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Journal of the Society of Archivists, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2001

The Records Continuum Model in Context and its Implications for Archival Practice1 SARAH J. A. FLYNN, Public Record Office

Introduction Little attention has as yet been paid by archivists and records managers in the UK to the records continuum model as a theoretical basis for the management of records and of archives, their permanently preserved subset. There are some signs that this is changing. A review of a relevant Australian journal edition was published in this journal in October 1998. An article published in 1999 in the Society of Archivists’ Newsletter by an archivist who had recently worked in Australia touched on the existence of the model, while a subsequent article gave a summary view of it.2 The Society’s Records Management Group organised a training day on the records continuum in November 1999. 3 Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the records continuum model has hardly gained the ascendancy it enjoys in Australia, where it was possible as long ago as 1994 for the editors of a collection of essays with it as their theme to refer—apparently dismissively—to its precursor as ‘the simplistic life cycle model still favoured by some records managers’.4 Furthermore, a reading of the extant literature leaves me with the impression that some practitioners in the UK see the records continuum model as applicable only to the management of records—including archives—in ‘virtual’ electronic media rather than in physical paper-based form.5 I hope in this article to elucidate the records continuum model as a theoretical base which (while it is admittedly of no little significance for the management and use of electronic records) may be usefully applied to, and underpin, work carried out in the non-electronic archival and records management context, particularly by those who are responsible for the records created by their employers. I shall therefore give an overview of the records continuum model and its development since the 1980s and go on to describe its antecedents (consciously traced or traceable with hindsight) and parallels. I do not lay claim to great originality, nor to an exhaustive survey of relevant professional literature, nor indeed to complete coverage of all the implications of the model; but I offer an introduction to that model, and a referenced discussion of some of the burgeoning and mainly Australian writing on it and on related topics. I also offer initial ideas for more detailed UK-based research on the records continuum Correspondence: Miss S. J. A. Flynn, 22 Helen Road, Oxford OX2 0DE, UK. ISSN 0037-9816 print/ISSN 1465-3907 online/01/010079–15 © 2001 Society of Archivists DOI: 10.1080/00379810120037522


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model—professional research which, as Michael Moss has forcefully stated, is urgently needed.6 The emergence of the model The records continuum model is succinctly defined in the Australian Standard for records management as follows: … 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.7 It may be observed that this definition suggests some similarities between the records continuum model and the life-cycle model in that the former covers creation, preservation, and exploitation of records as archives. However, the statement that the records continuum model is a ‘consistent and coherent’ management regime contrasts with a salient feature of the life-cycle model—the movement of records and transfer of responsibility for them from (for example) active use in the office of the creator, through semi-active use and inactive storage in a records centre and archival appraisal and selection, to destruction or permanent preservation in an archival repository. Also significant is the assertion that a management regime based on the records continuum model covers ‘the design of recordkeeping systems’ and thus controls what might be termed the pre-natal phase in the life of a record, while the life-cycle is typically described as beginning at ‘birth’ or creation.8 The records continuum model was first made explicit by Jay Atherton at the annual conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists in 1985.9 Atherton pointed out the logical weakness of the life-cycle concept of transfer of responsibilities for records by posing the question of whether the management of current records was the first stage in the administration of archives, or the continuing preservation of valuable records the last step in records management. He commented further that the life-cycle model as a string of related but separate functions and responsibilities (undertaken in turn by the creating administrator, the intermediate records manager and the archivist) could if taken to stubborn extremes be counter-productive, ignoring the necessary working relationships between the archivists and records managers involved.10 Remarking that the separation of records management and archives administration under the life-cycle model was unsatisfactory, Atherton argued for its replacement by a records continuum model with four stages: 1. creation or receipt; 2. classification; 3. establishment of retention/disposal schedules and their subsequent implementation; 4. maintenance and use (in the creating office, inactive storage or archives). He stated that: All four stages are interrelated, forming a continuum in which both records managers and archivists are involved, to varying degrees, in the ongoing management of recorded information. To Atherton, the underlying unifying or linking factor in this continuum was the function of service to the records’ creator and all their users.11

