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. A record must be what it purports to be. The provenance of a record must be clear - it was created or sent by the agent that actually created or sent it, and it was created or sent when purported. Records systems should ensure authenticity of records and the creator of any record identified.
- Integrity: A record should be complete and unaltered. It should not be subject to unauthorised alteration. Authority for any alteration, annotation or addition should be clear including what amendments are permitted. Any amendment should be explicitly indicated and traceable.
- Reliability. Records must be factually correct. The contents of a record can be trusted as a full and accurate representation of the activities, transactions or facts to which they attest and can be trusted in the course of future transactions or activities
- Useablilty: A record must be useable, that is, it can be located, retrieved, viewed, and interpreted within any timeframe deemed appropriate by the record owner. A useable record should be linked to the business process that produced it and related business transactions. It should contain metadata that supports useability over time and space such as identifiers, format or storage information.
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.