The question has been asked multiple times of if records managers should ditch the distinction of records vs. non-record. This divisive and controversial topic was even mentioned in the recent ARMA Metro MD seminar. In my humble opinion, a lot of the conversation hinges on the question of, “Do we have a future as records managers?” With the growing need to manage content and electronic records, the line is becoming blurred between record and non-record. Chris Walker stated the following in his blog, Records – Do They Matter?
If within the context of discovery, an organization is told to produce certain content, said organization cannot reply “but we never declared it as a record” as a rationale for not including it in the discovery. So even from a legal point of view, the “recordness” of content is becoming, in my opinion, less critical. I believe that as we grow more and more comfortable with electronic content, content’s status as a record will become less important. The fact is, with the proper tools and procedures we can secure, audit, and authenticate non-record (electronic) content every bit as well as if the content were declared a record. With the proper tools we can manage the lifecycle of any piece of content very effectively. Let’s face it; the lifecycle of content is not very complicated: get it, use it, dispose of it.
The important role of the information manager is not identifying records vs. non-record, but how long a piece of information need to be kept. In Records Matter, Declaration Doesn’t Walker expounds upon this with the following:
Formally declaring a piece of electronic content as a record is antiquated, artificial, and unnecessary. Based on the accepted definition of a record, if an invoice is sent we already know that it’s a record by it being proof of a business transaction. When I send an email indicating a course of action I want taken, we already know it’s a record based on the context, content, and sender of the email. The only thing we really need to do is to determine how long we need to keep these items for.
Monica Crocker in her AIIM blog has also helped me great to realize that records are not the center of the universe. Everything, records and non-records, need to be managed no matter how long or short the lifecycle of the information is. This is why records schedules will include non-records and state that they can be destroyed when no longer needed. Monica makes the point:
The downside to the whole records/non-records distinction is that we tell users to go to the Records Retention Schedule to figure out how long to keep things. If we exclude non-records (Convenience Copies, Transitory Communications) from that schedule, do they need to go to yet another document to get instructions on what to do with that information? And if we include non-records on the schedule, then we need to rename the schedule, because we’ve just listed stuff on it that isn’t a record. A comprehensive retention policy dictates disposition of all information, even the stuff that isn’t a record. So, as long as you have one schedule that dictates whether or not to keep something and one set of procedures that explain how to do that (keep it or get rid of it), is there any need to apply a “record” or “non-records” label during the life cycle of the information?
One of the things that is helpful about Monica’s blogs are the diagrams where she shows how declaring information as a record add unnecessary steps to the process. When you get a chance, I would recommend clicking over to Everything is a Record…there, I said it and Does “Record” or “Non-Record” Matter.