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Although Atherton’s four continuum stages are similar to the stages of the life-cycle, and although the first three stages may well follow each other through time rather in the way that the life-cycle progresses, maintenance and use (stage 4) occur at any point in the life of the record. It is possible for the linear progression of the first three stages to break down or mutate: stages 2 (classification, whether the records are incorporated into a filing system or submitted to archival arrangement and description) and 3 (establishment and implementation of schedules) may occur at any point in time after stage 1; stage 2 need not necessarily precede stage 3; and in stage 3, the implementation of a schedule may occur some time after it has been drawn up. The records will always be at more than one stage, as stage 4 constantly exists, and may possibly be at all four practically simultaneously. Thus, for instance, documents recently drawn up or received in the post may be added to a records series which exists in or as a predetermined filing system and which has been scheduled for permanent retention; the series may be consulted on a daily basis by users internal to the creating organisation, or possibly even by external researchers. The model after Atherton In their more complex elaboration of the records continuum model, its prominent advocates since Atherton have taken as a given fact that records have a social context.12 They have not been shy to draw on philosopho-linguistic and sociological concepts, notably the social theory of structuration enunciated by Anthony Giddens (and perhaps first brought to the attention of archivists in 1992 by the Canadians Terry Cook and Richard Brown).13 Chief among these archival theorists is Frank Upward, a senior lecturer in the School of Information Management and Systems at Monash University in Melbourne, who offered his analysis of the model during the later 1990s in a pair of articles entitled ‘Structuring the records continuum’.14 The reading of the records continuum model offered in these articles draws extensively on Giddens and on the post-modernist Jean-François Lyotard; indeed, Upward concludes—surprisingly diffidently—that he may have presented ‘a thin slice of archival substance between thick slices of Lyotard and Giddens’.15 Although dense and in places hard to follow, Upward’s work serves as a reminder that archives and records theory and the practice based upon it does not exist in a vacuum, by setting this theory and practice in the wider context of developments in the social sciences during the twentieth century.16 In the first of these articles Upward states four principles of the records continuum model, of which the first three are of particular interest: 1. A concept of records which is inclusive of records of continuing value (= archives), which stresses their uses for transactional, evidentiary and memory purposes, and which unifies approaches to archiving/recordkeeping whether records are kept for a split second or a millennium … 2. A focus on records as logical rather than physical entities, regardless of whether they are in paper or electronic form … 3. Institutionalization of the recordkeeping profession’s role requires a particular emphasis on the need to integrate recordkeeping into business and societal processes and purposes.17 The first and third principles build on Atherton’s criticism of the division between records management and archive administration, while the reference to ‘societal


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processes’ in the third principle is perhaps reminiscent of Atherton’s concept of service to users both within an organisation and in wider society. I shall return to the second principle below. Upward’s essay goes on to explore these principles through a diagrammatic representation of the model. The version of Upward’s diagram current in autumn 2000 may be found in Figure 1; the following commentary on it is based on Upward’s work.18 Four ‘major themes in archival science’—identity (provenancial context), transactionality, evidentiality and recordkeeping containers—are featured in the diagram. They are linked by concentric circles representing the ‘dimensions’ (or layers) of the continuum joining the individual record to its contexts. The themes serve as ‘coordinates’ giving the diagram a structure, and in the earlier published version of it are made explicit by two axes linking identity with transactionality and evidentiality with recordkeeping (or in this version of the diagram, recordkeeping containers).19 The circular layout—unlike the linear, diachronic depiction of the life-cycle model in at least one published representation 20—demonstrates the synchronic nature of the records continuum model. It will be recalled that in the example I used above for explaining Atherton’s interpretation of the records continuum, documents were not frozen at any one stage, but were simultaneously at more than one. Indeed, Upward comments: The dimensions are not boundaries, the co-ordinates are not invariably present, and things may happen simultaneously across dimensions … We see from the diagram that the first dimension of creation involves an actor or actors (creator or creators); the transaction in which he, she or they take part, of which a document is a result; the document itself (with or without archival characteristics);

Figure 1. Upward’s diagram of the records continuum model, © Frank Upward, all rights reserved.

