The Records Life-cycle and Continuum Concerpts

This article defines the continuum and the life-cycle concepts.It explains what the continuum concept is all about and gives the benefits of the continuum concept in records management.The benefits includes a partnership between two groups of records professional,the records manager and the archivist,administration efficiency etc.The life-cycle had been explained as concept which give a sense of order among a host of its advantages in records management.A full text of this article has 1480 words and 7 pages long.
Providing coherent and consistent service that meets user's needs has long been a challenge for records managers and archivists worldwide. It is even more challenging in a digital world. Timely access to accurate, reliable, authentic, complete, and readable records over time is always difficult for both users and custodians. In this paper, the author is going to highlight and explain the two key principles that govern the care of records and archives. The two principles are the records lifecycle concept and the continuum concept

As defined in Australia Standard 4390, a records continuum is '...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.' The International Council on Archives defines the continuum concept as 'A consistent and coherent process of records management throughout the life of records, from the development of recordkeeping systems through the creation and preservation of records, to their retention and use as archives.' The above definitions suggest an ideal integration for documents, records and archives management.

According to Atherton [1985], all stages of records are interrelated forming a continuum in which both records managers and archivists are involved, to varying degrees, in the ongoing management of recorded information. She explained how the lifecycle stages that records supposedly underwent were infect a series of recurring and reverberating activities within both archives and records management. The underlying unifying or linking factor in the continuum was the service function to the creators and all users.

Xiami Phd says the records continuum as a model was formulated in the 1990s by Australian archival theorist Frank Upward based on four principles. The first is a concept of 'record' inclusive of records of continuing value[archives] stresses their use for transactional, evidentiary, and memory purposes, and unifies approaches to archiving/recordkeeping, whether records are kept for a split second or millennium. The second is, there is a focus on records as logical rather than physical entities, regardless of whether they are in paper or electronic form. The third is the institutionalization of recordkeeping profession's role requires a particular emphasis on the need to integrate recordkeeping into business and societal processes and purposes. The fourth point is that archival science is the foundation for organized knowledge.

Sue McKlemmish writes 'the model[continuum concept] provides a graphical tool for framing issues about the relationship between records managers and archivists, past, present and future, and for thinking strategically about working collaboratively and building partnerships with stakeholders'

Atherton says a major concern of the continuum concept as a whole must be administration efficiency. Records are not created to serve the interests of some future archivists or historian, or even to document for posterity some significant decision or operation. They are created and managed to serve immediate operational needs.

Miller says the continuum model is a unified model which reflects the pattern of the continuum. She says four actions continue to recur through the life of a record and cuts across the traditional boundary between records management and archives administration. The actions are the creation or acquisition of records, classification or description, its appraisal for continuing value and its maintenance and use.

The continuum approach means the end of the traditional demarcation between the functions of the records manager and the archivist. The division of activities into records management and archival phases, with the consequent division of responsibility between the records manager and the archivists is seen by some as artificial and restrictive.

Sarah Flynn explains that the records continuum model is significant because it broadens the interpretation of records and recordkeeping systems offered by the lifecycle. Such broadening is helpful, given the variety of context in which archivists and records managers operate and in which archives and records are used.

The continuum model reminds us that records [including archives] are created and maintained for use as a result of business and administration functions and processes, rather than as ends in themselves.

The continuum model emphasizes cooperation beyond the walls of repositories, especially between closely related, if occasionally estranged, professions of archives administration and records management-a cooperation that is more important than ever in the contemporary climate of outsourcing and cross- sectoral working.

On the other hand the lifecycle is a concept that draws an analogy between the life of a biological organism, which is born, lives and dies, and that of a record, which is created, is used for so long as it has continuing value and is then disposed of by destruction or by transfer to an archival institution.

Miller says the effective management of records throughout their lifecycle is a key issue in civil service reform. Without the lifecycle concept, vast quantities of inactive records clog up expensive office space, and it is virtually impossible to retrieve important administrative, financial and legal information. Such a situation undermines the accountability of the state and endangers the rights of the citizen.

Without a management program that controls records through the earlier phases of their lifecycle, those of archival value cannot be identified and safeguarded so that they can take their place in due course as part of the nation's historical and cultural heritage.

The records lifecycle goes on as follows: the document is created and enters what is called the current stage. Current records are records regularly used for the conduct of the current businesses of an organization or individual. They are also known as active records. Current records are normally kept near the place of origin or the registry or records office. From the current stage the record goes on to the semi-current stage. Semi-current records are records required only infrequently in the conduct of the current business. Semi-current records will normally be maintained in a records centre pending their ultimate disposal. From semi-current phase, some records are selected as archives. Archives are records, usually but not necessarily non-current records, of enduring value selected for permanent preservation. Archives will normally be preserved in an archival institution.

The lifecycle concept has been useful in promoting a sense of order, a systematic approach, to the overall management of recorded information. However, juxtaposition of the records continuum and the lifecycle model shows that the records continuum models advantages outweighs the advantages of the lifecycle concept. Peter Marshall states that the records continuum's primary focus is the multiple purpose of records. It aims for the development of record keeping systems that capture, manage, and maintain records with sound evidential characteristics for as long as the records are of value to the organization. It promotes the integration of record keeping into the organization's business systems and processes.

According to McKemmish records managers and archivists are brought together under an integrated recordkeeping framework with the same goal: to guarantee the reliability, authenticity, and completeness of records. The framework provides common understanding, consistent standards, unified best practice criteria, and interdisciplinary approaches in recordkeeping and archiving processes for both paper and digital worlds. It provides sustainable recordkeeping to connect the past to the present and the present to the future. It can coherently exist in a broader dynamic, changeable context that can be influenced by legal, political, administrative, social, commercial, technological, cultural and historical variables across time and space.

The continuum purpose-oriented, systems approach to records management fundamentally changes the role of recordkeeping. Instead of being reactive, managing records after they have been created, recordkeeping becomes proactive.

Amongst the two concepts, the continuum concept is the best practice for managing both electronic and paper records when the aim is to improve responsiveness, increase efficiency, and satisfy user's requirements. The records continuum model's ideal integration can be viewed as a best framework for managing records in a broader context of archival science to connect the past to the present and the present to the future.

1 Jay Atherton, From lifecycle to continuum, Canada 1985.
2 Xiaomi An, PhD, 'An integrated approach to records management:...' ARMA 2003
3 Miller, The Managing of Public Sector Records, Principles &context IRMT 1999
4 Marshall, 'Lifecycle vs. Continuum-what's the difference?' Information Quarterly, 16,no2, 200
5 AS 4390. Standards Australia, 1996

Etiwel Mutero  holds a Bsc Honours Degree in Records and Archives Management through the Zimbabwe Open University.To order a full text of this article contact Etiwel on His Mobile phone +263773614293 or email

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