Archives and Recordkeeping

Nov 2013 | 224pp

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Archives and Recordkeeping
Theory into practice

Edited by Caroline Brown

This groundbreaking text demystifies archival and recordkeeping theory and its role in modern day practice.

The book's great strength is in articulating some of the core principles and issues that shape the discipline and the impact and relevance they have for the 21st century professional.

Using an accessible approach, it outlines and explores key literature and concepts and the role they can play in practice. Leading international thinkers and practitioners from the archives and records management world, Jeannette Bastian, Alan Bell, Anne Gilliland, Rachel Hardiman, Eric Ketelaar, Jennifer Meehan and Caroline Williams, consider the concepts and ideas behind the practicalities of archives and records management to draw out their importance and relevance.

Key topics covered include:

  • Concepts, roles and definitions of records and archives
  • Archival appraisal
  • Arrangement and description
  • Ethics for archivists and records managers
  • Archives, memories and identities
  • The impact of philosophy on archives and records management
  • Does technological change marginalize recordkeeping theory?

Readership: This is essential reading for students and educators in archives and recordkeeping and invaluable as a guide for practitioners who want to better understand and inform their day-to-day work. It is also a useful guide across related disciplines in the information sciences and humanities.

Introduction - Caroline Brown 
1. Records and archives: concepts, roles and definition - Caroline Williams 
2. Archival appraisal: practising on shifting sand - Anne J. Gilliland 
3. Arrangement and description: between theory and practice - Jennifer Meehan 
4. Ethics for archivists and records managers - Jeannette A. Bastian 
5. Archives, memories and identities - Eric Ketelaar 
6. Under the influence: the impact of philosophy on archives and records management - Rachel Hardiman 
7. Participation vs principle: does technological change marginalize recordkeeping theory? - Alan R. Bell

"Archives and Recordkeeping: Theory into practice is described on its back cover as “essential reading for students and educators” in the field. I could not agree with this more. If you are a professor of archives or recordkeeping courses, put this book on your syllabus. If you are a student preparing to enter the profession, pick this book up. In addition, those of us who are already working in the archival profession should look at the essays in this text to expand our own understanding of the historical and theoretical contexts of the world in which we work. In particular, current professionals should closely read Jennifer Meehan's chapter on arrangement and description and Rachel Hardiman's fabulous discussion of philosophy in chapter 6. These two chapters are the cream of a very good crop."
- American Archivist

"This book is a welcome reminder of what archivists like best: talk about archives. For those who originally studied archive theory 30 or more years ago, it is particularly striking how many sources there are now compared to the relatively few published sources available on archival theory then. The bringing together of past and current thinking in this way will hopefully encourage and inform existing and future debate. For more recently qualified archivists, the book is a welcome chance to revisit some of the theoretical thinking underpinning archive work, in the light of the issues they have faced in their professional experiences since leaving university. For those new to the profession or studying to qualify, the book will provide an overview of milestones of archival thinking, with references to further reading."
- Archives and Records

"...an excellent introduction to the many and varied strands of thought in recordkeeping. The thorough bibliographies provided by the authors will enable the reader to go on their own voyage of discovery."
- Archives and Manuscripts

"...ideal for anyone looking to seriously develop their theoretical knowledge of the archival and records management disciplines."

"This book provides a synthesis and an overview of all theories concerning the management of documents and archives, which were developed during the last century to the present...I encourage both professionals and students to read this book to complement and cultivate their theoretical knowledge in document management and archives."
- Alexandra Buthiaux, Érudit

Caroline Brown is the Programme Leader and Honorary Lecturer for the archives programmes at the Centre for Archive and Information Studies, University of Dundee, where she is also Deputy Archivist. She is a Chair of Archives and Records Association (UK & Ireland’s) Conference Committee, sits on its Professional Development Committee, having formerly served as the Chair of the Education, Training and Development Committee, and is a member of the Executive Committee for ARA Scotland. She is a sits on the Section Bureau of the International Council on Archives Section on Archival Education and is active in ICA/SUV . She is an Arts and Humanities Research Council Peer Review College and Panel Member and has written and spoken on a range of archival and recordkeeping issues. Recent publications include an article on memory in Archival Science and two editions of Archival Science for which she was guest editor.



