The below paper was originally published in the Records Management Journal, vol. 7 no 3 (1997) p. 157, the professional journal of United Kingdom ASLIB association, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of ASLIB.


Electronic Records Management...The Way We Were...The Way We Are: One Man's Opinion


It is the rage in the literature today for archivists and records managers to address the issue of recordkeeping in The New Millennium. It is an idea that must be worthy of its own acronym, TNM. It has a nice, seductive, ring to it that gives one the sense of joining the ranks of the pundits and visionaries. This author has succumbed like all of the others. And I know I'll do it again – soon. I can't wait. At my age, when one begins to get the idea that it might be the last chance one will have to talk about a TNM, it is downright irresistible. One has to bleed it is for all it is worth.

However tempting it may be, we do not need to do a great deal of speculating about TNM. It is looking us in the eye right now, in the sense that what it will be like at the beginning of TNM is going to reflect in many ways the reality of today's world and our current planning, research, development and implementation activities. Therefore, in the remainder of this opinion piece, I will reflect on certain aspects of the past 10 years of progress in the field of electronic records to see how we have become what we are today and reassure ourselves that we need not be disappointed about that; and I will offer opinions on the way we are today and how that frames many of the issues of the future without calling upon punditry or even much vision.

The way we were

After having accepted the invitation to contribute to this year's ambitious international edition of the Records Management Journal with an opinion piece on the status of electronic records, and reflecting with some horror what I had agreed to do, I was thinking about a simple and interesting way to share my views on where we have come with electronic records in the past 10 years. I was reminded of an email exchange I had in May 1996 with Glenda Acland. She had a very interesting approach for a paper she was working on to present to the Australian Society of Archivists at its 1996 Annual Conference in Alice Springs. She had been asked to give a paper "on observations of the state of play with electronic records management (ERM) from my last trip [to North America], but which I am trying to update to make it more interesting." She asked several international colleagues who were active in discussions and agenda setting in electronic records in research and development, including me, to briefly express their views on the subject, and she consolidated those views in her paper. I thought: what a clever idea: this may be one of the first applications of "knowledge management" in an opinion paper on electronic records research and development! Portions of the remainder of this paper draw from and amplify upon the few paragraphs in my reply to Glenda Acland.

Reflecting on what it was like when I first became involved in the field of electronic records only ten years ago and what things are like now helps me to better understand the way we are today. Fixing on the way we are, in the context of the way we were only a decade ago, also gives me a better perspective on realistic ways that we might strengthen the way we now are. Admittedly, ten years isn't a very long time. I was a relative new comer to the electronic records field in 1987, as archivists and records managers were writing about machine-readable records going back at least as far as the 1960s, at which time I was just beginning a career in information management and technology. It would take me over 25 years to discover that that had much to do with records management. Nonetheless, the last decade is probably the most important one so far with respect to electronic records, because of the defining political, economic and technological events that have taken place during this period that have great bearing on recordkeeping in an electronic environment.

Because I believe it tells a good deal about our community more generally, and because it was so interesting and is a story that hasn't been told before so far as I am aware, I will express my views by telling a thumbnail story about my baptism in ERM, and the baptism of several of our colleagues, that is also one person's footnote on the history of the experience. In September 1987, I became chairperson of the inter-agency, inter-disciplinary United Nations Advisory Committee for the Co-ordination of Information Systems (ACCIS) Technical Panel on Electronic Records Management (TP/REM). The Panel consisted of 20 members from 12 regular and specialized agencies of the UN, one observer and two consultants. It produced a report that was later published as a softbound book Managing Electronic Records: Issues and Guidelines.

What was the first issue for this worldly group? It was a very earthy one to be sure – pun intended. The group was a mix of archives and records management (ARM) and information technology (IT) professionals, representing many nationalities and many UN agencies, that were physically located in various European and North American cities, plus two consultants and one observer from the US National Archives and Records Administration's technology unit. With these demographics, and a very limited budget, it seemed clear to me from the outset that the bulk of the project would somehow have to be conducted in small groups and largely over email. I naively proposed that approach at the Panel's opening plenary meeting only to discover that virtually none of the ARM professionals had personal computers, let alone access to or any experience with email. I thus made the following challenge to that part of the group: how could we possibly expect to credibly contribute to the development of ERM guidelines if we wouldn't know an electronic record were we to stumble over one in the dark of night? Or should we simply sit back and let the IT members of the group and the consultants figure it out for us? I suggested that these participants use this challenge to shame their organizations into providing them with a PC and a modem. The point was well taken and acted upon.

Through various, sometimes nefarious means, the Panel's ARM members acquired PCs. At that time, as chief of information services in the World Bank, I was beta testing an office system developed by Action Technologies, Inc. (ATI), of Alameda, California, called The Coordinator System™ that integrated various work coordination tools including calendaring and email using what was possibly the first desktop email system. That meant that all document creation and composition of outgoing email messages (em) and the reading of incoming EMs, was done off line on a PC rather than by necessity on-line on a host computer and, where applicable, over very expensive long-distance phone connections. The Coordinator seemed like the ideal vehicle for the TP/REM project and, through the generosity of ATI, we obtained sufficient free loaner copies for all TP/REM participants who didn't already have access to email.

