Two principles governing the management of records

The life-cycle model

There are two well-recognized principles to the theory and practice of records management, namely Life-Cycle and the Records Continuum Model (RCM). The LifeCycle Model emanates from North America and was invented and developed by the National Archives of the United States in the 1930s as a response to the exponentially growing amounts of records it had to deal with. It is also regarded as a theory that guides records management programs. At its stage of development, it covered the phases of creation, maintenance, use, and disposition (Yusof & Chell, 2000). Karabinos (2015), however, argued that the Life-Cycle Model was developed by Theodore Schellenberg and Margaret Cross Norton, who believed that archivists should be proactively involved in the decision-making process that separated records to be preserved from those that were to be destroyed. This was a response to the agencies’ lack of capacity to appraise and to select records that were to be preserved. The Life-Cycle Model is further referred to as a linear model since records move in one direction, where they are either destroyed or preserved. It applies the analogy of living organisms and presumes that records are born, live, and die. This is achieved through the phases of current, semicurrent, and noncurrent where records should either be retained or disposed of (Bantin, 2008). Records are, therefore, created, used, and disposed of through destruction or preserved in the archives if they are of enduring value. Karabinos (2015, p. 24) offers the following definition of the life-cycle model:

The life cycle model breaks a record down into three distinct stages that distinguish records from archives. The first stage is the active stage, when records are created and actively used by the creating agency. In the second stage, the dormant stage, records are no longer of current use. The third stage is when records become archives, being stored and preserved for future use. Prior to the archival stage is the selection and appraisal process, where records are discarded oradvanced’ to the archival stage.

Atherton (1985) contended that the Life-Cycle Model was based on the premise that a life of a record can be divided into eight stages as follows:

  • • creation or receipt of information in the form of records;
  • • classification of the records or their information in some logical system;
  • • maintenance and use of the records, and
  • • their disposition through destruction or transfer to an archive;

Enterprise Content Management, Records Management and Information Culture Amidst e-Government Development. DOI:

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  • • selection/acquisition of the records by an archive;
  • • description of the records in inventories, finding aids, and the like;
  • • preservation of the records or, perhaps, the information in the records; and
  • • reference and use of the information by researchers and scholars.

Atherton (1985) was of the view that though the Life-Cycle Model has been useful in promoting a systematic way of managing paper records, it failed to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between records and archives management. It demarcated records management from archives management hence separating the two professions that should work together to enhance an effective management of public records. In Sweden, e.g., where the profession of records manager does not exist, registrars are the ones that deal with the active management of records. Svard’s (2011b, 2014) research experience in two Swedish municipalities proved that registrars who act as “records managers” (since they deal with the active management of records) did not know much about archives management and, therefore, referred her to the archivist. Even though the archivist was actively involved in the formulation of records management strategies, such as the development of document plans, he or she was at the end of the records management life-cycle in both the investigated cases. Since the model differentiates between records managers and archivists, it has promoted a view where records managers manage records as an administrative tool while the archivists manage records for cultural and social purposes. This approach has consigned archivists to a marginal role in contemporary organizations (Brothman, 2001).

Brothman (2001) discussed the Life-Cycle and RCM in relation to the long-term use of information and argued that the Life-Cycle Model is linear and unidirectional and, therefore, loses its conceptual coherence when records reach the archival stage. He, therefore, posited that it “represents a time-ordering regime that entrenches, especially among those who control organizational resources, the business obsolescence and secondary status of aged — historical — information” (Brothman, 2001, p. 54). He believed that the Life-Cycle Model has only offered modern organizations the advantage of conceptual simplicity. This is because it has assumed simple administrations and workflow management compared to, e.g., today’s reality where e-Government development has led to the development of integrated services. This has hence created more complex workflows, which involve several government institutions. Yusof and Chell (2000, p. 135) contended that the model has been rendered insufficient in the digital environment because:

Documents in a distributed electronic environment are dynamic and recursive in nature and may exist in more than one stage of the life cycle simultaneously. They may not follow a serial path from creation to disposal but may be reappraised at the disposition time and reappear in an earlier stage.

The Life-Cycle Model is, therefore, regarded as more suitable to a paper-based records management system, which handles physical objects. It has facilitated the destruction of records of ephemeral value and freed office space that would have been clogged and also made retrieval of government records possible. It has, however, become insufficient in the digital environment because of the intangible nature of the digital records generated in the information management systems (Yusof & Chell, 2000). Where the Life-Cycle Model is still being used, it is equally important that it is applied during the early phases of the records life-cycle. Today’s records management environment constitutes a hybrid system of paper and digital records which still renders both models important, even though the more digital organizations become the more they should employ the RCM if they are to effectively manage and use their information resources.

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