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and the trace (or representation) of that transaction embodied in the document. The second dimension, capture, involves the ‘work unit with which the actor is associated’ (my italic); the activity in the context of which transactions take place; the created document together with information about its context (eg its provenance, or its relationships to other documents) as a record; and the evidence which results.21 Upward differentiates the isolated document of the first dimension from the ‘captured’ record of the second. He thus elaborates on the classic definition by Sir Hilary Jenkinson of ‘a document in the class of Archives’—and therefore a record—as ‘one which was drawn up or used in the course of an administrative or executive transaction (whether public or private) of which itself formed a part …’.22 In the third dimension, organise, the organisation is linked to its functions and the activities which constitute those functions, to the archive (qualified by Upward as ‘the aggregated record viewed as all the archival documents in an organisation’), and to its own corporate memory. The fourth dimension, pluralise, represents the placement of records and archives in society. The (plural) archives (‘the records of a number of organisations’) are set in the context of collective (or societal) memory; the term institution is meant to reflect the ‘broader social recognition’ of organisations, while purpose equates to functions ‘viewed from a broader societal perspective’. Translated into Upwardian terminology, the example I used for Atherton’s stages might be restated thus: Dimension 1 (create): Documents are drawn up or received in the post. Dimension 2 (capture): They are added to the office filing system (a records series). Dimension 3 (organise): This series has been scheduled for permanent preservation (forming part of the organisational memory). Dimension 4 (pluralise): The documents, as records scheduled for permanent preservation constituting evidence of their creator’s or accumulator’s activity, are consulted by internal and external users.






The transactionality element is slight in this example—though I am sure the reader can think of possible transactions resulting in the creation or accumulation of these hypothetical records—bearing out Upward’s assertion that not all the ‘co-ordinates’ of the records continuum model necessarily apply in record-keeping situations. It may be concluded from the work of Atherton and Upward that the following are characteristics of the records continuum model: a unified and homogenous system for the management of records (including archives) in any format throughout their lifetime, however long or short that lifetime is; the synchronic existence of a record or an accumulation of records in more than one ‘dimension’ of context and use, rather than the diachronic movement of a record or accumulation of records through one discrete and compartmentalised life-cycle stage after another; an engagement with the establishment and design of record-keeping systems, even before records have been created; co-operation and sharing of responsibility for records (including archives) and record-keeping systems, particularly between records managers and archivists; the concept of service to the users of records, whether internal or external to the creating organisation, throughout the lifetime of those records;


S. J. A. Flynn a sense of the provenancial, organisational and social context in which records are created and maintained.


Observations on practical implications Firstly, the life-cycle model enshrines the opposition of historical or research use to current business use. This is because it features the transfer of responsibility for records from one set of people to another, notably from records managers to archivists, and assumes that records at some point are only useful for historical or research use. While this opposition can be helpful, it should be borne in mind that the two uses of records (including archives) can never really be separated; in fact research use is a subset of business use, and the records continuum model enables both clearly to be seen as two sides of the same coin. Thus a company or other private organisation preserves its archives so that historians may consult them: but this research use is not permitted by the company simply for altruistic and disinterested reasons. If senior managers do not feel there is business benefit in the shape of a specialised and carefully controlled form of public relations to be gained from preservation of the archives of their organisation, and permission of access by external researchers to them, preservation and access is unlikely to happen.23 In the public arena, democratic national and local government bodies make their records (including archives) and those of others available, whether for ‘right to know’ or research (‘leisure’) purposes, as they are obliged to do by the publicly sanctioned legislation which controls their business function. Secondly, it is quite possible for records of obvious archival significance to be retained in the office of their creator, particularly if they are perceived as vital to the ongoing existence of the business. Thus when I worked at Glaxo Wellcome plc in the late 1990s, company minutes going back over decades were controlled by the corporate secretariat in a strongroom adjacent to the department’s offices. These included records from the Wellcome side of the company, which had been held in and controlled by the Wellcome plc corporate records centre prior to the merger of that company with Glaxo plc in 1995. The records continuum model can express the situation in which a department provides a records manager or archivist with adequate descriptive information relating to retained records in order to enable their (remote) control, and provides access to them. Indeed, business managers may be unhappy about the transfer of records in line with the life-cycle model, from a records management system with which they are relatively familiar to an archival administration system of which they know less and which may impose certain changes, for example to reference coding or access arrangements. This was made clear to me in conversations with secretariat staff during my employment at Glaxo Wellcome plc. Such managers are better served by the unified approach offered by the records continuum model; and archival use by them and by others of permanently preserved records is facilitated if the records management system incorporates full provenancial data.24 Thirdly, it is necessary to comment briefly on the records continuum model’s implications for electronic records. As we have seen from his second principle, Upward views the model as applicable to records (including archives) ‘regardless of whether they are in paper or electronic form’. The preceding phrase in this statement, ‘a focus on records as logical rather than physical entities’ (my italic), is nevertheless significant for electronic records management. The attributes which give a record its essential qualities—content, structure and context—though they are all