Within only a couple of months, these ARM members who were new to IT became experienced in the creation of electronic records to carry out the business of the project team. They also began to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the emerging world or ERM, made substantive contributions to the work of the group and critically assessed the work of the Panel's excellent consultants. The ARM members of the Panel gained some other valuable insights along the way. For starters, as a professional group we came to appreciate the size and speed of the electronic records train that was coming down the track. And it looked like it was heading right where we were sitting!

Thus, I would observe that the first major issue was one of elevating awareness of the ARM community of the problems and opportunities that were associated with business communications in an electronic environment and the implications for the practice of archives and records management. ARM professionals have been aware of electronic records issues for many years – several decades. However, during the ACCIS study, the levels of awareness and issues became more sophisticated and focused. Close behind that was to raise awareness of the IT community that we had some serious problems regarding electronic records and that they would be well advised to join hands with their ARM colleagues to begin to solve them.

Secondly, we discovered that we didn't know how to talk to one another – not within the ARM communities with their different European and North American traditions and certainly not between the ARM and IT members. This was considered to be such a potential barrier that, to facilitate the work of the group, a small sub-group was created to build a glossary of ARM and IT terminology that would be augmented as we went along and shared at intervals with all of the members so that we would have a map to use in reading the directions of members from other disciplines. It was a very practical glossary as it gave ARM and IT definitions for the same words. (Imagine the first time someone used the term record and the group tried to conduct a meaningful conversation.) Although it wasn't our original intent, the glossary was of such help that we decided to incorporate it as an annex to the report. Thirdly and more importantly, all members gained a first-hand impression of the importance of making alliances between the ARM and IT communities and discovered that they had a good deal to learn from one another.

Thirdly, another unintended result, we learned both to respect the concerns of office systems users regarding the friendliness of the user interface and about the potential of email in improving the overall productivity of the highly distributed team. Upon completion and acceptance of the report by ACCIS in 1989, Celine Walker, then ACCIS Executive Secretary, estimated that the Technical Panel had completed its work in half or less time and costs than previous panels. In a very large way, this can be attributed to the use of sub-groups and electronic mail. The importance of this personal experience for the ARM professionals should not be underestimated. Rather than seeing electronic records as many had before – something to be disallowed as a record creation technology or coped with and held at bay as long as possible – the ARM members of the Technical Panel began to understand why their organizations might want to adopt electronic tool in the workplace and to accept the possibilities that there might even be some advantages for recordkeeping in the use of these tools if the necessary policy, systems and technological infrastructures were put in place.

That experience, compressed in numbers of people and time, now seems to me to have been a sort of microcosm of the transformation in ARM professionals that I have observed take place during the succeeding ten years in North America, Australia, Europe, Africa and Latin America. It was immensely fulfilling for all of the people who were involved in the creation of that report to observe that it contributed in an early and important way to the better understanding of electronic records issues and strategies. If continued citations of that report in the literature and in conference presentations are any measure, it seems to continues to do so.

Lastly, on a personal note, the experience had an unintended and unexpected impact on my own career. Agreeing to the chairmanship of the group in 1987 had been a task that I undertook reluctantly, because I already had a full-time and very demanding job as chief of information services at the World Bank. It turned out, however, to my surprise to be something that challenged and excited me greatly, caused me to bring much greater focus to that aspect of the Bank's ARM program and, upon retiring from the Bank in 1992, became one of the central areas of my consulting practice.

What happened to change it all

When I contemplate what has transpired in the workplace, and how archivist and records managers have had to change to deal with this, it is a world that is very different than the one of 1987. Many among us, myself included, grossly underestimated how rapidly the workplace would become transformed. The combination of largely unforeseen events, discussed in more detail elsewhere, rapidly changed the chemistry and arithmetic of world politics and economics in ways that had enormous impact on virtually every continent and at all levels in the public and private sectors. They changed forever, if not the nature of the record, the ways that records would have to be managed:

The way we are

Because we didn't observe and understand that global and technological changes would have important workplace consequences in the core business ends of our organizations that would indelibly effect the way in which records would have to be managed, and because we didn't (or couldn't) anticipate this rapid-fire succession of events, we continue to find ourselves chasing the power curve in our planning activities, because (i) didn't stop to boldly envision even the intermediate future; (ii) we thought we'd have much more time before any vision would become reality and (iii) because we didn't think the lead time we needed to respond to these changes would be so great.

We are ... living with rapid change as a way of life

Thus we recognize that the first characteristic of the way we are today is that we continue to experience the unhappy combination in which changes came faster while the time to deal with each change took longer. Will we learn from the past this lesson for the future? Who would have thought in the early to mid-80s that PCs would become desktop utilities as common as the telephone? Not even the most knowledgeable IT people anticipated the change that was to take place in the decade following the first beginnings of the infusion of PCs in the U. S. workplace beginning in the mid-1980s.

