or no reference to past performance or future goals. Nor can they justify parallel or duplicate services when they can combine services and reduce costs.  Client service, quality performance of tasks and measurable outcomes are increasingly important responsibilities, and they are all services that depend on accessible and usable records.  This is true not just in the public sector; the private sector is also concerned with increased productivity and reduced costs.  Effective records management is critical to accountability, efficiency and effectiveness both in governments and in businesses.

Computers and Record Keeping

Another challenge to the management of records in many countries is the introduction of computer technologies.  Both governments and private institutions around the world are reorganising their operational structures and systems to suit the needs of an increasingly global economy, by introducing ever more sophisticated information technologies.

  • Information technology: The infrastructure needed to move large quantities of information from one place to another efficiently and securely.

Before the invention of electronic technologies, few records required more than the naked eye to be understandable.  Handwritten or typed documents could be read easily, photographs and maps were usable without special equipment.  For many years, archivists managed materials that could be boxed, stored and made available with little more effort than providing a desk and a place to read.

Unlike paper records or even sound recordings or films, electronic records are not so easily accessible.  The very nature of electronic records is that they are technology dependent, requiring some form of digital equipment in order to be readable.  Without a computer, information in electronic form cannot be accessed or used, nor can it be transferred to another format, be it electronic or paper.  Archivists and records managers wishing to preserve and use electronic information are faced with the difficulty of dealing with a technology-dependent medium.

Unlike paper or audiovisual records, electronic records are not easily accessible without sophisticated technologies.

The development of sophisticated communications technologies has changed the way governments and organisations work.  Computers allow instant access to information.  Theoretically, governments can use computers to create, store and share information, reducing the need for paper records and improving their services.  Such technologies can affect more than just internal management.  Internationally accessible technologies, such as computer networks and the Internet, can provide users with information from around the world, instantly and often at low cost.

  • Computer network: A grouping of computers and peripherals connected together by telecommunications links to enable a group of users to share and exchange information.

Through these computer networks, users can access information, computer programmes and services without having to own anything more than a computer and a means of connecting to telephone lines (a modem).

  • Internet: A collection of local, regional and national computer networks that are linked together to exchange data and distribute processing tasks.

The Internet allows for virtually instant communication through electronic mail systems, and it provides access to thousands of databases on any subject, from economics and politics to science, technology, literature, medicine and the fine arts.

While computer technologies offer great advantages in speed and efficiency, their use has not always been well planned.  In many countries, this information technology has been perceived as the solution to public sector information problems.  In particular, public sector reform programmes often include an assumption that information technology will enable a culture of open information.

There is also an expectation that installing new technologies, such as networks and Internet access, will allow for more innovative administrative and will enhance such functions as policy development and financial management.  Ultimately the technology is expected to empower citizens to participate more fully in government.  However, even in industrialised countries the economic gains have not been as great as expected.

Undoubtedly, computerisation can bring significant productivity gains where there is a need to manipulate or aggregate data.  For example, computerised accounting systems for central government and databases of statistical information have been introduced successfully in most countries.  However, there is a risk that computerisation may be adopted inappropriately, without sufficient regard for local capacity and without concern for the legal requirements for evidence.

While computerisation can bring many benefits, it introduces many technical and organisational challenges that must be addressed in order to protect records as evidence.

In many countries with limited resources, and particularly in those regions outside major cities, it can be difficult if not impossible to provide trained staff, ensure adequate and continuous electricity supplies and guarantee sustainable technical support.  Yet,computerisation is fashionable.  It is regarded as the ‘modern’ solution and clients want to be seen to be using ‘cutting edge’ technologies.  But many countries are simply not in a position to move rapidly from a currently disabled manual record system to an automated one.

The Nature of Electronic Media

The media upon which electronic records are stored is fragile compared to other media forms such as paper and microfilm.  The life of a computer diskette is only about ten years and even optical disks are considered to be usable only about thirty years before degradation of the media begins to have an impact on the records.

The Fragility of Electronic Records

Electronic records stored in poor environmental conditions can be subject to loss and destruction.  Even slight changes in humidity and temperature can disturb the magnetic properties of disks and tapes thus leading to the loss of some or all of the records.  Power shortages, power surges or situations where the power is shut off suddenly can lead to a sudden loss of electronically recorded information, especially if there are no emergency back-up facilities in place.

The Manipulability of Electronic Records and Security Issues

Electronic records can be easily manipulated and overwritten.  Unless strict security provisions are in place, electronic records can be altered or deleted without the organisation’s knowledge simply because the storage media and the computer environment do not appear to have changed.

