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Glossary of Recordkeeping Terms

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This glossary is designed for use in the NSW public sector and draws on nationally and internationally recognised sources of best practice.

The glossary is not a comprehensive listing of all terms used in records management. Terms chosen are those used in the NSW public sector and the definitions reflect this usage. 

Where applicable, definitions are followed by a brief citation. Full references are listed below. Terms that have not been referenced are taken from State Record's own publications.

Sources used are listed at the end of this page.

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The Glossary is also available as a PDF document for printing (PDF, 229KB).

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Right, opportunity, means of finding, using or retrieving information.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.1

The granting of permission to:
• use the reference facilities of an archives
• examine and study individual archives and or collections held by archives
• extract information from archives and records for research or publication.
Access to archives may be restricted or withheld to prevent physical damage to original records or to protect confidential information.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 46

Under the State Records Act 1998, the public is entitled to access records over 30 years of age. Public access is authorised by public offices making access directions.
Access directions 
A direction made by a public office to open or close a series, group or class of records in the open access period to public access.

An open to public access (OPA) direction allows access to anyone. A closed to public access (CPA) direction closes the records for a specified period. A CPA direction does not affect other entitlements of access. Access directions are made according to guidelines issued by the Attorney General.
Public offices can also grant early access to records that are less than 30 years old.
See State Records Act Part 6

The principle that individuals, organisations and the community are responsible for their actions and may be required to explain them to others.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.2
Active records
Those records required for the day-to-day functioning of an agency or person. Also referred to as current records. Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 461

Records in frequent use, regardless of their date of creation, required for current business relating to the administration or function of the organisation.

Such records are usually maintained in office space and equipment close to hand.

The major tasks performed by an organisation to accomplish each of its functions. An activity should be based on a cohesive grouping of transactions producing a singular outcome.
See 'Function' and 'Transaction'.
Activity descriptor
The level of descriptor that follows a keyword. The activity descriptor reflects the activity performed within the function that is represented by the keyword. Used in records management thesauri. See also 'Keyword classification'.
The process of evaluating business activities to determine which records need to be captured and how long the records need to be kept, to meet business needs, the requirements of organisational accountability and community expectations. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.3
 The whole body of records of continuing value of an organisation or individual. Sometimes called corporate memory. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.4
The whole body or group of records of continuing value of an agency or individual.
An accumulation of series or other record items with a common provenance, or of a distinct organisation, body or purpose.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 462
Those records that are appraised as having continuing value. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.5
Traditionally the term has been used to describe records no longer required for current use which have been selected for permanent preservation. Also referred to as permanent records.
The place (building/room/storage area) where archival material is kept.
An organisation (or part of an organisation) responsible for appraising, acquiring, preserving and making available archival material.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 463
The intellectual and physical process of putting archives and records into order in accordance with accepted archival principles, particularly those of provenance and original order. If, after detailed examination, the original order is identified as a totally haphazard accumulation making the records irretrievable (but not an odd, unorderly or difficult arrangement), the archivist may (after documenting the original order) impose an arrangement that presents the records objectively and facilitates their use.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 464
See 'Description'.


Back up
v. to create a duplicate copy - of a program or a data file or a complete disk [or server] - normally on a different disk or on a different medium such as cassette tape.
n. the duplicate copy itself.
Backups are made as a protection against loss or damage to the original.
Gunton, The Penguin Dictionary of Information Technology, p.17.
Business activity 
Umbrella term covering all the functions, processes, activities and transactions of an organisation and its employees. Includes public administration as well as commercial business. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.6
Business classification scheme 
A conceptual model of what an organisation does and how it does it. It involves the identification and documentation of each business function, activity and transaction and the documentation of the flow of business processes, and the transactions which comprise them. It can be used to support a number of records management processes.
Business continuity planning 
A process of identifying, preventing or preparing for events that may interrupt business activities to protect critical business processes from the effects of major failures or disasters.
These events may include natural disasters, accidents, equipment failures and deliberate actions.
Based on AS/NZS 17799 Clause 11.1
See also 'Counter-disaster plan'.


A deliberate action which results in the registration of a record into a recordkeeping system. For certain business activities, this action may be designed into electronic systems so that the capture of records is concurrent with the creation of records. AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.7
Systematic identification and arrangement of business activities and/or records into categories according to logically structured conventions, methods and procedural rules represented in a classification system. AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.5
Closed part 
That part of a file that has been separated from the active file because the file has become too large for easy handling. When a closed part is created, a ‘closed part’ sheet is attached to the file as the last folio so that no further documents are added to the file.