Now, little more than a decade later, virtually all documents in industrialized countries and increasingly in developing countries are created in digital form. Electronic records abound, whether we recognize them as such or not, and they are being created not only by people but increasingly by automated systems. How much credibility would we give today to the notion that a decade from now there might not be PCs on anyone's desktop? Or that voice messages and video reports on Websites might supplant much of the written word? Or that wireless pocket computers with voice interfaces might become the common appliance for interacting with remote biological or DNA-based machines for searching massive petabyte (1000 terabytes) records stores because electronic computers might not be able to efficiently handle the size and scope of future document-, information- and knowledge- bases? Yet, mathematical models of DNA and other non-electronic 'computers' are being tested today. In the ARM field, we tend to satisfy ourselves by arguing against the desirability of new technologies and pointing out the risks to recordkeeping that they bring with them. We rarely do contingency planning in the likely event that such technologies will be implemented without our permission.

For a number of reasons, the rapid pace of technological change has been more traumatic in North America, the principal seat for much of the technological innovation that we have seen in the past decade. There, technology is very sensitive to market movements demanding innovative improvements over current system, and that continually reduces product cycles. At the same time, the reverse is also true. Real innovations emerge from the seats of technological research and development not from the demands of the marketplace but out of sheer creativity on the part of their inventors that change the way people think about their work and the ways in which business actions are coordinated and carried out. ARM professionals find it a constant challenge to keep up with the recordkeeping implications of all of this.

... including in developing countries

It is by no means a situation that Europe, Asia and the Pacific Rim, Latin America or Africa have escaped or will escape. Records managers would be unwise to take what might be a comforting view that what is happening in North America is not likely to happen where they are for many years to come. Although the timing and scope differs from country to country, and even within the same country, I have observed very similar situations in the UK, France, Brazil and Zimbabwe as I have seen on much broader scales in North America, the Netherlands and Australia. If this dramatic pace of change caught North Americans off guard, there is no excuse for it blindsiding professionals in other countries where the pace may not be as fast.

European countries experienced this already with the shift from PC-based to networked systems five or more years ago. Developing countries are beginning to get the same lessons. Infusion of technology in two countries where I have provided consulting and training assistance for the International Records Management Trust (IRMT) – Zimbabwe and Uganda – has begun to pick up at a rapid pace. This is happening largely due to the fact that multi-lateral and bi-lateral development assistance organizations are now routinely including state-of-the-art information technology in virtually every development assistance project. Typically this is happening without either an information architecture or technology architecture in place or provided with the technology and typically with no thought of the recordkeeping aspects or the need to correct poor paper records management before – or at the very least while – introducing new document/record-creation technologies.

IRMT is doing more than perhaps any other organization I know to elevate awareness of the critical role of records management in achieving and sustaining government by law, democratization, human rights and administrative reform, accountability and fighting corruption and to stress the overarching importance of improving paper-based records systems in parallel with, if not prior to, the establishment of electronic recordkeeping systems . In its outstanding video productions covering these topics, one will hear Chief Justices and Auditors General among other senior government officials clearly spell out the essential way in which they see sound recordkeeping playing in government. When was the last time we heard such subjects discussed in the so-called developed countries. Indeed, in this respect, we have some lessons we could learn from our developing world colleagues. African consultants such as Peter Mazikana are contributing significantly to the elevation of improved recordkeeping in the private sector.

Moreover, the international aid community is taking a courageous stand to try to ensure equity in access to world-wide information resources and to avoid having developing countries become 'info-nots' in the information age as the industrial age gives way. Consequently, donor organizations are promoting information infrastructure strategies and projects in developing countries. The 'infoDev' program, an international consortium program led by the World Bank, is a case in point. Some countries are not waiting for broad, direct, individual access mechanisms to provide innovative means for citizen access. In a 15 September 1997 email exchange, Piers Cain, Director of R&D, IRMT, reported "I saw a bureau in Kampala where customers can call in to send and receive Internet e-mails, rather like an old fashioned telegraph office. In Tanzania it was possible to get cheap store and forward access to the Internet not only in Dar es Salaam, but also in Arusha," which is in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.

I advised clients in Uganda and Zimbabwe that they have the unique opportunity to narrow the North-South economic gap by learning from mistakes made in North America rather than repeating them and to observe, for example, that the lead time for introducing something like enterprise document management systems (EDMS) in their organizations is, as noted above, on the order of three to five years. The fact that they do not yet have EDMS or intranet systems, or don't expect to for the next few years even, is no excuse for failing to begin planning for such systems now. This will be the case especially if donor organizations decide that they can get better project performance for their loans and grants if they not only bundle PCs with their development projects, but servers and enterprise middleware (EDMS, intranet) software as well; or as the national infrastructure strategies now being developed under projects such as those funded by infoDev result in infrastructure implementation projects or middleware projects. I would extend the same advice to other developing countries, but also to industrialized countries that have yet to feel the full impact of document-based, process-based and action-based technologies, all of which will one day also be ubiquitous.

