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How do we manage records?

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Overview: This section provides an overview of records management and recordkeeping. It introduces the strategies and methodologies used to manage records.

Definitions of records management and recordkeeping

The Australian Standard AS ISO 15489 defines records management as

the 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 in the form of records.' (Part 1: General).

Recordkeeping and recordkeeping systems are defined in the Australian Standard AS 4390-1996 as:

  • recordkeeping - making and maintaining complete, accurate and reliable evidence of business transactions in the form of recorded information.
  • recordkeeping systems - information systems which capture, maintain and provide access to records over time.

Together these definitions set out the framework for managing records throughout their existence, including identifying records of long term value that may become archives.

Establish a records management program

A key obligation under the State Records Act is for all NSW public offices to

establish and maintain a records management program' (s.12(2)).

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 archives. The program includes:

  • records management policies, plans and procedures
  • skilled staff
  • recordkeeping systems and tools
  • advice and training in recordkeeping rules and practices
  • recordkeeping performance monitoring and review.

For more information on establishing a records management program, see the Standard on Managing a Records Management Program (Standard No. 8, 2004).

Develop and implement recordkeeping systems and tools

Recordkeeping systems help your organisation to meet their recordkeeping requirements, notably the making and reuse of records to support business activities. Recordkeeping requirements will be different for different organisations, and even within different parts of an organisation depending upon the legal and regulatory environment in which they work. Recordkeeping systems make, store and provide access to evidence of transactions over time. They do not just contain data to be reused. There can be a number of recordkeeping systems within an organisation, depending upon its size, its business needs and the types of records it makes.

A recordkeeping system does not just refer to a piece of technology or a software application, but rather all of the parts - people, processes and tools – that make up the whole. The system may be supported by software applications, or it may be paper-based or a mixture of both, e.g. a file register and hard copy files; a records management software package and virtual files, a financial management database with hard copy invoices and printed reports. Note: Many business systems are also recordkeeping systems as they create and maintain records of the business activities which they support.

Tools that are commonly integrated in recordkeeping systems include records titling thesauri and retention and disposal authorities, listing retention periods and disposal actions.

An outline methodology for developing and implementing adequate recordkeeping systems is set out in AS ISO 15489. State Records' has expanded this in Strategies for Documenting Government Business: The DIRKS Manual. Tools that can be developed using the DIRKS methodology include a retention and disposal authority, a keyword thesaurus, an access and security schema, and a specification for recordkeeping metadata.

The eight stages of the methodology are:

  • Step A – preliminary investigation
  • Step B – analysis of business activity
  • Step C – identification of recordkeeping requirements
  • Step D – assessment of existing systems
  • Step E – strategies for recordkeeping
  • Step F – design of a recordkeeping system
  • Step G – implementation of a recordkeeping system
  • Step H – post-implementation review. 

Note: This methodology is not necessarily linear, e.g. steps can be done in parallel, steps can be skipped, etc. See the Strategies for Documenting Government Business: The DIRKS Manual for more information.

Implement recordkeeping processes

The records management program provides a framework in which recordkeeping processes can be effectively implemented in order to make and manage records as long as they are needed.

Making of records

People and organisations need to make records that document the decisions they have made and actions that have been taken. Many business processes automatically result in the making of a record and systems should be designed to automate this as far as possible. In other situations, e.g. telephone conversations, instant messaging, people have to deliberately make a record. Records managers can support the making of adequate records by:

  • working with other staff to design recordkeeping into business processes
  • establishing rules for when and how records need to be made
  • providing templates to make sure that records have all the necessary information in them.

Control of records

It is important to establish the physical and intellectual control over the records so that the organisation knows what records it has, where they are and what has happened to them. Using control processes, records can be found and used in support of business objectives.

Control processes include:

  • Registration – giving a record a unique identifier (e.g. number or title) to provide evidence that it has been made. This is the foundation of other control processes.
  • Classification – categorising records in systematic and consistent ways so that related records are grouped together to facilitate capture, retrieval, maintenance and disposal.
  • Language control – using language control tools to title and index records and files, e.g. a thesaurus or lists of standard headings.
  • Indexing – attaching searchable terms (from the controlled language tool) to records to help with retrieval.
  • Tracking – tracking the physical movement of records to know who has used them and where they are at any one time.

See State Records' guidelines How to take control of your records for more information.

Maintenance of records

Maintaining records covers the range of processes and tasks for protecting records from unauthorised access, loss or destruction, theft or disaster and protecting their integrity over time. It also covers keeping them accessible for as long as they are needed as evidence of business activities, particularly important for electronic records. Maintenance processes include:

  • Storage of active records – establishing and managing facilities for records in all formats in or close to office or other work areas.
  • Storage of semi-active and inactive records – usually involves establishing and managing a warehouse type facility, or outsourcing storage to a commercial provider.
  • Storage of electronic records - including online and offline data storage devices.
  • Preservation – establishing and monitoring appropriate environmental conditions for storing different types of records, implementing safe handling practices, preventing damage to or misuse of records. May also include transferring records to a different medium, e.g. paper to microfilm.
  • Conservation – replacing and repairing damaged records or record containers.
  • Migration – migrating records through technology changes to keep them accessible over time. Includes documenting migration actions.
  • Vital records – identifying records and recordkeeping systems critical to the functioning of an organisation and developing strategies to reduce the risks to these records
  • Disaster management – identifying and assessing the risks of disasters affecting records, developing strategies to prevent them and for recovering from them.

Standards and guidance covering all of these processes can be found in the Government Recordkeeping Manual, available online on the State Records' website.

Access to records

Managing access to records involves making them accessible and useable to users within and outside the organisation, implementing access rules and also access restrictions where necessary. These processes include:

  • Managing access – identifying and administering requirements to make records accessible or to protect them from unauthorised access because of security, privacy or other restrictions. In the NSW public sector, access to records is regulated by the State Records Act, the Government Information (Public Access) Act and privacy legislation. Access may also be regulated by specific legislation.
  • Retrieval – developing and implementing retrieval tools for records staff and user to identify and retrieve records, e.g. indexes and other recordkeeping metadata tools.
  • Delivery – involves delivering records or copies to internal and external users when they need them.

For more information on access rules in NSW, see the State Records website.

Disposal of records

The disposal of records includes the retention, deletion, transfer or destruction of records following appraisal decisions. Disposal processes include:

  • Appraisal – appraising business functions and activities to determine whether records need to be made, which of these records need to be retained and for how long. This includes identifying records with on-going value as archives. In NSW appraisal decisions are authorised by State Records through general and functional retention and disposal authorities.
  • Sentencing – implementing the disposal authority and applying retention decisions and disposal actions to records. This includes documenting sentencing activities, including transfer and destruction.
  • Destruction – the safe, secure and authorised destruction of time-expired records. This includes documenting records destroyed and the authority by which they were destroyed.
  • Transfer of records – transferring control of records to new owners or custodians following the transfer of functions. It can also apply to the transfer of archives to an archives institution such as State Records. This includes documenting records that have been transferred.