Conservation See 'Preservation'

A group of records that belong to the same series, need to be kept for the same length of time, have the same storage requirements and are transferred at the same time.
Control systems and processes associated with records management include:
• registration - which provides evidence of the existence of records in a recordkeeping system;
• classification - which allows for appropriate grouping, naming, security protection, user permissions and retrieval;
• indexing - which allocates attributes or codes to particular records to assist in their retrieval; and
• tracking - which provides evidence of where a record is located, what action is outstanding on a record, who has seen a record, when such access took place and the recordkeeping transactions that have been undertaken on the record.
AS 4390 Part4 Clause 1

State Records can have control of a State record either by taking the record into custody or by entering into an agreement whereby some other person (which can include the public office that is responsible for the record) has  custody of the record. See State Records Act 1998 (NSW)
See 'Distributed management'.
Controlled vocabulary 
A list containing headings or terms which are authorised or controlled so that one heading or term is allowed to represent a concept or name. Can also be represented in a thesaurus. The alternative to a controlled vocabulary is free text.
The process of changing records from one medium to another or from one format to another. The process of transferring records from one medium to the next is sometimes also referred to as 'refreshing'.
See 'Migration'.
Corporate governance 
The processes by which organisations are directed, controlled and held to account. It encompasses authority, accountability, stewardship, leadership, direction and control exercised in the organisation.
AS 8000 Clause 1.5.1.
Counter-disaster plan 
A plan for measures to be taken for disaster prevention, disaster response and recovery and vital records protection.
Carrying out the instructions (disposal actions) contained in a retention and disposal authority. See 'Sentencing'.

Current records See 'Active records'

The physical location of the records or archives. Custody does not always include legal ownership, or the right to control access to records. Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 466

The State Records Act (1998) entitles State Records to control State records, but does not require it to take custody of such records.
See 'Control'. See 'Distributed management'.


The process of removing material from the care and custody of an archives, either because the material has been reappraised and found to be unsuitable for the archives' holdings, or because the legal owner has requested its return, or because it has been agreed to transfer it to another archives.
Deaccessioning is a serious matter which requires careful consideration and documentation.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 466
The process of recording information about the nature and content of records in archival custody. The description identifies such features as provenance, arrangement, format and contents, and presents them in standardised form.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 467
See 'Arrangement.'
An 8-step methodology that provides a comprehensive approach to system design to develop systems with adequate recordkeeping functionality that are specific to, and that meet, business needs.
The DIRKS methodology is outlined in Australian Standard, AS ISO 15489-2002, Records Management. It was originally detailed in the precursor to this standard, Australian Standard, AS 4390-1996, Records Management.

Disaster plan See 'Counter-disaster plan'

A range of processes associated with implementing appraisal decisions. These include the retention, deletion or destruction of records in or from recordkeeping systems. They may also include the migration or transmission of records between recordkeeping systems, and the transfer of custody or ownership of records.
AS 4390 Part1 Clause 4.9

Disposal authority See 'Retention and disposal authority'

Disposal classes 
Classes of records performing or recording similar activities and therefore having the same retention period and disposal action.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.11
Disposal trigger 
The event from which the disposal date is calculated, for example 'last action' or 'expiry of contract'.
Distributed management 
Distributed management is a strategy whereby a public office, or other person, can enter into an agreement with State Records to have possession or custody of State archives. State Records retains control of the archives, while they are held in the custody of the public office or person, ensuring their proper management and care through the terms of the agreement.
Recorded information or object which can be treated as a unit.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.10

Document means any record of information, and includes:
• anything on which there is writing, or
• anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for the person qualified to interpret them, or
• anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else, or
• a map, plan, drawing or photograph.
Evidence Act 1995 (NSW)

Some documents are records because they have participated in a business transaction, or were created to document such a transaction. Conversely, some documents are not records because they do not function as evidence of a business transaction.


Electronic documents 
A collection of electronic data which may be produced by the creation of original data (typically a text document, small database, spreadsheet, graphic created within the office environment) or by the combination of existing data (which may include data extracted from data files and databases). It should be managed as a unique entity by means of a standard set of descriptors.
Information Exchange Steering Committee, Management of Electronic Documents in the Australian Public Sector, p. 12
Electronic messages 
A general term covering all forms of electronically-mediated communication. This includes electronic mail for text messages and an equivalent service that uses recordings of spoken messages, known as voice messaging. It may also include computer conferencing and videotext. Also used as synonymous with electronic mail.
Gunton, The Penguin Dictionary of Information Technology, p. 100
Electronic records 
Records communicated and maintained by means of electronic equipment.
AS 4390 Part1 Clause 4.13

Records capable of being processed in a computer system and/or stored at any instant in a medium which requires electronic or computer equipment to retrieve them.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 469

