Archivists’ and Records Managers’ Identities – Two Opinions: Different Species or United as One?


Thanks to Sarah Palmer, Information Management Officer at London Borough of Hackney, who opened this question up to the group for our year of Archives and Records Management (ARM)/Records and Archives Management International (RAMI) 2010/2011 PgDip/MA course at University College London (UCL).

Sarah asked what opinions we were aware of about archivists and records managers, in preparation for her talk on Tuesday 25 February 2014 at University of Reading Special Collections.

It is terrific that three from our year, Bryony Leventhall, Assistant Records Manager at the Bank of England, and Margherita Orlando, Assistant Archivist at the Bank of England, in addition to Sarah, represent on the Archives and Records Association (ARA) Section for RM Committee, and will be sharing their experiences in the afternoon session, “Going to the Dark Side? A career in records management rather than in archives”, part of a day for the ARA South East Regional Meeting.

Further information about the day and booking can be found by going to the Archives-NRA Listserv at and searching “going to the dark side”.

It seems to me there are are two main opinions.

1. We are completely different

archivists = keepers
records managers = destroyers

“we seem to belong to two rival species – hoarders and the shredders” – Peter Foden

other typical stereotypes:

messy vs organized
fearful vs confident (! – I’m sure we can all come up with a few more)

We have different duties, concentrate on different parts of the records continuum, and have different values, e.g.:

  • outreach, heritage and memory focus by archivists (this is not typically on the list of duties of a records manager, although could be internal rather than public), corresponding to the pluralize dimension of the Records Continuum Diagram
  • permanent retention as opposed to temporary
  • historical value rather than administrative
  • hierarchy versus series view
  • archives/RM work can correspond to greater focus on micro (item/file/”the stuff”) versus macro (functions)
  • RM is likely to be more engaged in legal compliance, risk management, and accountability e.g. setting retention schedules for current financial records
  • RM work is more with the organization – different departments, more meetings and policy work
  • records managers are often paid more

2. We are one and the same now

  • we both have to comply with legislation inc. Data Protection and Copyright
  • standards are essential for us both
  • ISO 15489: 2001 – integrity, authenticity, reliability, and usability are characteristics of records we both seek to ensure
  • we are both under pressure to be more green
  • the world is becoming more global
  • we are both a bit cash-strapped with the recession and have to demonstrate our value to the organisation
  • we both have to deal with digital issues: difficulty of safeguarding access over a relatively short time (media conversion, migration, emulation), the era of information overload and increased awareness of the need to select/appraise. The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) Reference Model (ISO 14721:2003), was developed to facilitate this.
  • flexibility is important for both archivists and records managers to meet the needs of organisations and users
  • openness is increasingly desirable for us both
  • many archivists are also records managers for their organizations, and jobs are increasingly advertised combining the two: at EFDSS I spend some time on RM, however as the ‘historical’ goals are higher profile and more accepted there, this is not reflected in my job title (Archivist) and it is a challenge to draw the attention of management to the necessity of RM work.

It is generally accepted that even if we are not yet the same, we are coming together.

Kat Niklasdóttir Peterson, Archivist, Anna Freud Project at Freud Museum, made some helpful points in our group discussion, including that there is increased talking in RM, and a need to be more flexible.

It would be interesting to have other comments and views, so please use this as an excuse to share any thoughts.

Links to further information:

Structuring the Records Continuum, Frank Upward, 1996 and

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: A Continuum of Responsibility, Sue McKemmish, 1997

We Will Remember Them, Peter Foden, 14 Nov 2010

Archives and Records Association‎

Archives-NRA Listserv

OAIS Tutorial presented at the Library of Congress, 13 Jun 2003 [PPT]

Overview of the OAIS model, Paradigm project undertaken by the Universities of Oxford and Manchester and funded by Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), 2008

Creative Commons License
Archivists' and Records Managers' Identities - Two Opinions: Different Species or United as One? by Claire Louise Norman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: