Review: “Archivists and Records Managers: Variations on a Theme”

Readings for ACA Domain 6 include chapters 2 & 9 of A Modern Archives Reader. First up is “Archivists and Records Managers: Variations on a Theme,” by Frank B. Evans

A Modern Archives Reader

Abstract: The author argues for a closer relationship between records managers and archivists, as both participate in the continum of documentary history.  “Modern records management grew out of archivists’ concern for records before their transfer to archival custody. The goal of records management is to achieve economy and efficiency in the creation, use, and maintenance of current records.”  This is an early article in the lineage of later argumentation that archivists should be involved even in the earliest stages of the creation of documents.  The author’s summary of Schellenberg’s comments says it all.

Timeline:

  • 1934 – National Archives Act empowers the Archivist of the United States to inspect records in Federal agencies.
  • 1940 – Society of American Archivists proposes a uniform State Records Act
  • 1940 – Leahy, Emmett J., “Reduction of Public Records,” American Archivist 3 (January 1940):31-38 and Brooks, Philip C., “The Selection of Records for Preservation,” AA 3 (Oct. 1940): 221-234.
  • 1941 – National Archives establishes an official records administration program.
  • 1941 – Society of American Archivists, Committee on Reduction of Archival Material is renamed Committee on Record Administration.
    Emmett J. Leahy served as chair of both the original committee and the renamed committee.
  • 1943 – Brooks, Philip C., “Current Aspects of Records Administration: The Archivist’s Concern in Records Administration” AA 6 (July 1943).
  • 1948 – “The Archival Profession in Eclipse,” AA 11 (July 1948).
  • 1949 – Public Records Management, by Philip C. Brooks and “Modern Records Management, by the same author, AA (July 1949).
  • 1950 – Grover, Wayne C., “Recent Developments in Federal Archival Activities,” AA (Jan. 1950).
  • 1950 – Federal Records Act defines records management to include creation, maintenance and disposal.
  • 1951 – Brooks, Philip C., “Archivists and Their Colleagues: Common Denominators,” AA (Jan. 1951).
  • 1953-55 – Second Hoover Commission promotes further specialization and creation of a broad administrative control program; popularizes the phrase “paperwork management”
  • 1954 – Grover, Wayne C., SAA address, “Archives: Society and Profession, AA 18 (Jan. 1955).
  • 1955 – Organization of the Association of Records Executives and Administrators (AREA) and the American Records Management Association (ARMA).
  • 1955 – Radoff, Morris L., SAA address, “What Should Bind Us Together?,” AA 19 (Jan. 1956) and Shiff, Robert A., SAA address, “The Archivist’s Role in Records Management,” AA 19 (April 1956).
  • 1959 – Darling, Robert H., “The Relation Between Archivists and Record Managers,” AA 22 (Apr. 1959).
  • 1960 – DePuy, LeRoy, “Archivists and Records Managers–A Partnership,” AA 23 (Jan. 1960).
  • 1960 – Renze, Dolores C., “The State Archivist–3-D Public Servant,” AA 23 (July 1960) and Garrison, Robert W., “Maximum Records Management,” AA 24 (Oct. 1960).
  • 1961 – Bryan, Mary Givens, “Changing Times,” AA 24 (Jan. 1961)

This article, published in 1967, is described in the preface as a concise history of the development of records management, developing as it does as an outgrowth of the archival profession.  A quote by the second Archivist of the United States, Solon Buck, sets the stage:

“A prerequisite to the judicious selection of records . . . is an appraisal of their value, and this appraisal can be made more readily and with greater assurance if the records have been arranged and administered with their permanent preservation or their disposal in mind.  Arrangement usually takes place, however, when the documents are filed, that is, when they are first consciously considered as record materials.  From this chain of circumstances, it becomes apparent that the National Archives must inevitably be concerned with the creation, arrangement, and administration, as well as with the appraisal, disposal, and preservation of Government records.”

Official recognition of records management as a professional activity of archivists was first registered by the Society of American Archivists, in 1941.  Burgeoning volumes of government records mandated intelligent programs for the twin tasks of records disposal and preservation.  1941 also marked the institution of a records administration program by the National Archives.  Philip C. Brooks, one of the early archivist-record administrators, argued for the legitimate interest of archivists in records administration.  “…archivists, in order to apply the principle of provenance, should know the methods by which records in their custody are produced…the whole life history of records is an integrated continuous entity.”
There is a tendency to see records management as a function of business, while archivists are seen as working in the realm of scholarship and research.  Thus some, like Irving P. Shiller, have resisted a merging or close association of the two endeavors.  Archivists have an intellectual mission, whereas the primary focus of records managers is organizational efficiency and frugality, according to Shiller.
Moving ahead, Evans tracks the work of Emmett Leahy, whose article “Modern Records Management” noted that “any destruction of records must provide maximum insurance that the essential core of recorded experience in the form of modern records is preserved.”  While advocating for the efficiency of records centers, Leahy also saw the need for counsel from archivists and historians in order to meet the goal of preserving that “essential core.”
Evans admits that records management is too often approached as a specialized aspect of general management, and this is of course part of the problem in trying to institute closer ties between archivists and records managers.  But “the common link between records managers and archivists”, according to one past SAA president, “is their interest in improving the  quality and decreasing the quantity of an organization’s records.” But a year later, in 1955, the next SAA president took a different view, arguing that “We do not share common interests, we have only one interest; namely, the guardianship of records. And surely if we have one interest we belong together, and we should be called by the same name…Why could not the same man be both archivist and records manager? Is the care of the written word so complex that no man has science enough to master it?…”  This view was echoed by another that year, saying “The functions of the archivist and records manager are not only closely related but, in many instances and to a growing extent, they are interchangeable.”  Others, moving into the 1960s, were seeing records management as a special area within archives administration, though it was admitted that little had done, beyond talk, to actually bring the two disciplines together.
Evans closes with consideration of the work of T.R. Schellenberg (1956):

“Records managers, he reminded us, determine the quality of our archives, quality in the sense of the completeness or adequacy of the documentation, its integrity (including its freedom from useless material), and its accessibility or serviceability for reference and research purposes.  In a very real sense records managers also determine the nature of our work with archives, for upon the success of their efforts depends the ease or the difficulty with which records can be appraised for disposition and can be selected for preservation; the ease or difficulty with which they can be arranged and described; and the ease or difficulty with which they can be made accessible and available for use.  The interest of the archivist in records management is therefore not only legitimate–it is essential.  Conversely, it is the recognition and full acceptance of his responsibilities in these matters that distinguish the professional records manager.  Like the archivist he too is ultimately responsible to society at large and thus to posterity.

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About wsparkman

Director of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
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