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physically present and visible to the eye in the fabric or on the surface of paper documents, are not necessarily all physically present, though they may be visible, in electronic records. For example, views of information held in a database, which have record or even archival value, only exist for the user logically or ‘virtually’ on a screen—rather than in a file—and are therefore impossible to grasp and take physically into custody and care.25 Growing acceptance of the records continuum model at a time when records managers and archivists are increasingly required to deal with electronic records is unsurprising, particularly as the format of such records is still unfamiliar.26 However, it is questionable to assume that we must treat records in formats which are relatively new to us differently from those in formats we are used to, or, conversely, that records in familiar formats must always be approached in familiar ways. Record texts written in ancient or foreign languages, records in actual media other than paper, simple loss of context, or physical degradation, can surely pose as many (if different) challenges to archivists—problems to which other new solutions may yet be found—as the non-physicality and greater medium-dependence of electronic archives. The appraisal (whether before or after creation) and preservation of those electronic archives, and the provision of access to them, may still be based on the same theoretical assumptions as those underpinning the appraisal and preservation of, and the provision of access to, a well-preserved, clean and legible series of nineteenth-century parish registers.27 It is important to remember the whole of Upward’s dictum. The records continuum model is well adapted for the management of electronic records, but it could equally support the administration of that archival series of parish registers: for example, a register spanning a long period may be used archivally by genealogists but still occasionally be required for current business by the parish incumbent. The ancestry and context of the records continuum model The Records Reduction Campaign Australian writers have traced the origins of the model back beyond Atherton and North America to Australia in the period immediately following the Second World War. One of these writers is Ian McLean, who, as the first Archives Officer of what subsequently became the National Archives of Australia, was actually there at the time. Discussing the ‘Records Reduction Campaign’, which began in 1950 and involved the survey, appraisal and disposition of the backlog of wartime records of the Commonwealth of Australia, McLean makes the following apparently throwaway comment: Thus began a transition in Australia from British/Continental archives administration in the traditional sense, with its primarily ‘cultural’ orientation, to what is nowadays sometimes called ‘the continuum’ of (public) records administration, with its emphasis both on administrative efficiency and also [McLean’s emphasis] the safe keeping of a cultural end-product … 28 It could be argued that in this Records Reduction Campaign (and indeed in any survey of non-current records carried out with archival ends in mind and business convenience in view) we see records in the second, third and fourth dimensions of Upward’s reading of the model.


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The Commonwealth Records Series (CRS) System Upward himself also backdates the records continuum model to the 1950s, and has written a continuum-oriented commentary on McLean’s approach as expressed in his writings.29 As McLean and other Australian writers have done, he has linked the model to the Commonwealth Record Series or CRS system (also referred to as the ‘Australian series system’) first implemented by Peter Scott at the then Commonwealth Archives Office (of Australia) during the 1960s, describing that system as a ‘building block’ for the records continuum model.30 This system treats the records series in practice as the highest archival level. Series and their individual or corporate creators are registered, and described separately from each other; series are linked with their creators and with related series through a comprehensive system of crossreference.31 The value of the CRS system is apparent when we consider the problem of ‘successor bodies’: that is, the fate under the archival arrangement and description systems commonly employed in the UK of series whose creator’s identity changes. For example, the reorganisation of the Berkshire petty sessions divisions in the 1950s and 1960s tended to result in records series created by one of the divisional courts being inherited and continued by another when the first court was abolished or merged.32 Despite this, when the petty sessions archives held in Berkshire Record Office were recatalogued in the mid-1990s, the cataloguers aimed to describe all the records created by a particular divisional court during its lifetime as records of that court, even if another court later created records in the same series. For example, 17 volumes of court minutes were created by the Moreton county petty sessions division (Berkshire Record Office, PS/MN 1/1-17); the eighteenth volume was still in use on 1 May 1954 when the division was merged with Wallingford borough petty sessions, and continued to be used by the thus-established Moreton and Wallingford division. It was catalogued as the first volume in a series of minutes created by that division (PS/MW 1/1). Explanations and cross-references were given in the catalogue. Nevertheless, the provenance of what was actually one series (comprising records probably created and maintained by the same people both before and after the court merger), which had in fact been received by the record office in one accession, was obscured by this divisive descriptive approach. Use of the CRS system would have resulted in this series (and others like it) being described as the organic whole that it is, with provenancial linkage to it from its two creator bodies.