Many ARM professionals believe that it is premature for these technologies to be introduced in developing countries before their paper-based systems are corrected. However, the lesson of N. America is that organizations will introduce new technologies when they see a business advantage to do so, or a lost advantage for not doing so, whether or not records managers are ready. Not only that, but developing country officials, even if mistakenly, often interpret the cautions of advisors from developed country, that they should go through all the same phases of development in their use of technology as the industrialized countries have, as a new kind of techno-colonialism. Developing countries will pay a price for not adequately heeding lessons learned the hard way in developed countries, and IRMT has already observed some disasters in Africa where recordkeeping systems collapsed because new technology was improperly implemented without due regard for legacy recordkeeping practices and systems. By the same token, bilateral and multilateral aid organizations need to rethink their practices with respect to bundling technology with their aid projects, because what may work for individual projects can seriously hinder the recipient country's ability to manage its information and records assets in the aggregate.

... beginning to take R&D in our field more seriously

An important measure of any organization or group's seriousness about a subject is the amount of resources it is willing to invest in the future aspects of the subject. ERM R&D is central to the success or failure of ERM implementation projects. Thus, examining what has happened in the past decade in this area and what intentions are for the future, is one of the most important ways, for better or worse, that we can characterize the way we were and the way we are.

Ten years ago there was no coordinated international or national research and development program for electronic records management. During that period we have seen great strides in ERM R&D. Any attempt at a comprehensive review of such research is certain to miss important work, in a large way because the area lacks central coordination and monitoring. What follows is the author's best reporting of research with which he has personal knowledge with apologies for omissions. Its purpose is to illustrate the breadth and depth of research activities in this area and to help the reader to identify gaps still in need of coverage.

The publication of the U. S. National Historical Publications and Research Commission (NHPRC) Research Issues in Electronic Records, the familiar "green book" that constituted an agenda for electronic records R&D, reflecting results of the Minnesota Historical Society sponsored and NHPRC-funded Working Meeting on Research Issues in Electronic Records held in Washington D. C. on January 24-25, 1991. Prior to that time, the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) – through the NHPRC – funded 3 projects totaling about $250 thousand in ERM research. From 1990 through the end of 1996, including the 1990-91 project that set the agenda for ERM R&D, 30 projects and approximately $4 million in NHPRC grants and matching funds from the applicant organizations has been dedicated to ERM projects.

Thus, as with other aspects of ERM, beyond early awareness activities internationally, the sharpest changes have taken place in fewer than the past 10 years, mirroring the pattern in information technology innovation and the growth of electronic records in virtually all organizations. Considerable other ERM research was conducted in the U. S. without NHPRC funding, notably various projects undertaken by David Bearman, AMI, Inc. the U. S. Forest Service project and the U. S. Department of Defense project on the use of business systems analysis re-engineering archival business processes. Much less known about, often because of contract limitations on disclosure of project findings, is the work of various consultants who have practiced in the area of electronic records, e.g., Tora Bikson RAND), Charles Dollar (NARA and UBC) and this author, the latter two typically involving more developmental than research orientation. In addition, the Society of American Archivists (SAA), also making use of knowledge management concepts, funded small but important projects to document case studies in electronic records management.

Although nowhere near in terms of numbers of projects or resources invested, important ERM R&D projects have been carried out during this time in Australia (privately funded R&D by Tower Software, Inc. in the development of the electronic records management system TRIM™) Canada (e.g., the Information Management and Office Systems Advancement (IMOSA), Formal Records Management for Office Systems Technologies (FOREMOST) and follow-up projects, the on-going University of British Columbia project; the Netherlands (Revolution in Records project), Switzerland (Swiss Federal Archives research in automated contextual analysis of correspondence subject lines), Germany (University of Marburg Archives School research project to make traditional archival finding aids more comfortable for use by application of World Wide Web technologies, and, peripherally, the POLIKOM project using computer based technologies to support the move of the German from Bonn to Berlin) and Sweden (ASTRA, a Swedish pharmaceutical firm jointly with the Swedish National Archives, in research to develop methods for electronic recordkeeping in the pharmaceutical industry). On the international front, considerable work has been done by the World Bank and others in the U. N. Other important research was carried out in academia in many countries, especially in the form of master's theses and doctoral dissertations, recent examples of which are "The Use of Information Engineering as a Framework for Analyzing Records in Electronic Form", by Jayne Bellyk, University of British Columbia, 1995 and "The Influence of Warrant on the Acceptance and Credibility of the Functional Requirements for Recordkeeping" by Wendy Duff at the University of Pittsburgh, 1996.

In addition to the sharp rise in R&D activities, there were also great improvements in the reporting of results of research and in the on-going debate on the developing agenda for R&D. Several conferences on this topic as well as summer workshops at the University of Pittsburgh, sponsored by the US National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) at its 'electronic records summer camp' were also funded by NHPRC. The conferences specifically dedicated to ERM R&D included:

Reporting on ERM R&D has also become an expected feature of most professional meetings, more so in the archives community than in the records management community, in part because of the important role that graduate schools in archival studies play in funding and conducting much of this research but also in part because the records management community, especially in the private sector, is typically more interested in making best use of current technology and its implications and opportunities and less in investing in futures.