Technological Dependence

Electronic records are entirely dependent upon technology both for their creation and their storage.  As a result, they must be managed over time in a computerised environment.  Given the rapid obsolescence of computer hardware and software and the degradation of storage media, the mechanisms for the management of electronic records require a higher level of sophistication than is needed to manage paper records.  For example, some countries have chosen to use digital audiotape to store electronic records.  However, it is estimated that the tape is only a reliable storage medium for five years, by which time records will have to be transferred to fresh tapes.  Optical disks are much more stable, but the software used to access and retrieve the data stored on disks is liable to become obsolete because there are no software standards in this area.

The Importance of Context

Electronic records are dependent upon the availability of the contextual information necessary to understand the records within the context of the administrative and operational activities that generated them in the first place.  Remember that Lesson 1 introduced the idea that the context within which records are created is critical to understanding their purpose and nature.  The gap between records management practices and information technology developments must be bridged.

Accountability and Electronic Records

The absence of assigned accountability and responsibility is probably one of the most serious threats to electronic records.  In many organisations, accountability for the human resources and financial resources of an organisation are assigned very carefully and there are major penalties for mismanaging these valuable resources.  Records are also a valuable resource, but they do not receive the same degree of attention.  Electronic records may be lost because people within the organisation were not charged with the task of protecting them.

The last point underlines the fact that electronic records are more of a management issue than a technical issue.  Records and archives managers need to build the tools and techniques necessary to ensure that electronic records are managed properly, and these tools are not just technical in nature but, more importantly, should address key management changes in the organisation.

Requirements for Computerization

Computers are becoming an integral part of organizations around the world.  In spite of the challenges posed by electronic technologies for records and archives managers, the question is not whether to computerize, but when and how.  The benefits of computerization can only be achieved if there is an appropriate infrastructure to support it.  This includes

  • appropriate legislation
  • adequate management structures and assignment of responsibilities
  • appropriate allowances for upgrading and supporting the computer system
  • sufficient budget allocations to cover all costs
  • realistic targets and project design
  • well-organized, accurate, and easily accessible source data
  • reliable power supplies
  • realistic backup and storage procedures
  • appropriate environmental conditions and physical security
  • adequate number of information technology staff with appropriate skill levels
  • Information technology staff paid at market rates.

The benefits of computerisation can only be achieved if there is an appropriate infrastructure, including appropriate legislation, management structures and financial and technical support.

Introducing technological solutions without meeting the necessary preconditions will only increase the vulnerability of public records.  This is particularly true in countries with limited resources, which face huge obstacles in affording and obtaining access to the new technologies.  Installing an electronic system on top of a collapsed paper‑based one will seriously compromise existing and future record-keeping capabilities. In other words, automating a chaotic situation is likely to create yet more chaos.

Recognising Records as a Strategic Resource

All of the factors listed above – the importance of record keeping for accountability; the deterioration or collapse of records systems; and the effect of computers on records – are forcing records managers and archivists to rethink their responsibilities and their relationships with each other.

Traditionally, records and archives management were considered separate disciplines.  Records managers were responsible for the care of current records held in offices; archivists acquired, preserved and made available for research use historical records, whether from public or private sources.  Records management, if recognised at all, was seen as an administrative function of a government or business.  Archives management was identified as a cultural activity, closely aligned with the work of museums and libraries.  Although thetwo groups were ultimately responsible for the same activity – preserving records and making them available – they often operated independently, sometimes duplicating each other’s efforts and sometimes neglecting each other’s concerns.

National archival repositories play a vital role in preserving society’s documentary heritage.

National archival repositories play a vital role in preserving society’s documentary heritage, ensuring its integrity and making it available to a wide range of users, from scholars to ordinary citizens.  This is an essential service to society.

But the capacity of archival repositories to provide this service is at risk.  While archival institutions care for valuable historical records, they cannot guarantee their acquisition and preservation without closer links to the creators and managers of those records.  Within the public sector, it is essential to bring records and archives management closer together, in part in order to ensure valuable materials are preserved.  Good historical records are the outcome of well-kept current records.  Without effective records management there will be no useful historical material in the future.

The two fields come more closely together when each recognises that information is a strategic resource.  Historical preservation is not the main reason to keep records and archives.  As outlined in this lesson, records are a critical administrative resource for government as well as underpinning the culture and society of the country as a whole.  Records and archives management is a key tool in the efficient operation of government and business.

Good records management helps organisations to manage their information more efficiently in the face of rapidly changing information technologies.  Further, it helps governments to be transparent and accountable as they undertake government restructuring and civil service reform programmes. Records management is critical to effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.

