Records management

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US National Archives and Records Administration created this poster to promote good records management practices
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 16 June 2017


see also Archival principles for medical librarians | Archives 2.0 | Digital libraries | Electronic health records (EHRs) | Medical informatics

Records management refers to the retention, maintenance and destruction of print and digital records in an organization, association or corporation. As a professional discipline with its own theory and praxis, records management is concerned primarily with the management of document-based information systems; increasingly in the digital era, this includes managing records that are digitized (or born digital) and made accessible online. Records management is central to the management of most organization's internal business. Records managers may or may not be information professionals, and are required to deal with limited storage space and a growing body of organizational records. Records managers are charged with managing records management programs and devising strategies to deal with the implementation of those programs. Records managers are required to deal with a broad range of issues such as access, privacy and information technology, security, classification, retention, storage and inventories, and disaster mitigation and recovery.

First, what is a record?

  • A record is any print or electronic document (or other brief information) that has been compiled, recorded or stored in a written format (or in audiovisual formats), electronic process or any other manner by any other means during the course of an organization's daily routines and activities. Whether print-based or online, it is important to have policies and processes in place to manage records within an organization from their initial creation to their archiving, and eventual disposition. Institutional records are records of events or transactions, documents or even a log of events conducted within organizations. Whatever document or record is being managed, it should be a final version of it hence the concept of a “record.”
  • A record may refer to any e-mail, handwritten notes, letters or contracts created in the daily operations of an organization; it may refer to audiovisual content
  • Keep in mind records for public institutions may need to be released to the public based on relevant legal requests for information
  • Records from private businesses and corporations are generally considered private and are not normally accessible. Workers should take steps to manage their own records and files.
  • Teaching materials, including exams, and research materials are not considered to be records that would fall under an accepted definition in records management.
  • A record may constitute evidence about the past, esp. accounts of events kept in writing or some other permanent form
  • in the context of health care, the identification of someone can be made through patient or dental records
  • a record of minutes from hospital committees can reveal much about the administration of the organization
  • In the context of networked information, any file created on a networked server is theoretically part of the permanent administrative record of the institution
  • Some examples include: emails, faxes, spreadsheets, databases, maps and plans, samples and objects, letters, text messages, minutes, policy and briefing papers, photographs, research data, social media sites

What is records management?

  • Records management is the development and application of systematic standards to the recorded information which is required to administer and operate that the right information gets to the right people at the right time for the right purposes. Policies, procedures and standards cover the creation, receipt, distribution, use, retention, storage, retrieval, protection, preservation and final disposition of all types of recorded information throughout [an organization's] administrative units, faculties, departments, schools, centres and institutes.
  • Records management is defined as "... the systematic and administrative control of records throughout their life cycle to ensure efficiency and economy in their creation, use, handling, control, maintenance, and disposition. The general purpose of a system of records management is that of providing the creator with the records necessary to support the efficient continuation of its activities, guaranteeing the recorded evidence, whether for internal purposes or for regulatory compliance. The specific objectives concern: the production and acquisition of reliable records for legal and technical purposes; the organization of the creation of records in an orderly and coherent manner linked to the functions performed; the transmission and preservation of authentic records; the speed and efficiency of retrieval in the context of the administrative activity carried out..."
  • In the past, records management was used to refer to managing records which were no longer in everyday use but still needed to be kept - 'semi-current' or 'inactive' records, often stored in basements or offsite. More modern usage tends to refer to the entire 'lifecycle' of records - from the point of creation to their eventual disposal.
  • ISO 15489-1: 2001 standard ("ISO 15489-1:2001") defines records management as "[the] field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including the processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records".
  • ISO 15489-1:2001 defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business".

While there are many purposes of and benefits to records management, a key feature of records is their ability to serve as evidence of an event. Proper records management can help to preserve this feature and function of records which may later be needed for historical or legal purposes.

Freedom of Information laws

The BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) became law in 1993. It may be important to access information and guidance regarding these laws and regulations in order to assist faculty, staff and students in protecting their personal information. FIPPA has two main purposes:

  • Freedom of Information is to make public bodies more open and accountable by providing the public with a legislated right of access to records in the custody or control of public bodies, and
  • Protection of Privacy is to protect your right to personal privacy by prohibiting the unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of your personal information by public bodies.

FIPPA covers all provincial government public bodies, including government ministries and most government agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations. FIPPA also covers what is referred to as local public bodies such as municipalities, universities, colleges, school boards, hospitals, health boards, as well as the British Columbia College of Teachers, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the Law Society of British Columbia.

BC Bill 5 Government Information Act

In 2015, BC proclaimed a new act for records and archives management entitled BC Government Information Act. Previously, there was no comprehensive records legislation in BC. The existing act was called the Document Disposal Act of 1933 which amended in the 1980s. Its scope was broadened into records/information management. For thirty years, archivists and records managers made efforts to adapt a 1930s statutory framework into late 20th public service records administrative processes. The Document Disposal Act may be the oldest commonwealth public records statute still in effect; the Public Records (Scotland) Act was passed in 1937. Scotland has undergone major organizational and statutory changes since 1937 with the latest event being the establishment of the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in 2011, following merger of the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) and the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) into National Records of Scotland.

Records Life Cycle

The records life cycle consists of three stages:

  1. creation or receipt of the record
  2. maintenance and use of the record, and
  3. disposition of the record (either destruction or transfer to archive)

The concept of the records life cycle illustrates the three stages of a records management plan that agencies must consider in managing their records, and not just at a point of selection, retention and disposition. A records management plan, in the form of a policy or set of procedures, will describe the life cycle of the institution's records and will discuss how those materials will be accessed during freedom of information enquiries, legal requests and audits of various kinds. Written procedures are required especially regarding the destruction of records.

Health records management

Health records management refers to the creation, storage and preservation of administrative and patient records within hospitals, health care agencies and other related organizations. Some of the issues that must be considered in managing modern health records systems include:

  • maintaining security and confidentiality of patient records whether paper-based or electronic
  • preserving administration records of health care institutions for the historian of health care
  • developing policies and procedures to address the requirements of a records management program
  • using hospital Intranet systems and semantic tags to organize, index and retrieve information from hyperdocuments
  • responding to requests from various agencies for information regarding administrative records or patient records

According to Low "....The objective of records management is to improve the quality, relevance and organization of records required for the operation of each administrative unit in the health care institution. The archives preserve records of administrative, legal, and financial value. The records of historical value permit the historian to explore the origins, operation, and legacy of the health care institution." Although health librarians do not, typically, manage hospital records there is certainly no reason why they cannot support this function in an advisory or consultative role.

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