The quality of reporting on ERM R&D has improved enormously even in the most recent few years, principally because of the number and quality of ERM research projects. Although many organizations in many countries share the responsibility for this, NHPRC (under the leadership of Gerry George and his projects manager Lisa Weber, and more recently Joyce Ray) has distinguished itself, sometimes in the face of serious obstacles, in taking the lead in both setting the R&D agenda with the involvement of the ARM community and in putting real money where its mouth was.

The timeliness of reporting, criticisms above notwithstanding, has also improved significantly in the past few years. The three-year, NHPRC-funded, Pittsburgh project on Functional Requirements for Evidence in Recordkeeping set the standard for excellence in reporting of on-going research. Regrettably the project was sometimes criticized for misspellings brought about by the speed with which it disseminated project reports and the fact that the reports were on-going – i.e., they expressed views at a given point along the way that might change at a later stage of research. Unfortunately, the alternatives are not without their own costs: fully completed, largely risk-free statements of results that are clearly and articulately phrased, at least a year after the research is completed. In my opinion, the values of this kind of 'on the fly,' iterative, speedy and wide reporting to all members of the international ARM community far outweigh its inherent flaws. Others disagree on this point. Moreover, such reports often coincided with professional meetings where they were aired and clarified and these points were reflected in subsequent project reports. During the final year of the project, reporting shifted from written reports to email and Web reporting on the University of Pittsburgh project WWW page. Nowadays, no professional can hope to keep up to date without using these tools.

... making considerable strides in policy development

Considerable progress has been made in the development of ERM policies and guidelines, including some in lay language that are directed at the corporate world. The Australians have truly excelled in this area. Greg O'Shea, Australian Archives Assistant Director Records Standards and Agency Training, a key architect of many of these policies, has regularly reported on these activities. An extensive guide to virtually all aspects of recordkeeping is contained in the Australian Archives Handbook This and other excellent resources, including Managing Electronic Records: A Shared Responsibility and Keeping Electronic Records are available on the Australian Archives WWW page. Similarly, the Australian Council on Archives has produced one of the finest lay documents aimed at corporate-level management Corporate Memory in the Electronic Age, also available on the WWW. The Government of New South Wales has also been very active in this area. In the United States, Ohio State University, under an NHPRC grant, is developing ERM guidelines for universities, and several private sector and university organizations have made progress in establishing electronic mail policies. Alan Zaben has done an excellent job of capturing several WWW URLs relating to electronic mail and other electronic records topics on the WWW page of the Rio Grand Chapter of ARMA. Again, IRMT is developing electronic records guidelines for developing countries in the form of a distance learning package that hopefully will ultimately be accessible on the WWW.

... understanding issues and underlying technology

Most of us now have a basic understanding of the related issues. Moreover, most ARM practitioners are now regular users of at least PCs, word processing and e-mail, including the Internet and to a lesser degree the World Wide Web. They have joined the ranks of the computer literate. With ever worsening budgetary conditions, most senior archivists or records managers have had to become facile in the use of spreadsheets and presentation systems to make their internal cases and external conference presentations. In the process, they have discovered the world of object linking and embedding (OLE) as they import budget tables into their budget justification memos or cost benefits analyses. Welcome to the world of complex multimedia documents...and records that aren't always possible to simply print out and treat like any paper record if you wish to keep the dynamic links or the assumptions that are expressed in spreadsheet formulas that are only visible electronically. Similarly, ARM professionals are making growing use of the benefits of the World Wide Web. To illustrate, the author placed about a dozen papers on his WWW page about a week following their presentation at the NAGARA annual conference. In less than a month after announcing their availability this way, there were over a thousand visits to the site and numerous personal messages from all over the world expressing appreciation for the fact that they could have such early access to professional papers from a conference that they could not possibly have attended and that does not publish proceedings. Where there are proceedings, there may be a time lag of as much as a year from time of original writing. That kind of delay wasn't important 10 years ago. Today, for many papers, it is unacceptable.

... making relevant education and training an ongoing thing

More comprehensive graduate programs have come into their own in North America, Australia and Europe in the past decade. A number of professional associations have developed guidelines for such programs. Although these have not been adopted by university programs in any large way, they have helped to focus the debate about changing skill needs. Academia has gone its own way in shaping graduate programs in different ways. In North America, only the University of British Columbia awards a Masters in Archival Studies (MAS) degree. Other universities are opting to keep the archives a specialization within MLS, MLIS, MAH, MA, MSLS or MSI degrees and Post-Master's Certificates and Ph.D. degrees.

Today there are few ARM professionals who have not participated in postgraduate courses, continuing education workshops or distance learning programs on ERM in recent years. There are few who have not come to realize that continuing education on a regular basis is a must nowadays. There are there few among us any more who have not stumbled over an electronic record or two in the dark of night and knew them when we saw them. We have come a long way in becoming more comfortable with the technology, understanding the issues and exploring some of the implications and possible ways for dealing with those issues. However, we have been better at raising good questions than answering them. An exception is that we don't see conference sessions any more on "What is an electronic record???" I think we are all reasonably agreed on the definition of 'record' in the electronic environment and on what are the attributes of recordness – even though somewhat different words are used in different areas of the literature. We are also in agreement that it is important for organizations to define such terms in their policies and procedures in such a manner that they will be clear to employees. This is especially the case with respect to email and voicemail where there is considerable misunderstanding among people outside of the records management field.