Recognising information as a strategic resource allows for the integration of records and archives management into a unified programme, one that focuses less on the medium in which information is stored and more on the information itself, regardless of the carrier.  The distinction between archival and current records, between old and new information, becomes less and less obvious.  This acknowledges the life-cycle principle of records management, outlined in the last lesson.  It also recognises the need for a continuum of care, also discussed in the last lesson.  Unified records care not only manages current and semi-current records for administrative use but also ensures that historically and culturally valuable materials are preserved for public use.

Developing an Integrated Records Management Programme

It is important for you to understand the nature and scope of the process of implementing an IRM programme, so that you may comprehend the relationship between records and archives work.  This is true regardless of whether you work with archives or records and whether or not you will be directly involved with implementing the programme.  It is also important to understand the stages of an ideal IRM programme, even if such a programme can only be partially implemented in your organisation.

Records, Archives and Information Management

Factors such as changing communications technologies, government restructuring and civil service reform have contributed to the redefinition of records and archives work.  While each activity retains its unique qualities, together they form part of a larger, integrated system of information management.  Records management, archives management, librarianship and data management used to be perceived as separate tasks.  Now they can be seen as part of a hierarchy of activity, as shown in Figure 7.

The key activities discussed here are information management, records management and archives management.

Records management, archives management, librarianship and data management should be seen as part of a hierarchy of activity.

What Is Information Management?

As mentioned already, although all records convey information, not all sources of information are records.  The process of planning, controlling and using the information resources of an organisation in support of its business is known as ‘information management’.  The management of information is an important activity, and it affects the work of both records managers and archivists.

Information management: The planning, control and exploitation of the information resources of an organisation in support of it business.  Also known as information resources management.

It is often assumed that information management concerns only information and data created by computers.  However, as will be shown below, the most effective information management system manages all information, regardless of medium and format.  Records and archives are both vital information sources that should be managed within a wider information management programme.

What Is Records Management?

Records management is the task of ensuring that recorded information is managed economically and efficiently.  Records management controls the creation, maintenance, use and disposal of records so that the right records are provided to the right person at the right time.  It is worth repeating the definition included earlier.

Records management: That area of general administrative management concerned with achieving economy and efficiency in the creation, maintenance, use and disposal of the records of an organisation throughout their entire life cycle and in making the information they contain available in support of the business of that organisation.

When a records management system works well, the information contained in records can be readily retrieved, facilitating administration.  As well, it is easier to manage the disposal of unneeded records and the retention of valuable information.  Space, facilities and resources can be used efficiently and economically.  Finally, because they are accessible and identifiable, records retain their value and utility both to government and to society as a whole.

What Is Archives Management?

Archives management: The area of management concerned with the maintenance and use of archives.

A public archival institution, such as a National Archives, is one of the essential institutions of a modern state.  It has a key role to play in the overall management of records and information created by the government administration.

An archival institution serves government by protecting public information and making it available for use.  It also serves the public, ensuring that citizens’ rights and responsibilities are documented clearly and accurately.

A public archival institution is a cornerstone of a democratic society.  It is also one of the central cultural institutions in a nation, serving as a centre for research and as a guardian of the nation’s memory.

The incorporation of archives management within an information management structure need not weaken the archival institution’s cultural role.  Indeed, it can strengthen the archives by showing senior administrators the importance of information throughout its life cycle, from creation to ultimate disposition.

Further, archives can have continuing value for the creating agency.  Governments may need to refer to fifty-year-old building plans when planning renovations; business may wish to refer to old minutes of meetings to confirm actions or decisions.  Archives have a value to creating agencies as well as to researchers and members of the public.

Records and archives are valuable both to the agencies that created them and to the general public.

This study programme focuses largely on the management of public sector records, and much attention is paid to the care of current and semi-current records.  However, the archival component, particularly the role of archives as part of society’s culture, is not neglected.

Lesson 3 introduces the idea of developing an integrated records management (IRM) Programme, which ensures that all information, records and archives are managed as a strategic resource of government.

Integrated Records Management

The way to ensure that records are useful both to government and to citizens and researchers is to manage those records so that they are available and useful from their creation to their ultimate disposition.  This is the reason an integrated approach to records management is essential.  An integrated records management (IRM) programme recognises that records follow a life cycle and acknowledges the importance of caring for those records through a continuum of care.

The primary purposes of an integrated records management service is

  • to preserve records and archives in an accessible, intelligible and usable form for as long as they have continuing utility or value
  • to make information from records and archives available in the right format, to the right people, at the right time.

By caring for records throughout their life cycle, an integrated records management service preserve valuable records and makes them available for use.