Post-custodialism Upward and other commentators have placed the CRS system in the arena of ‘postcustodialism’.33 This concept in the archives context has been aired in print for over 20 years, particularly by North American practitioners, although I do not believe it has been much discussed in the UK.34 Its proponents depict it as a professional orientation away from a concentration on storage of a relatively small volume of information-rich paper archives towards the management of archives in a variety of formats, irregularly created, of unpredictable value as sources of information, and above all existing in massive volume, a volume which was increased hugely during the last century. They argue that although ‘traditional’ custodial archivists will always be needed, due to the ongoing existence of archives held in repositories and of a customer base for those repositories, the focus of archival work is broadening (or will broaden) to include the

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context for the creation of archives, whether they are ultimately in direct archival care or not. 35 The emergence of electronic records—as logical entities in virtual not physical form which require new skills from archivists and records managers—has added force to the post-custodial arguments that archivists must take a broader view of their professional calling. However, the effect of the PC (and printer) in empowering individual employees to become their own filing clerks is just as significant, along with improvements in the quality and availability of reprographic technology, since the obvious volume increase has been of paper-based records, vividly characterised by Terry Cook: … millions of boxes of chaotic paper records … produced by hundreds of destabilised and ‘decentred’ administrative structures masking any single office of origin …36 This picture is only too clear to any archivist or records manager employed by and caring for the records of a large organisation. Upward states that in Australia post-custodialism has emerged from ‘a collapse in confidence in the coping ability of linear regimes of physical custody’. 37 He gives several reasons for this collapse in confidence, of which the following three are notable. Firstly, demand has grown for access to records and archives for nonhistorical purposes, for instance under freedom of information or privacy legislation— where the records manager and not the archivist may be the point of contact, despite traditionally having little contact with customers external to the organisation. Secondly, a gulf has developed between archivists and control of records and archives management: it may be noted that in the UK records managers and archivists working in business or local government are not necessarily departmental colleagues and may not be in regular contact with each other.38 Also, archivists are not necessarily influential figures within organisations in either sector. Thirdly, Upward suggests that the use of non-archival sources by historians undermines the status of archives as a research resource. (For example, in the late 1990s the historian of Glaxo made significant use of the company minutes which were retained in the Glaxo Wellcome plc corporate secretariat, mentioned above.) Upward goes on to offer as a solution to these problems the records continuum model, thus grounding it in post-custodialism. How have his Australian colleagues and others connected post-custodialism, the CRS system and the records continuum model? Terry Cook has gone so far as to laud Scott as the ‘founder of the “post-custodial” revolution in world archival thinking’, agreeing with Steve Stuckey, who alludes to Scott’s CRS system as an example of an early ‘non-custodial role’ for the National Archives of Australia.39 Sigrid McCausland takes a similarly post-custodial viewpoint in maintaining that the perception of ‘series system archivists’ of themselves is that they work with archives and records systems and ‘not as antiquarians separated from an understanding of the records creation process’.40 Sue McKemmish describes the CRS System as able to capture and represent the various relationships ‘that exist at any moment of time (and hence through time) amongst records, and between records and their contexts of creation and use’. This description is redolent of the records continuum model, even if it does not directly link the CRS system to it. McKemmish explicitly states in a later article that theory and practice based on the model ‘[draw] from the work and writings of international and Australian “postcustodialists”’.41 It can be appreciated that post-custodialism may well be in conflict with a professional approach oriented towards the life-cycle model. We also see that post-