Jeannette A. Bastian, Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Simmons College, USA

Alan R. Bell, Records Manager, Information Compliance Officer, Programme Leader and Honorary Lecturer, University of Dundee

Anne J. Gilliland, Professor and Director of Archival Studies and Director of the Center for Information as Evidence, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, USA

Rachel Hardiman, records manager and researcher, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Eric Ketelaar, Professor Emeritus, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Jennifer Meehan, Associate Director, Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, Emory University, USA

Caroline Williams, independent archival consultant, Senior Research Fellow, University of Liverpool, UK

1. Records and archives: concepts, roles and definitions - Caroline Williams

The first chapter provides a broad overview. Caroline Williams begins with what, for many, is the basis of any theory relating to archives and records management. She discusses the nature of records and archives and the role that they play in society. Underlying her analysis is an emphasis on the interplay between theory and practice and the evolving nature of this interplay and of the connections between recordkeepers, society and other disciplines.

2. Archival appraisal: practising on shifting sands - Anne J. Gilliland

In Chapter 2 Anne Gilliland looks at appraisal, the archival function which has, perhaps, attracted the most theoretical writing. Her aim is ‘to provide practising archivists with a broad overview of what they need to know in terms of background, and what they need to reflect upon regarding appraisal in the constantly shifting sands of modern recordkeeping and information technology’. She examines the concepts that have been developed and the methodologies they have influenced to avoid ‘a selection process so random, so fragmented, so uncoordinated, and even … accidental’ (Ham, 1975, 5).

3. Arrangement and description: between theory and practice - Jennifer Meehan

In Chapter 3 Jennifer Meehan focuses on another core archival function, arrangement and description. She uses an analysis of literature to consider how recordkeepers can balance theoretical and practical ‘forces’; ‘the needs of the records as both physical and intellectual objects; the needs of users; the demands of archival theory (the set of ideas about the nature of records); the practical limitations of archival methodology (the set of ideas about how to treat records based on their nature); and the even more practical limitations of available resources, systems and tools’.

4. Ethics for archivists and records managers - Jeannette A. Bastian

In Chapter 4 Jeannette Bastian examines professionals’ relationship with ethics both collectively and individually, through a discussion of the ethical perspective in general and the impact of these broader conceptual approaches on codes of ethics and real-life ethical dilemmas.

5. Archives, memories and identities - Eric Ketelaar

The relationship of archives and records to concepts such as power, justice, culture and memory is, as we have seen, often mentioned in literature, but frequently in a vague and undefined way. Eric Ketelaar’s contribution takes two of these concepts, memory and identity, and seeks to articulate more clearly the connections between them and recordkeeping. As Ketelaar says, ‘Many archivists claim that through the experience of archival documents identities are constructed and reconstructed.’ In Chapter 5 he seeks to explore these claims, through a review of the literature and an analysis of how the policies and practices of archivists can use this knowledge to ‘enhance the role of archives and archivists in the construction of individual and collective memories and identities’ (p. 132). Ketelaar’s discussion, naturally, references literature from outside the recordkeeping discipline.

6. Under the influence: the impact of philosophy on archives and records management - Rachel Hardiman

In Chapter 6 Rachel Hardiman draws on the work of philosophers from the eighteenth century onward to demonstrate how an understanding of their work can enhance our conceptual approaches. Brien Brothman complained that ‘[T]he archival community has shown little interest in exploring possibilities for erecting any philosophical scaffolding for archival theory and practice ... [A]rchivists … deem philosophy unhelpful in the face of practical problems’ (Brothman, 1999, 69). This chapter represents a solid foundation for that scaffolding.

7. Participation vs principle: does technological change marginalize recordkeeping theory? - Alan R. Bell

The final chapter looks back to the first, Caroline Williams’ analysis of the concept of records and archives, but rather than focusing on extant literature it is firmly placed in the present and the future. Alan Bell reflects on ‘the relevance of theoretical discourse in recordkeeping at a time when the role and purpose of the records professions is challenged continually by a rapidly evolving technical, informational and cultural landscape’. He examines whether the rise of technological and cultural participatory cultures leaves recordkeepers both theoretically and practically irrelevant. Bell’s chapter, with its emphasis on tensions and opportunities, is a timely reminder of the need for theory to be revisited and rearticulated in response to practical changes.

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