Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Will We Ever Solve the Electronic Records Challenge?

Electronic records continue both to grow in scope and to replace their non-digital forbears. Study after study, report after report suggests, however, that we are a long way from being able to manage effectively these systems. The Cohasset Associates recent report, the fifth in a series going back to 1999, suggests the scope of the problem.

Robert F. Williams and Lori J. Ashley, Call for Collaboration: Electronic Records Management Survey (Chicago: Cohasset Associates in association with ARMA International and AIIM, 2007), available at, seeks to put a brave face on the problem. These authors note that there have been improvements in electronic records management, suggesting that these improvements had stemmed from laws and policies, such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPPA, along with better technology solutions and an improved sense of the importance of records management.

However, the various data from business and government respondents are not very reassuring. Consider some of the facts presented: While 88% have a formal records management program and 70% include electronic records in these programs, only 49% have a formal e-mail policy and only 30% have formal plans for migrating older electronic records. Williams and Ashley conclude that “most organizations have serious operational shortfalls regarding the processes by which they manage electronic records, one of their most important assets” (p. 45).

What is dismaying about the report is that it is focused on business and government institutions, and they have historically done better than most, especially cultural archives and historical records repositories and records programs operating in colleges and universities.