... becoming more sophisticated about functional requirements for recordkeeping

We have come a long way in addressing the question of what functional requirements need to be included in electronic document management systems if they are to be regarded as trustworthy from a recordkeeping point of view. In particular, the early work of the World Bank and the more recent work of the University of Pittsburgh Functional Requirements for Evidence in Recordkeeping Project that was funded by NHPRC and co-led by Richard Cox, Associate Professor, Archival Studies in the University's Department of Library and Information Science, Master's in Library Science (Archives and Records Management) program and David Bearman (Archives an Museum Informatics, Inc.) have paved the way for others to fashion and fine tune their own requirements without having to reinvent the world.

Having been personally involved in the World Bank, Pittsburgh and other projects, I believe that we tend to 'let the best become the enemy of the good.' Trying to solve everything at once to the perfect satisfaction of the rigorous demands of archives and records management theories, teachings and practices has resulted at best in our coming up very short on implementation experience, especially as part of mainstream enterprise systems. At worst, it has resulted in our not implementing anything at all. It is easier, and maybe less threatening, to thrash out functional requirements and even technical requirements than it is to make something happen in a real world environment. At the World Bank, excellent work was done in the early 1990s, especially in the areas of requirements analysis and document profile metadata; but only very recently has the Bank finally undertaken implementation of an operational enterprise system. While this is evidence of the tremendous lead times involved in actually implementing such projects, it is also evidence in my view of the dangers of over specification. I believe strongly in planning big – taking the whole information architecture of the organization into account to avoid implementing systems that will work only in pockets of the organization. At the same time, I recognize the dangers of over implementation – trying to implement a grand scheme all at once that rather in digestible pieces.

During her presentation at the 1995 Annual Conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists in Regina, Saskatchewan, Catherine Bailey, an archivist in the National Archives of Canada's Government Archives Division, who has been involved in a number of electronic records projects questioned whether all of the functional requirement proposals of the U. S. Department of Defense Records Management Task Force21 were absolutely essential to trustworthy recordkeeping systems. More recently the subject came up at the invitational Working Meeting on Electronic Records R&D in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May 1997. During that meeting, in an informal presentation to the group, Margaret Hedstrom, posed the same question: There was not a great deal of discussion of her question.

We may see the first test of this question in the NHPRC funded an electronic records project that was proposed by the City of Philadelphia. The idea of the project was that, rather than inventing its own wheel, Philadelphia would adopt the extensive statement of the Pittsburgh Functional Requirements Project.

Accordingly, Philadelphia is in the midst of implementing a recordkeeping system based on the Pittsburgh requirements. Mark Guiguere, an information scientist and Electronic Records Manager in the city's Department of Records, heads up the Philadelphia project. As he has reported at a number of recent professional meetings, the Philadelphia project is having to adapt the Pittsburgh requirements to make it possible to implement even a portion of the Pittsburgh requirements in a timely fashion. It is my sense that the Pittsburgh team (the project itself is concluded) welcomes this approach as a means of obtaining early trials of the requirements, even in pared down, in a highly operational city government environment that is clearly a candidate for at least partial replication across the country, and conceivably internationally, and to observe what if any risks are inherited with less than the full suite of requirements.

... being more comfortable with requirements definition than implementation

In most cases we have been bolder in our demands and actions in the former arena than in the latter. Too often when it comes to implementation, we opt for the short-term solution and say: until someone (read: someone else) sorts out what we should do in an electronic environment, let's just print out the e-mail, memos and reports and deal with these as paper documents in the old fashioned way that we know and have the skills for – even when the old fashioned way is beginning to burst at the seams under the pressures of enormously increasing volumes of electronic commerce and business communications as more and more substantive work shifts to e-mail, workflow, action coordination, intranet and extranet platforms.

... beginning the use of automated electronic records management systems

ARM units have been making use of computer-based systems (such as MINISIS) for the management of paper records for a long time. Now finally we are seeing the emergence of the first records management software systems (TRIM for Windows; GENCAT; Provenance) that are specifically designed to deal with electronic records as well as paper records and with significant recordkeeping functionality, even if not Pittsburgh compliant.

... making progress in the establishment of national/international standards

Considerable recent advances have been made in the development of ARM-related standards at the national levels. These include the Australian Standard for Recordkeeping (AS 4390), the British NCA National Name Authority Files standard and competing British Library/Library of Congress unified Anglo-American Authority File standard as well as a British standard on archives facilities; archival description standards in the International Council on Archives and the U. S. Library of Congress; and at the International Organization for Standards (ISO), the document quality portion of the Quality Standard – ISO 9000. Considerable progress has been made in gaining the adoption of the AS 4390 as an ISO standard.

