Review: Records Management and the Walking Archivist

While the thought keeps nagging me that the articles in A Modern Archives Reader are rather dated (the book was first published in 1984), they do continue to prove themselves and serve a good purpose.  Still, I would argue that there is room to re-title this work A Classic Archives Reader and then produce a new book with similar coverage but with a more recent set of articles, perhaps more overtly keyed to the seven domains enumerated by the Academy of Certified Archivists.

“Records Management and the Walking Archivist,” by Patricia Bartkowski (1975) A Modern Archives Reader, Daniels and Walch, editors, pp. 38-45.

This particular article would serve well for what Bartkowski calls “the walking archivist”–that individual who seeks to serve as both archivist and records manager, whether by design or by necessity, as the article is in effect a brief primer on records management.  The author opens with a definition of records management provided by William Benedon, past president of ARMA. He defines records management as:

“The direction of a program designed to provide economy and efficiency in the creation, organization, maintenance, use and retrieval, and disposition of records, assuring that needless records will not be created or kept and valuable records will be preserved and available.”

Everything necessary to bring such a program to pass is then necessarily implied, from facilities and forms to schedules and audits.  Bartkowski argues that “Today’s current valuable records will be tomorrow’s archives. The records manager’s main concern with current records is economy and efficiency, whereas the archivist’s is the identification and protection of valuable records before arrival at the archives.”  Here Bartkowski agrees with our prior author, Frank B. Evans, when he says “The interest of the archivist in records management is therefore not only legitimate–it is essential.”

The walking archivist’s first act should be to establish standardized procedures for transfer of materials to the archives.

  • Stress the use of standard sized boxes to achieve maximum storage capacity.
  • Use clear, standard forms that will accompany materials to be transferred
  • Work to get the sending agency or office to fill out these forms at the folder level.
  • That will be to their own advantage when it comes time to retrieve items.
  • Take care to publicize procedures for transfer.
  • Involve superiors in communicating the importance of proper records management and eventual transfer.
  • Mounting record volumes create crisis situations leading to transfer. Make use of those situations to further educate on good records management procedures, including regular attention to the disposition of inactive records.
  • To establish these schedules, the archivist must first gather data:
  • What is the function and organization of this office or agency?
  • Where is it located within the overall structure of the organization?
  • Identify general administrative policy records, operational records and house-keeping records.
  • Where and how are the files housed?  Do other offices have similar records?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining records?

Even where formal policies are in place for routine transfer of inactive records, good diplomacy insures cooperation.  Work to convey the benefits they gain by tending to a good transfer schedule.  “Establishing retention and disposal schedules requires careful work with both records and office personnel.”

Space is at a premium. Give priority to records of enduring value and try to avoid the temporary storage approach.  Semi-active records with high retrieval rates should be retained in their offices until they become inactive.  If records are referenced only once or twice a year, they can be considered inactive.  Most departmental and administrative records are inactive after three years.

Accessibility is everything for the archivist, and there should be similar concern for records outside the archives.  “Unless information can be retrieved, for all practical purposes it is lost.”

“…if the archivist is truly concerned with the preservation of records and the quality of records that are preserved, there must be an involvement in records management. It is only when the archivist takes the first step that he or she becomes the walking archivist.”

Selected further reading [from the footnotes]:
Bartkowski, Patricia and William Saffady, A University Filing System. Detroit: Wayne State University Archives, 1973.  32 pp.
Bartkowski, Patricia and William Saffady, Managing Inactive Records.  Detroit: Wayne State University Archives, 1973.  20 pp.
Benedon, William, Records Management.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969.
Brown, Gerald F., “The Archivist and the Records Manager: A Records Manager’s Viewpoint,” Records Management Quarterly 5 (January 1971): 21-38.
Records Retention Timetable.  New York: Electric Wastebasket Corporation, 1974.
Schiff, R.A., The Archivist’s Role in Records Management,” American Archivist 19 (April 1956): 111-120.
Schmidt, William F. and Sarah F. Wilson, “A Practical Approach to University Records Management,” American Archivist 31 (July 1968): 247-264.


About wsparkman

Director of the PCA Historical Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
This entry was posted in ACA Domain 6. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Review: Records Management and the Walking Archivist

  1. Pingback: Readings for ACA Domain 6 | A Providential Archivist

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