4.6. Archivist and records management
Debate has over the decades raged fiercely over the extent to which archivists should be involved in records management. At one end there are the traditional archivists who argue that records management is for records managers, that it is a distinct and separate discipline far removed from archival work and that it is negligence of the highest degree to seek to extend the role of the archivist to embrace the management of current and semi-current records when the archivist is barely able to undertake adequately the traditional and accepted duties of acquiring, processing and preserving archives and servicing the needs of the users. This view has tended to be more typical of those societies with long histories of archive keeping and where perhaps the functions of the archivists have been defined and isolated over many generations.
This view however is countered by those who argue equally fiercely that the quality of archives is crucially dependent on the way in which the records have been managed during the current and semi-current stages. They argue that a passive role on the part of the archivists is counter productive and that it is useless to wait for nature to take its toll because by the time the archives reach the archivists, if at all they do, they will have been so damaged and mutilated that the archivist can no longer really play a meaningful role. They see the involvement of the archivist in records management as a natural extension of his role and duties. Within this group however there is also a wide spectre and divergence of views in terms of the actual extent of the involvement. On one hand there are those who have come to accept involvement but only to the extent that semi-current records are the concern of the archivist who should thus provide Records Centre facilities. Even in this respect there will be the difference between those who use the Records Centre to act as a filtration plant under the full control of the archivist and others who merely provide Records Centre facilities as a means of providing storage space only. The example of the limbo repositories in the United Kingdom is pertinent because the records while stored there are still administered by the staff of the creating agency. There are yet others who see the involvement extending to the creation and generation of the records to the filing systems and filing equipment, the receipt and processing of mail, the circulation of information, the design of forms and the control of copies.
The fierceness of the controversy over the involvement of archivists in the management of current records can thus be seen when viewed against this background. And yet a surprisingly high number of archival institutions are now involved in this area. Forty two institutions indicated that they were involved in the management of current records. Forty two institutions, as opposed to only nine felt that such involvement was a legitimate pursuit of their institutions. An even greater number, fifty nine, were involved in the management of semi-current records compared to only seven who were not. In the area of current records management it was interesting to note the responses in terms of the actual extent of involvement.
The responses above show clearly that archivists have over the years extended their involvement in the management of current records. While some institutions qualified their response by saying that they did so when requested, it is nevertheless significant that they were able to assist which implies that they have developed the capacity to assist. That capacity could only have been built up by either employing records managers or people with records management experience or training archivists and giving them the necessary expertise.
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