Concepts and principles for the management of electronic records, or records management theory is archival diplomatics

Publication Date01 Dec 1999
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/EUM0000000007248
Pages149-171
AuthorLuciana Duranti
SubjectInformation & knowledge management
Concepts and principles for the
management of electronic
records, or records management
theory is archival diplomatics1
LUCIANA DURANTI
Abstract
The greatest challenges with which digital systems present us are the creation and
maintenance of reliable records and the preservation of their authenticity over
time. It is vital for every organisation that its records be able to stand for the
facts they are about i.e. that their content is trustworthy. To meet these chal-
lenges the international community of records professionals must develop appro-
priate strategies, procedures and standards. In this article the author explores the
concepts and principles derived from archival diplomatics that should guide the
management of electronic records and therefore these developments, as well as
drawing conclusions about the nature of the research work required.
Introduction
In his article
Records management: confronting our professional issues
J. Michael Pemberton writes: “the theoretical roots of records manage-
ment, archives, and librarianship lie in information science, cognitive sci-
ence, systems sciences, and at conceptual intersections with fields cognate
with our own.”2I strongly disagree with this statement and firmly believe
that the theoretical roots of records management lie in diplomatics as it
has developed over the centuries for archival purposes.3
In order to support my assertion, I will discuss the concepts and princi-
ples for the management of electronic records that have been developed
by using archival diplomatics theory and methodology.4They are among
the findings of two research projects directed by myself at the University
of British Columbia (UBC) – the UBC/Department of Defense project
Records Management Journal, vol. 9, no. 3, December 1999, pp. 149–171
Records Management Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, December 1999
© Aslib, The Association for Information Management.
All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act
1988, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior
written permission of the publisher.
Aslib, The Association for Information Management
Staple Hall, Stone House Court, London EC3A 7PB
Tel: +44 (0) 171 903 0000, Fax: +44 (0) 171 903 0011
Email: pubs@aslib.co.uk, WWW: http://www.aslib.co.uk/aslib
on the Preservation of the Integrity of Electronic Records, carried out
between 1994 and 1997, and the International Research on Permanent
Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES), begun in
January 1999.5
The primary contribution of diplomatics to an understanding of elec-
tronic records is its analysis of the attributes of a record based on con-
cepts and principles that have evolved over centuries of detailed study of
the documentary process. By decontextualising and universalising those
attributes, the original diplomatists were able to recognise and evaluate
records created over several centuries and juridical systems. In the same
way, diplomatic concepts and principles have proven useful in identifying
electronic records generated within many different hardware and software
environments and for developing standards. The contribution of archival
science is its analysis of aggregates of records in terms of their documen-
tary and functional relationships and the ways in which they are con-
trolled and communicated. The following discussion of the concepts and
principles that should guide the management of electronic records focus-
es on those that are derived directly from archival diplomatics.
Overview of the problems presented by electronic records6
The last decade has generated more records than any previous decade of
human activity. The fact that the majority of them are less reliable,
retrievable or accessible than ever before is one of the ironies of the mod-
ern information age. Idiosyncratic software systems generate, manage
and store digital data using proprietary technologies and media that are
not developed to segregate records from other types of information, to
prevent manipulation or tampering, or to establish and maintain an
intellectual order, and that are subject to the dynamism of the computer
industry. This digital information cannot be considered trustworthy and
is easily lost in a self-perpetuating and expensive cycle of obsolescence
and incompatibility.
Moreover, organisations and individuals create records in a variety of
media and formats. It is quite common for records relevant to a single
matter to exist partly in a paper file, partly in an email box, and partly in
a spreadsheet application or in a relational database. It is essential
to establish explicit intellectual links among these records as they are cre-
ated, and maintain them while they are actively used. It is equally impor-
tant to preserve such links among inactive records, in particular those
that are destined to permanent preservation, so that, several decades from
now, researchers will be able to see the entire dossier relating to the mat-
ter they are exploring. Ad hoc attempts have been made by individual
organisations to either create all records in a single medium or reduce
them to one medium of choice. For example, offices have established
150
Records Management Journal vol. 9 no. 3
Records Management Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, December 1999
© Aslib, The Association for Information Management.
All rights reserved. Except as otherwise permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act
1988, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior
written permission of the publisher.
Aslib, The Association for Information Management
Staple Hall, Stone House Court, London EC3A 7PB
Tel: +44 (0) 171 903 0000, Fax: +44 (0) 171 903 0011
Email: pubs@aslib.co.uk, WWW: http://www.aslib.co.uk/aslib

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