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close this bookArchives and Records Management for Decision Makers: a RAMP study (UNESCO; 1990; 79 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the document1. Introduction
close this folder2. Origins of records and archives
View the document2.1. Origins
View the document2.2. Records and archives
Open this folder and view contents3. Records and archives in decision making
Open this folder and view contents4. Records management
Open this folder and view contents5. Archives
Open this folder and view contents6. Planning for archives
Open this folder and view contents7. Legislative authority
Open this folder and view contents8. Staffing
Open this folder and view contents9. Conclusion
View the documentAppendix 1 - List of national archival institutions that responded
View the documentAppendix 2 - List of respondents to second questionnaire
View the documentAppendix 3 - Staffing levels in relation to population
 

2.2. Records and archives

The distinctions that today we make between records and archives have not always existed nor can they be said to have universal applicability and acceptability. There is a wide varies' of views as to what constitutes information, records and archives. The word "archives" has its origins in ancient Greece where as "archeion" it was used to refer to government records belonging to an office. Usage has however changed over the centuries and it is nowadays generally used to designate a building or unit within a building where archives are stored, an agency or administrative unit responsible for administering archives and to refer to information that through various processes and qualifications has been identified as constituting archives.

It is however very difficult at times to distinguish between records and archives. In the United Kingdom and in several countries that at one time or other were under British colonial domination. records is used to refer to what in such countries as the United States would be known as archives. Thus in the United Kingdom the main institution in which central government archives are kept is known as the Public Records Office. In the United States on the other hand the comparative institution is known as the National Archives and Records Administration, and this is similar to many countries that have what are known as National Archives.

The differences that exist in terminology may seem trifle and artificial but in reality they have an important bearing on the way in which custodians of records and archives and of the archival institutions themselves view their role and responsibilities towards archives. They are differences that in the 1950' s and 1960' s separated the work and thinking of Hilary Jenkinson from that of Theodore Schellenberg. In chronological, historical and geographical terms they have come to mirror the differences in practice between the traditional archives school of thinking as represented by those with long traditions of record creation and keeping and those in more recently established societies that were created only in the last four or five centuries. They are differences that have determined the definition and scope of archival work and the activities and services that archivists can be expected to perform and provide. In many ways they are central and critical to the gap that now exists between the creators and users of records and archives and the custodians.

To understand the position in which archivists and archival institutions find themselves today it is necessary to briefly discuss the way in which archival practice has developed. The record keepers of Ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome did not make the finer distinctions that today are made. As records were created mechanisms for their retention were developed and the practices of records and archives keeping took firm root and eventually spread to other parts of the world. The developments that took place in Europe set the pace of records and archival practice from the period of the Dark Ages, the Barbarian Kingdoms with their dependence on clerics, the role of the monasteries, the carrying of charters by French kings from place to place in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the development of registries, the rise of bureaucracies and the creation of archive schools at Ecole des Chartes and Marburg: all these were landmarks that set and established the broad parameters of records and archives keeping. The decisive event in the development of records and archives practices was however the French Revolution which led to the establishment of a central government archival institution, the enshrinement of the principle of the responsibility of Governments to look after archives and the right of public access to Government records.

In general, as archivists ended the nineteenth century and entered the twentieth, they had established a body of theory and practice to guide them in their activities. Their duties were broadly demarcated and understood, encompassing the acquisition, accessioning, arrangement, description and preservation of archives and the making available of these archives to scholars, researchers and others. The main preoccupation was with the records of central government and of various public institutions such as local authorities. Business archives existed and were often acquired and preserved together with the papers of individuals that were usually referred to as Historical Manuscripts but this was relatively subsidiary to the custodianship of governmental records and archives. Archival work was scholarly, calling for personnel with proven academic backgrounds and a strong sense of history. Archival work did not include involvement with records which were being created and which were in active and semi-active use. It encompassed the rendering of assistance to enable appraisal decisions to be made leading to the transfer of the archives to the archival institution. As records management gained momentum in the twentieth century and records managers began to appear on the scene theirs was seen as obviously a less noble calling which in no way could be compared with the role of archivists.

Clearly the preoccupation was with servicing the needs and requirements of the academic scholars and researchers. While the generators and creators of the records occasionally had need to consult the records and archives, this was on a very small scale. Little was it realised that if the records and archives were there to serve the needs of those who created them then their handling and management had to be related to these needs.

In this study records will be used to denote that information which is current and semi-current use while archives will refer to those records which through some appraisal mechanism have been identified as having a permanent and enduring value and therefore meriting permanent retention. It should be noted that archives are not synonymous with non-current records as the latter refers both to archives and to other records with shorter term value that will after a period of time be disposed of.

 

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