Email See 'Electronic messages'

A record or document that has been alienated from the possession of its legitimate custodian.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 470

A State record is an estray for the purposes of this Act if it is owned by the State or an agency of the State but is not under the control of the public office responsible for the record (except as a result of being under the controlof the Authority or of some other person with lawful authority).
State Records Act 1998 (NSW)
Information that tends to prove a fact. Not limited to the legal sense of the term.
Australian Standard AS 4390-1996, Part1. Clause 4.14


 (n.) An organised unit of documents, accumulated during current use and kept together because they deal with the same subject, activity or transaction and which may or may not be fastened together with or without a cover.
(v.) The action of placing documents in a predetermined location according to an overall scheme of control.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p.470

A file is a collection of documents, which show organisational activities through an identifiable sequence of transactions. Individual documents on the file have relationships with each other, for example a letter and a reply, and a reply to that etc., which are preserved by being kept on file in the right order and are part of the evidence in the records. A file can be physical or electronic.
File part
A continuation of the same activity or transactions, placed on a new file because the previous file (closed part) contained too many documents to be easily handled.
A file part generally has the same title followed by a part number (eg part 2), but a different file number to the closed part.
• A single leaf of paper or page of a register, usually numbered only on one side.
• The number assigned to the leaf or page.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 471
Folio numbering
The practice of placing a number on each item in a paper file so that items within the file are easily identifiable from each other. Documents are placed on the file in strict chronological order and as new documents are added, each is marked with the next consecutive number.
Functions represent the major responsibilities that are managed by an organisation to fulfil its goals. Functions are high-level aggregates of the organisation's activities.
Functions are generally not based on organisational structures because they are more stable than administrative units, which are often amalgamated or devolved when restructuring takes place.
See 'Activity'
Functional analysis 
Functional analysis is the analysis of business activity. This analysis involves collecting information from documentary sources and interviews; identifying and documenting each business function, activity, transaction; establishing a hierarchy of business functions, activities and transactions, and identifying and documenting the flow of business processes and the transactions which comprise them.
AS 4390 Part3 Clause 6.2.2 (b)
Functional records 
Records created by an organisation to help carry out its unique business role. The functions associated with these records are specific to the organisation, as opposed to housekeeping records that document functions common to all organisation. Also referred to as operational records.
National Archives of Australia, DIRKS Glossary p. 8

Functional retention and disposal authority See 'Retention and disposal authority'

Functional thesaurus
A thesaurus that reflects the unique functions of an organisation.


General retention and disposal authority See 'Retention and disposal authority'


Inactive records 
Those records no longer required for the conduct of business and which may therefore be transferred to intermediatestorage, archival custody or destroyed.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 472
The process of establishing access points to facilitate retrieval of records and/or information.
AS 14389 Part1 Clause 3.11
Information management 
Information Management (IM) describes the measures required for the effective collection, storage, access, use and disposal of information to support agency business processes. The core of these measures is the management of the definition, ownership, sensitivity, quality and accessibility of information. These measures are addressed at appropriate stages in the strategic planning lifecycle and applied at appropriate stages in the operational lifecycle of the information itself.
Office of Information Technology, Information Management Framework Guidelines, pp. 4-5
Information systems 
Organised collections of hardware, software, supplies, policies, procedures and people, which store, process and provide access to information.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.17
Intellectual control 
The control established over the informational content of records and archives resulting from ascertaining and documenting their provenance, and from the processes of arrangement and description.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 472

Intermediate records See 'Semi-active records'

Intermediate records storage See 'Secondary storage'

The smallest discrete unit of record material which accumulates to form a series (i.e. a file or part file in a series of files; a volume in a series of volumes, etc.).
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 473


Pre-determined, prescribed and controlled descriptors which represent broad functions undertaken by an agency. They are the first element in the classification hierarchy (and consequently in a title).
See 'Keyword classification'
Keyword classification 
Keyword classification involves grouping records into broad, functionally based areas represented by keywords. Records are further classified by the use of activity descriptors and optional subject descriptors.  
Knowledge management 
A multi-disciplined approach to achieving organisational objectives by making best use of knowledge. It involves the design, review and implementation of both social and technological processes to improve the application of knowledge, in the collective interest of stakeholders.
AS 5037 Clause 1.2.4


The range of processes and tasks for protecting records from unauthorised access, loss or destruction, theft or disaster and retaining their integrity over time.
Merged thesaurus 
A merged thesaurus is a single thesaurus that covers both general and functional terms.
Data describing data and data systems.
In records management, recordkeeping metadata is data that describes the context, content and structure of records and their management through time.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.12
The process of moving records from one system to another, while maintaining the records’ authenticity, integrity, reliability and useability.
See 'Conversion'