The archival institution is the permanent home for an agency’s records with enduring value.  But those records will not reach the archival institution if they are not well managed throughout their life.  Provenance and original order must be respected, obsolete records must be destroyed in a timely fashion and valuable records must be secured and preserved.

To protect valuable records, the archival institution must be recognised as an essential part of a wider records and archives institution.  The function of records management is to make certain that records – and the information in them – are used to their best advantage from the moment of their creation.

Goals

The goals of an integrated records and archives management programme include

  • the creation and maintenance of authoritative and reliable records in an accessible, intelligible and usable form for as long as they are required to support the business and accountability requirements of the organisation
  • efficiency and economy in the management of records through eliminating duplication of effort, creating and maintaining only those records that are needed, systematising retention and disposal, and so on
  • improved access to records and archives, enhancing sound decision making, the effective delivery of government programmes and services, accountability and transparency of government and the protection of citizens’ rights
  • the secure destruction of obsolete records
  • the identification of archives of enduring historical and cultural value
  • the transfer of such archives to an archival institution
  • the preservation of those archives
  • the arrangement of archives in accordance with archival principles so as to preserve their contextual information
  • the description of archives so as to disclose their content to users.

To achieve those goals it is necessary to

  • enact and implement comprehensive legislation to regulate the life-cycle management of records and archives, irrespective of medium and format, designating a single authority to oversee the process and assigning other authorities clear responsibility for their respective actions at each of its stages
  • develop policies, procedures, systems and structures to ensure the maintenance of the integrated records and archives management programme
  • prepare long-term strategic plans to determine priorities within the programme
  • provide adequate resources, including staff, buildings, equipment and funding, to ensure the implementation of those strategic plans and the sustainability of the programme
  • monitor and evaluate the programme to assess its efficiency and effectiveness (‘value for money’) and to make any necessary structural readjustments.

 Priorities

Consequently, the priorities for records and archives management are

  • establishing records and archives management systems that offer a continuum of care through the records’ life cycle
  • facilitating the automation of records and archives management systems
  • extending integrated records and archives management systems to regional and local administrations, especially in the context of regionalisation and other decentralisation initiatives and where government programmes are delivered by a partnership of national, regional and local government
  • introducing effective systems for the life-cycle management of electronic records and archives
  • safeguarding and providing access to the archival heritage of the nation and contribute thereby to safeguarding the documentary memory of the nation and, thereby, the world.

 Benefits

There are many benefits to the implementation of an IRM programme.  These may include

  • the development of co-ordinated information management programmes
  • the elimination of duplication of services
  • improved accessibility to and use of information and records
  • reduced expenses for records management services
  • the ultimate preservation of records of historical and research value through a planned records management process.

Drawbacks

There are also some dangers to an IRM programme, particularly if it is not implemented fully.  These include

  • the mishandling of information because the appropriate tools and techniques are not applied (for example, using library methods to manage records, or records management practices to manage computer programmes)
  • reductions in resources if funders see extra staff or facilities as duplication rather than as separate activities (for example, while staff in records centres and archival repositories may form part of the same management structure, they are distinct professionals offering different services and need to be seen as such)
  • the de-emphasis of one aspect of information management in favour of another (for example, the cultural value of archives management can be reduced as the administrative value of records management is increased).

Key Stages in the Development of an IRM Programme

Following is a brief description of the key stages in the development of an IRM programme.  The stages and key activities are also illustrated in Figures 8 and 9.  An overview of each of these stages is provided in Lessons 4, 5 and 6 of this module.  They are then discussed in more detail in subsequent modules.

The six key stages in developing an IRM programme are

  1. restructuring existing systems
  2. organising and controlling records
  3. providing physical protection for records
  4. managing records in records centres
  5. managing archives
  6. supporting and sustaining the IRM programme.

Stages of an IRM Programme

1          Restructuring Existing Systems

  • reviewing and revising legislation and policies
  • reviewing and revising organisational policies and structures
  • determining resource requirements, such as facilities and staffing
  • developing strategic and business plans.

2          Organising and Controlling Records

  • building sound record-keeping systems
  • managing the creation, maintenance and use of files.

3          Providing Physical Protection for Records

  • implementing and maintaining preservation measures
  • developing emergency plans to protect records
  • identifying and protecting vital records.

4          Managing Records in Records Centres

  • developing and maintaining records centre facilities
  • transferring, storing and retrieving records according to disposal schedules
  • disposing of records as indicated by the schedules.

5          Managing Archives

  • acquiring and receiving archives
  • arranging and describing archives according to archival principles
  • providing public access to the archives.

6          Supporting and Sustaining the IRM Programme

  • promoting records services to the government and the public
  • promoting education for records and archives personnel
  • developing and expanding the records and archives professions.
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