Records management and Records management

par Marie-Anne Chabin

After my post entitled “What is a record?” two months ago, I went on thinking about records and records management.

As I did for records, I went through the ISO 14589 records management definition: “field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records” (refers to ISO 30300:2011).

I like this very good definition (I have repeated it and used it for fifteen years); but I decided to analyze it in relation with the world I work in and my own practice, looking for possible changes.

A good way to study a concept is to look at it after the translation of the words into others languages.

We have in French two main translations for records management, the old one and the new one:

  1. The old one, for decades and maybe even for centuries, was “gestion des archives”;
  2. The new one is “gestion de l’archivage”; it is the official translation for records management, recommended by the French Commission générale de terminologie (Cogeter) in 2009 ; this has been published in the Official Journal of French Republic (JORF n°0094 du 22 avril 2009 page 6949 – texte n° 83); the associated definition was: “Organisation et contrôle de la constitution, de la sélection, de la conservation et de la destination finale des documents d’une administration, d’une entreprise ou d’un organisme ».

In both case, management is translated by “gestion”, as it is with risk management/“gestion des risques”), even if management has become a French word too for a long time now.

The topic lies in the evolution of “archives” to “archivage”, that is the evolution from a static to a dynamic approach:

  1. Archives stands for records, those documents that are retained according to their legal or business value, and that are to be kept (or not) for ever as part of cultural heritage, according to their archival/historical value;
  2. The word archivage expresses the action of identifying valuable documents and transferring them in a record center, the appropriate place to keep them in good health and make them available during their lifetime; archivage is also used with a technical meaning in the digital environment, as a translation of “archiving”.

So, archivage is the process and archives are the objects.

In other words, the question is: what exactly is to be managed with this definition?

  1. The records themselves as information objects: records are created and then have to be managed from creation to disposition, or
  2. The process: how to create good records, before managing their preservation?

Records creation stands in the middle. So the question could also be:

  • Is the creation of records the beginning of records management? or
  • Is the creation of records the end of records management? When an electronic record is well created and documented, with appropriate metadata, the biggest part  of the job is done, from an archival science point of view at least because what happen next are technical processes; and the more complete the metadata are, the more efficient the records system is.

The answer must be: the two, but both the form of records and the way to proceed for their preservation have changed with the development of digital technologies.

A couple of decades ago, records were created through hierarchical and roughly well controlled administrative processes; the requirements for records professional were collecting, describing, storing and making them available.

The digital world changed that: a large part of valuable information comes from business applications and the way the records are created has to be prepared at the time of implementation of those applications; another part comes from e-mail boxes or networks, the content of which must be identified as soon as possible to be put aside as records, extracted from the big data mixture growing up in organizations.

I remember very well how the members of the French committee for ISO 15489 (CN11 AFNOR), at the end of the previous century, were shocked by the idea that “archivistes” could intervene in the creation of the documents in the business services.

Twenty years later, the more I work for companies (as an expert for information and records management), the more I see how the challenge lies in the creation of proper and documented records (I would say in French, la production de traces pertinentes et documentées).

Anyway, I like records management!