Non-current records See 'Inactive records'

Normal administrative practice 
Disposal of ephemeral or facilitative records without the formal authorisation of State Records.
See State Records Act (NSW)s. 22 and State Records Regulation 2010


Open access period
 The State Records Act 1998 entitles the public to access records over 30 years of age (the open access period). Public offices are required to make access directions for all records in the open access period.
Original order 
The order in which records and archives were kept when in active use, i.e. the order of accumulation as they were created, maintained and used. The principle of original order requires that the original order be preserved or reconstructed unless, after detailed examination, the original order is identified as a totally haphazard accumulation making the records irretrievable (but not an odd, unorderly or difficult arrangement).
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 475


Part See 'File part'

Performance indicator 
Defines the measurement of a piece of important and useful information about the performance of a program. Indicators are usually expressed as a percentage, index or rate, are monitored at regular intervals and are compared to one criterion or a number of criteria.
Office of Public Management, Planning and monitoring your program: First steps in program evaluation, p. 76
Permanent paper 
Paper which during long term storage in libraries, archives and other protected environments will undergo little or no change in properties that affect use.
AS 4003, p. 1

Acid-free paper, with a protective alkaline buffer and ph of 8 to 10, containing low levels of undesirable substances such as lignin and acidic sizing. Also referred to as non-acidic paper.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p.475
Physical control 
The control established over the physical aspects (such as format, quantity and location) of the archives and records in custody.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 476
See 'Custody'
Process and operations involved in ensuring the technical and intellectual survival of authentic records over time.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.14
 • The agency, office or person of origin of records, i.e. the entity which created, received or accumulated and used the records in the conduct of business or personal life. Also referred to as records creator.
• The chain of custody which reflects the office(s) or person(s) that created, received or accumulated and used the records in the conduct of business or in the course of personal life. Identifying and documenting the provenance of records is an essential part of establishing their authenticity and integrity as evidence.
• In archival theory, the principle of provenance requires that archives of an agency or person not be mixed or combined with the archives of another, i.e. the archives are retained and documented in their functional and/or organisational context.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 476
Public office 
Public office means each of the following:
(a) a department, office, commission, board, corporation, agency, service or instrumentality exercising any function of any branch of the Government of the State
(b) a body (whether or not incorporated) established for a public purpose
(c) a council or county council under the Local Government Act 1993
(d) the Cabinet and the Executive Council
(e) the office and official establishment of the Governor
(f) a House of Parliament
(g) a court or tribunal
(h) a State collecting institution
(i) a Royal Commission or Commission of Inquiry
(j) a State owned corporation
(k) the holder of any office under the Crown
(l) any body, office or institution that exercises any public functions and that is declared by the regulations to be a public office for the purposes of this Act (whether or not the body, office or institution is a public office under some other paragraph of this definition).
State Records Act 1998 (NSW)


Making and maintaining complete, accurate and reliable evidence of business transactions in the form of recorded information.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.19

Recordkeeping includes the following:
(a) the creation of records in the course of business activity and the means to ensure the creation of adequate records;
(b) the design, establishment and operation of recordkeeping systems; and
(c) the management of records used in business (traditionally regarded as the domain of records management) and as archives (traditionally regarded as the domain of archives administration).
AS 4390  Part 3 Foreword
Recordkeeping requirements 
Requirements arising from regulatory sources, business needs and community expectations that identify the types of records that should be created and the management framework needed in order to have, and accountably manage, all the business information that is necessary for an organisation.
Recordkeeping systems 
Recordkeeping systems are business information systems capable of:
• capturing
• maintaining and
• providing access
to records over time.
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.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.15

Record means any document or other source of information compiled, recorded or stored in written form or on film, or by electronic process, or in any other manner or by any other means.
State Records Act 1998(NSW)
Records continuum 
The whole extent of a record's existence. Refers to a consistent and coherent regime of management processes from the time of the creation of records (and before creation, in the design of recordkeeping systems), through to the preservation and use of records as archives.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.22
Records management 
Field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.16
Records management program 
A records management program encompasses the management framework, the people and the systems required within an organisation to manage full and accurate records over time. This includes the identification and protection of records with longer-term value that may be required as State archives.
The act of giving a record a unique identifier on entry intro a system.
AS ISO 15489 Part 1 Clause 3.18

