All records are information, but not all information is a record. We therefore need to have a clear definition of a record, and to determine what characteristics that record needs to have for it to be of value in records management.
"Information created, received and maintained as evidence and information by an organisation or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business and that comprises content, context, and structure sufficient to provide evidence of the activity."
Records should have the following qualities: authenticity, completeness, reliability, and fixity whatever their physical format: paper, email, photograph, or database entry etc.
- Authenticity. Provenance - proof of origin, and the chain of custody through which it has passed. To create authentic records we need to have clearly defined processes for our transactions (meetings, plans, appraisals, discipline). Records are produced at certain points in the process. Systems (such as RDBMS) are good at capturing provenance because they require access via a password.
- Completeness. Records should include all relevant content and contextual information such as metadata like the date created. Ensuring records are complete is achieved at system design level - including the decision on what information it is appropriate to capture.
- Reliability. Records must be factually correct. If not, we could have problems, e.g. basing decisions on inaccurate data, e.g. the wrong salary is paid into staff bank account. If the record contains personal data, DPA requires us to ensure it is accurate and up to date. User training is important in ensuring you get accurate records. We need to create a culture where time spent creating accurate, reliable records is valued.
- Fixity and declaring records. We need set points in our processes where we fix the content of a record at a particular point in time, such as the final version of document. Once fixed, it should stay fixed (this is called declaration).
Records need metadata to describe them and help people find them, e.g. the title of a document, date of an email. There are different types of metadata (bibliographic, administrative, legal, preservation, technical, educational, structural), and different metadata formats (e.g. dates shown as DDMMYYY).
The format of the material used for holding the record is also of interest, and the correct one should be used. Limitations in a format should be accounted for around storage and preservation of the records, e.g. CDs may only remain readable for 10 years, web pages may only be current for a short period of time before being replaced.