Framing the challenges from the way we are

What are the challenges we now face as more mature practitioners? In my opinion, but confirmed in the client communities where I work, they include the following:

In another example, following a considerable gap in time and a prolonged debate among its members, the Council of the Australian Society of Archivists announced its position on the so-called Heiner case. This is an on-going case that goes back to 1989 allegedly involving the authorization and destruction of Government records by the State Archivist of Queensland, Australia that, unbeknownst to her, were known by the departments seeking their destruction to have been the subject of likely upcoming litigation. The ASA's position is that the handling of the whole matter was a threat to the integrity of public records and called upon the Queensland Government to "enact legislation that guarantees the independence of the State Archivist, including protection from political interference, in order to ensure the integrity of the public record in that State." I recommended to the Records Management Association of Australia, and it subsequently agreed, that the RMAA endorse the ASA statement.

Hopefully, other professional ARM associations in the legal and auditing association in Australia and in the ARM associations of other countries also either endorse the ASA statement or write their own. This is particularly important as the International Council of Archives in a letter reply to the "Lindeberg Declaration" appeal of Kevin Lindeberg denied his appeal its support in condemning the alleged actions of the Queensland Government. The ICA has performed an excellent leadership role in developing a code of ethical conduct for ARM professionals and has set up WWW pages on the subject of ethics, but it elected not to take any stand on the Heiner case, despite the fact that the subject was already on the agenda for the ICA committee responsible to deal with the matter. Moreover many of ICA's members believe that the handling of the case has already eroded public trust in the Queensland Government and recordkeeping systems, and question both the adequacy of the consultation process that yielded the ICA letter and the continuing relevance of ICA or its moral leadership position in simply promulgating an ethical code of conduct. The SAA also declined Lindeberg's request to endorse the ASA statement on the Heiner case. I understand informally that at least one of the reasons for this decision was that SAA was not requested by the ASA to make such an endorsement.

Some recent examples of individuals speaking out to both their own professional groups on sensitive but important issues include Richard Cox's thought provoking essays to colleagues on his WWW page, Mike Steemson's "The Records Management Society comes of age," and Chris Hurley's unpublished but widely circulated "Records and the Public Interest: Shredding of the 'Heiner' Documents; An Appreciation" dated 15 March 1995. There are fewer examples of ARM professionals speaking out to the public more broadly. One of the best examples to date is Terry Cook's Technology Review article "It's 10 O'Clock: Do You Know Where Your Data Are?"

Looming issues

There are some signs in our midst that do not augur well. If there is agreement on their importance, we should take them as early warning signals and commit to act to head them off. Each one of these issues is worthy of a separate paper on its own. I will, therefore, only mention them here and urge that local and national and state/provincial and local archives and records administrators and professional organization and chapters across the world make it their business to learn more about these issues and discuss them in their local and national contexts with the aim of dealing with them before they further inhibit the trustworthiness of recordkeeping systems including the reckless downsizing without justification or disestablishment of ARM organizations:

Every one of these issues has an electronic records dimension. Easy access to public records may constitute one of the most effective means of restoring public trust. In the absence of essential safeguards, the potential for ethical and other abuses in recordkeeping will increase as the volume of electronic records increases and as electronic archives become more decentralized. The continued absence of archivists and records managers in the rising debates on crucial social issues relating to information and records will create more and greater problems in the world of electronic records than has heretofore been the case. Inadvisable or poorly implemented downsizing and elimination of records management functions will place greater reliance upon electronic recordkeeping systems that, if improperly designed or staffed will place organizations at greater not lesser risk. Lack of university education and professional education in the records management field has been problem in the past. It can only become exaggerated in the future with the increasing role of electronic records. The ubiquitous presence of computers that are used to create records by humans or automatically in workflow and similar systems makes it essential that both archivists and records managers understand information technology and are not easily hoodwinked by techno-savvy organizations.

With the exception of the U. S., almost no national archives organizations have a designated R&D program or budget dedicated to electronic records management and rarely do national archives invest as little as 1% of their budgets in research on future recordkeeping needs or systems. Relationships among the archives and records management disciplines and other disciplines are increasingly challenged by the advent of electronic records and electronic access to recordkeeping systems and assets.

Finally, many of the tasks that consume large portions of records managers time today will be performed automatically in electronic recordkeeping systems. Does that mean that archivists and records managers will be out of a job? For many, it could; but not for those who husband the tasks better performed by humans. Thus it is essential that the archives and records management professions – hopefully together – write the story of what they will become and what their special added values will be in TNM.

The way we will be

If we learn well from the way we were and now are, and use that knowledge as a framework for doing the things we must do to preserve for use the records about which we concern ourselves. We will also give new meaning to our own changing place in all of this. The raison d'etre of recordkeepers (who we are and what we do) and the added value of recordkeeping (who our clients are beyond some abstract concept of our organizations or society at large and what they get from us that they cannot get better somewhere else) may be the last among the above list of looming issues; however, in the author's opinion, it is the most important. It is also the one over which we have the greatest control and the greatest responsibility to tackle very soon and diligently. For these reasons, I would like to conclude on this subject. I believe that its international character offers important challenges and opportunities for collaboration in our profession.