The primary purpose of registration is to provide evidence that a record has been created or captured in a records system, and an additional benefit is that it facilitates retrieval. It involves recording brief descriptive information or metadata about the record and assigning the record an identifier, unique within the system.
AS ISO 15489  Part 1 Clause 9.4
Retention and disposal authority 
Documents authorised by the Board of State Records NSW that set out appropriate retention periods for classes of records. There are two main types:
Functional retention and disposal authorities authorise the retention and disposal of records unique to a specific organisation.
General retention and disposal authorities authorise the retention and disposal of records common to more than one organisation. Such records may include:
• general administrative records
• common records that relate to unique functions, and
• records relating to the unique functions of like organisations such as local councils, universities, and public health services.
Retention period
The period of time, usually based on an estimate of the frequency of current and future use, and taking into account statutory and regulatory provisions, that records need to be retained before their final disposal. Sometimes also used to indicate the length of time records are to be retained in offices before being transferred to secondary storage.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 479


Secondary records See 'Semi-active records'

Secondary storage
A low-cost, warehouse-style repository or storage area where inactive or semi-active records are housed and referenced pending their ultimate destruction or transfer to archives.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 472
Semi-active records
Those records that are required so infrequently in the conduct of current business that they can be transferred from offices to separate secondary storage areas. Also referred to as non-current records or semi-current records.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 472

Semi-current records See 'Semi-active records'

The process of identifying and classifying records according to a retention and disposal authority and applying the disposal action specified in it.
Those records or archives having the same provenance which belong together because:
• they are part of a discernible filing system (alphabetical, numerical, chronological, or a combination of these)
• they have been kept together because the result from the same activity or
• they are of similar formats and relate to a particular function.
A series may also consist of one item. Also referred to as record series.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 479
State archive
A State record that the State Records Authority of New South Wales has control of under the State Records Act, 1998 (NSW).
State record
Any record, made and kept, or received and kept, by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office.
State Records Act 1998 (NSW)
Subject descriptor
The level of descriptor that follows an activity descriptor. Subject descriptors define the subject content of the activities represented by the activity descriptor.
See 'Keyword classification'


Temporary records
Records with no archivalvalue that can be sentenced for destruction.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 480
A thesaurus is a controlled list of terms linked together by semantic, hierarchical, associative or equivalence relationships. Such tools act as a guide to allocating classification terms to individual records.
In a thesaurus the meaning of the term is specified and hierarchical relationships to other terms shown. A thesaurus provides sufficient entry points to allow users to navigate from terms which are not to be used to the preferred terminology adopted by the organisation.
AS ISO 15489 Part 2 Clause
Time-expired records
Temporary records whose nominated date of destruction has passed.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 480
Capturing and maintaining information about the movement and uses of records.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.26

Tracking information can form part of recordkeeping metadata.
The smallest unit of business activity. Uses of records are themselves transactions.
AS 4390 Part 1 Clause 4.27
The process of changing the physical custody of archives, generally without changing the legal title of the material.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 480

Trigger See 'Disposal trigger'


Viewer / player technology
Software designed specifically to give users the ability to view or play, and possibly copy or print, information in electronic files independent of the authoring or other application software with which it was created.
Can form part of a preservation strategy for electronic records.
Vital records
Those records that are essential for the ongoing business of an agency, and without which the agency could not continue to function effectively. The identification and protection of such records is a primary object of records management anddisaster planning.
Ellis (ed), Keeping Archives, p. 480


Acland, Glenda. 'Glossary' in Judith Ellis (ed.) Keeping Archives. 2nd Edition, Australian Society of Archivists Inc, Thorpe Publishing, Port Melbourne, 1993.

Australian Standard AS 4390-1996, Records Management.Standards Australia, Homebush NSW.

Australian Standard AS 4003-1996, Permanent Paper.Standards Australia, Homebush NSW.

Australian Standard AS ISO 15489-2003 Records Management Part 1: General.Standards Australia, Sydney.

Australian Standard AS ISO 15489-2003 Records Management Part 2: Guidelines. Standards Australia: Sydney.

Australian Standard AS/NZS ISO/IEC 17799-2001 Information technology : code of practice for information security management, Standards Australia: Strathfield NSW.

Australian Standard AS 8000-2003 Good Governance Principles.Standards Australia, Sydney.

Evidence Act 1995 (NSW)

Gunton, Tony. The Penguin Dictionary of Information Technology.Third edition.Penguin Books, London, 1994.

Information Exchange Steering Committee.Management of Electronic Documents in the Australian Public Sector.Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia, 1993.

Kennedy, Jay and Schauder, Cheryl. Records Management: A Guide for Students and Practitioners of Records Management. Longman, Melbourne, 1994.

National Archives of AustraliaDIRKS Glossary September 2001  

Office of Information Technology.Information Management Guidelines, 1997. Available online: Information Management Guidelines