Records Management - Definition

Submitted by MaggieS on September 3, 2008 - 3:28am.

AWN thanks the many people who contributed their expertise on this topic. This article's information was compiled by Terry Clayton. It was first published on the AWN web site in September 4, 2002:

What is Records Management?

Records Management refers to those tools for managing the location of records within an organisation. 'Records' includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an organisation. Records Management does not deal with the content of the records but simply their identity and location . A records management system makes possible, "the efficient and systematic control of receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for and maintaining evidence and information of business activities and transactions in the form of records." [ISO 15489]

  1. Basic Objectives
    1. from a user's point of view
    2. from the organization's point of view
  2. Terms and Definitions

Basic Objectives


From a user's point of view, a records management system means:

  • People other than the person who filed a record or document can find what they need in less than fifteen minutes of searching (or, within that time frame, determine a) who has the document or record, b) that the document or record is missing or c) does not exist).
  • People using organization documents know what they can copy or keep, who they can and cannot share information with, how long they can keep any particular record, and what to do with it after use.
  • New or temporary staff can learn to manage and use the system within the first week.
  • There is little or no risk that confidential information can be accidentally disseminated.
  • Useful records and documents are not accidentally discarded.
  • Records and documents are not discarded if they have some historical or other value beyond their initial purpose.

From the organization's point of view, a records management system makes it possible to:

  • Conduct business in an orderly, efficient and accountable manner
  • Help deliver services in a consistent and equitable manner
  • Support and document policy formation and managerial decision
  • Provide consistency, continuity and productivity in management and administration
  • Facilitate the effective performance of activities through and organization
  • Provide continuity in the event of a disaster
  • Meet legislative and regulatory requirements
  • Provide protection and support in litigation including the management risks associated with the existence of or lack of evidence of organization activity
  • Protect the interests 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
  • Function as corporate, personal or collective memory

Terms and Definitions

The two basic elements of a records management system are a classification system and a retention and disposition schedule. The classification system defines what category a record belongs to and assigns it a number or code so that it can be stored and retrieved. The retention and disposition schedule tells people what to do with a record, where to store it, who can use it, how to long to keep it and what to do with it when it is no longer needed and who has authority for each of these actions. There are hundreds of other specialized terms in a records management specialist's vocabulary. The table below contains a few of the most basic terms you should know.


Disposition What to do with a document when it arrives, when it is transferred or destroyed.
Document See 'record'
Record All books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by a organisation
Retention Keeping documents
Retention period How long you will keep a document before you send it to the recycler, give it away, shred or burn it, move it to a permanent storage facility or archive.
Storage Keeping records under defined conditions so they can be retrieved

Page compiled by Terry Clayton (, with thanks to: Steve Song, Senior Programme Specialist, Bellanet International Secretariat Prof. Wendy Duff, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information Studies

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