I raised the futures question during the Association of Canadian Archivists 1995 Annual Conference in Saskatchewan.10 In his commentary on that presentation, Trevor Livelton, archivist in the City of Victoria, British Columbia spoke to the need for an articulation of the important values added by archives and records management functions. Livelton noted accountability and corporate memory in this connection, as strong added values of records management that go beyond evidence in the strict sense of the term. For archival functions, he spoke of the strengthening of democratic institutions and the reduction of risks brought about by seemly growing detachment of the public from government as strong justifications for what we do.

For my own hunch is that, if we look to our traditions, we'll find encouragement in the rediscovery of some fundamental ways – often not noticed or valued much, perhaps, in recent years – in which archival work not only supports legitimate governance, but can also enhance the continuity and coherence of the communities that government exists to further.

Livelton is well equipped to speak to the these topics and how they will factor into the future of recordkeeping, both as an experienced practitioner and respected theorist. His proposal was not aimed at selling ARM to its practitioners. Rather, it was aimed at promoting the justification for ARM to the consumers of recordkeeping services elsewhere in our organizations and in the public. Richard Cox agrees with that point, as he clearly states in the third of his thoughtful essays located on his WWW page.57

Ian Wilson, Provincial Archivist of Ontario, shares a glimpse of the potential for records managers in providing some of the new-age added value that is even more apropos than when he originally wrote it. With the increasing examples of movies in which television news footage is skillfully dubbed into fictitious Hollywood scenes. The shift from the written word to the multimedia world of sound, video and animation in our daily lives can be amusing and spectacular for the discerning adult. But news, opinion, social message, advocacy, advertising and historical fact are becoming homogenized with the evening news, subtly deceptive 'informercials' and the 'virtual reality' (they don't call it 'virtual make-believe') movies where factual news video footage is woven skillfully into conspiracy-theory fiction in ways that make them appear as historical documentaries by such masters of the special effect as Industrial Light + Magic. Great entertainment no doubt. But will the kids remember which was which? It is a persuasive case for reestablishing the idea of the 'Remembrancer' established in sixteenth century London to help preserve the city's institutional memory. Re-emergence of the rememberancer role of early England in the new information theater:

"The accountability of government and public institutions in a democratic society is one part of this. But as we move further into virtual reality, special effects, historical speculation and fiction, society requires some basis to sort out valid evidence from the imaginative....Past, present, future, fact, and fiction meld seamlessly and where does one turn to find the authoritative record of what is real?"

Jean-Pierre Wallot, erstwhile National Archivist of Canada and President of the ICA offers us some perspective in the midst of difficult times:

"[R]ather than bending to discouragement, we should recognize ... changes as only another in a series of phases in a long evolution that stretches back many thousands of years. And, above all, we should be facing these transformations with confidence because inherent in each of us are the skills and knowledge that will empower us to learn more and to adapt the changes so as to manage and shape them as well."

Chauncey Bell, Vice President, Business Systems Associates, a manager and a public consumer, may agree that we shouldn't have to "sell" ourselves on what we do, but he isn't so sure that we don't need to agree on what it is we may have to sell to others in order to survive as a profession. On the contrary, he thinks that one of the most important items of business on the table for ARM professionals is revisiting the identity issue. In his keynote presentation to the June 1997 Annual Conference of NAGARA he put it this way:

"It is time for you to invent and tell a new story about yourselves, a story you can "sign around the fires" at night that tells of your past accomplishments and the future you are bringing. To be seductive, your story must show how you take care of things that matter to people. It must be a story in which you and your clients, together can thrive; a story that builds your identity for the future."

There is something universal about the ethical cases noted earlier that bears on who we will be perhaps more than any other single thing. It is that, as unfortunate as they may be, all of these cases garner a great deal of public attention and interest. Because we do not ordinarily position ourselves to take the high road and speak out in such cases, at least as a profession if not as individuals, we – and the institutions we stand for – often get trashed along with the perpetrators, deservedly or not. Were we to take the offensive in such cases – not by foolishly protecting our colleagues when they are at fault but by standing up and informing the public how things are supposed to work, what went wrong, what we do to prevent such cases and what more needs to be done to reduce the likelihood of future such incidences – we would gain greater not lesser respect from the public. Hopefully, with the help of the public, we would also achieve needed legislative, organizational or policy reforms and budgets to strengthen who we are and what value we can add for the public and in our organizations. That would mean being excited about what we do. At least as excited as the public gets over the "*gate" cases. I know many highly competent, knowledgeable, thoughtful and articulate archivists and records managers. But I don't know very many who are really excited about what they do or who they are, or if they are they keep it a big secret. We needn't behave like teenagers at a ball game but, at the same time, we aren't going to get much sympathy for what we do if it doesn't somehow come across that we are turned on about who we are and what we do.


Rick Barry is a consultant in the field of information management and records management whose clients include several national archivists and national archives, international organizations and private sector organizations. He has carried out consulting engagements, presented conference papers and conducted workshops on electronic records management in the USA, Canada, Australia, Europe and Latin America, and is widely published internationally. Several of his papers and engagements, as well as other resources are available electronically on the World Wide Web at URL: The author invites visitors to his WWW page and guest log.