Background/importance of the research field The starting point for all recordkeeping activities is the business activities undertaken by organizations, groups or individuals. Business activities generate a need for information. That information need requires documentation and documenting procedures in order to preserve and make the information available.
Records are the material documentation of business activities that can serve as evidence of those activities.
To provide the organizations with information, trustworthy documentation and evidential records, recordkeeping procedures and systems are necessary. The need for records would thus occur as a consequence of the work process, and the recordkeeping activities must be performed in a way that supports the needs of the organization.
To develop functioning procedures and systems it is thus necessary to understand the context in which they are supposed to work. The purpose of the research area is to investigate the contextual conditions for recordkeeping activities and to outline a theoretical and methodological foundation for the forthcoming studies.
From an organizational perspective records are, according to the International Standard for Records Management (ISO 15489-1), used to:
• conduct business in an orderly, efficient and accountable manner,
• deliver services in a consistent and equitable manner,
• support and document policy formation and managerial decision making,
• provide consistency, continuity and productivity in management and administration,
• facilitate the effective performance of activities throughout an organization,
• provide continuity in the event of a disaster,
• meet legislative and regulatory requirements including archival, audit and oversight activities,
• provide protection and support in litigation including the management of risks associated with the existence of, or lack of, evidence of organizational activity,
• protect the interest of the organization and the rights of employees, clients and present and future stakeholders,
• support and document current and future research and development activities, developments and achievements, as well as historical research,
• provide evidence of business, personal and cultural activity, • establish business, personal and cultural identity, and • maintain corporate, personal or collective memory.
To some extent the items are overlapping and can be summarized as follows: records are needed to perform business activities, i.e. administrative needs, meet external requirements, protect the creator’s own and others’ interests, support research, and to provide individual and collective identity and memory.
Within Swedish archival discourse, use of records has often been connected to issues of the democratic control of society in relation to the legislation concerning freedom of press and official documents. During the 1980s several public reports concerning archival issues were published. The starting point was a report from the Ministry of Education (Ds U 1981:21), which was supposed to give an overview of the area. On the basis of the contemporary legal framework, the report stated the following purposes of records: the individual’s and the media’s insight into and control of public affairs; the agencies’ and the individual’s need for reliable information sources. In the latter case grade certificates, title deeds and registers were claimed to be of special importance, i.e. documents of evidential character; the researchers’ need for a pluralistic and reliable source material. Records are thus supposed to fulfil a wide range of purposes, for different actors over time, which makes heavy demands on the recordkeeping systems.
However, documenting practices and creation of records are not uniform in an historical or global perspective. The use of written documentation is a fairly recent practice in human history (e.g. Ong, 1991), and the recognition of written documentation as trustworthy evidence is even more recent (MacNeil, 2000). To what extent documentation can be considered as records, and the actual function of records are depending on socio-cultural, institutional and technological factors.
The development of information technology has brought about profound changes in communication practices, production, work processes and the distribution of work (e.g. Castells, 1996). Technology has also had a profound impact on archival practice and theory in recent decades. In his highly acclaimed work from 1992, Charles Dollar identified what he called ”technology imperatives”, inevitable changes forced by technological development, affecting archival practice and principles. These imperatives were: 1) the changing form of documents; 2) the changing methods of work; and 3) changing technology.
The first concerned the fact that electronic documents lack the fixity of traditional paper documents. Changes in methods of work concerned the growing independence of time and space, decentralization, new forms of collaboration and the eroding of hierarchical structures. Finally, Dollar stated that ”...technological innovations fuel new innovations” (Dollar 1992, p. 42), referring to the shorter life span of computer hardware and software, leading to technological obsolescence and the risk of information losses. Dollar argued that these technological changes affect the theoretical principles, primarily the concept of records and archival methods.
This development has led to an increasing interest in archival issues and the generation of standards, models and best practices concerning archives and records management, e.g. the ISO standard 15489, MoReq, and the works of the InterPARES project. As a result requirements for records and records management systems have been elaborated and are now more far-reaching than they ever were in the traditional paper-based environment.