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custodialism shares two of the same features as those outlined above for the records continuum model: co-operation and burden-sharing, essential in a world of dispersal of records (including archives) and of responsibilities for them; and a sense of the contexts in which records (including archives) are created and exploited. The broad view which it demands is also useful for an approach oriented towards the records continuum model, which as we have seen covers the genesis and entire lifetime of records. There are undeniably post-custodial features in an Australian landscape dominated by the CRS system, even if it is difficult to state exactly the relationship between that system, post-custodialism and the records continuum model; indeed, as Upward has said of McLean’s writings, the ‘continuum within’ is ‘never explicitly pulled together’.42 A detailed examination of this tripartite relationship (and in how far its historical development exists outside the hindsight of writers like McKemmish, Stuckey and Upward) would be of interest, but this is beyond the scope of this article. Jenkinsonian Principles After the foregoing paragraphs on a concept perhaps alien to some readers, it may come as a relief that it is also possible to argue that the roots of the records continuum model lie in the writings of that familiar and acclaimed practitioner, Sir Hilary Jenkinson. It is illuminating to remember that when Jenkinson’s Manual of Archive Administration was first published in 1912, and even at its revision in 1937, the lifecycle model had yet to be enunciated. The following example demonstrates that a Jenkinsonian approach is not necessarily inimical to the records continuum model.43 During his discussion of the definition of archives in his Manual, Jenkinson alludes to ‘plenty of cases where documents have been drawn into the administrative circle again after a century or more of idleness’.44 Here he refers to cases in which records have been maintained and used for the purposes of business, lain fallow or consulted for strictly historical purposes, and then used once more for business reasons. One such case occurred more recently at the BBC: a series of artists’ contract files was permanently retained in the archives and at first infrequently consulted by researchers. As internal requests for them increased due to the need to check contracts as programmes were repeated on new cable and digital channels, some of the files were retransferred to the records centre where they could more easily be administered for the benefit of the BBC employees needing to consult them.45 Such cases fit the continuum better than the life-cycle, through which the records in question have perforce to be seen as going backwards. Upward has gleaned other relevant examples from Jenkinson’s writings, appealing (in tracing the origins of the records continuum model back to early developments at the Commonwealth Archives Office) to his statement that archive quality depends on ‘proving an unblemished line of responsible custodians’—as required even in the Commonwealth Archives Office’s system of dispersed custody; and to his awareness of the artificiality of the distinction between records and archives as drawn by T. R. Schellenberg and his followers in North America.46 Although this distinction is an established one in the UK today, Jenkinson does not pay much attention to it in his Manual. Of course one reason why it is possible to draw it is the existence of two different words—‘records’ and ‘archives’—in the English language. However, ‘records’ and ‘archives’ are not always distinguished in other languages: ‘archives’ in French means both (current) records and (‘historical’) archives. George MacKenzie has commented ironically that:

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… Europeans can (and sometimes do) have a wry smile at the way we AngloSaxons indulge in theoretical gymnastics which lead us eventually to the earth-shattering conclusion that archives and records are intimately and organically linked.47 This confusion and theoretical gyration is also side-stepped by the pharmaceutical and related industries, which have developed the concept of ‘scientific archives’—meaning by ‘archiving’ what any archivist or records manager from outside the regulated industries would call records management for research and development departments, albeit involving lengthy retention periods. This ‘kidnapping’ of the term ‘archives’ is initially an irritant to someone professionally qualified in archives administration, but it does support MacKenzie’s idea of the ‘organic link’ between records and archives— a link which is a feature of the records continuum model, as Atherton pointed out in 1985. Conclusion There is plenty of scope in the UK and Ireland for more research into the theoretical context of the records continuum model. Other topics worthy of closer examination include: case studies of approaches by organisations based on the records continuum model, whether or not consciously identified as such by those using them and whether or not those people are professional records managers or archivists; relationships between records managers and archivists as fostered by the records continuum model and/or hindered by the life-cycle model; the boundaries between ‘information’, ‘documents’, ‘archives’ and ‘records’, and how far the records continuum model provides an understanding of these; the significance of the records continuum model for personal papers as opposed to organisational archives; the significance of the records continuum model for collected archives as opposed to records maintained over time by their creating organisations;48 the relevance of the records continuum model to the effects of freedom of information and data protection legislation on the use of records; ‘market research’ on the benefits of the records continuum model for maintainers and/or users of records; theoretical and practical connections between the records continuum model and approaches to information management;49 detailed study of the relative validity and practical value of the life-cycle model and the records continuum model. c









The publication of such research would certainly help to reduce the initially daunting appearance of the records continuum model—perhaps particularly in its synchronic aspect—to those schooled in its predecessor. The records continuum model is significant for three important reasons, among others. Firstly, it widens the possibilities of interpretation of records and recordkeeping systems offered by the life-cycle model, a widening which is helpful given the variety of current contexts in which archivists and records managers operate in the UK and beyond, and in which archives and records are used. Secondly, it reminds us of the fact that records (including archives) are created and maintained for their users,


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as a result of business and administrative functions and processes, rather than as an end in themselves. Lastly, it emphasises co-operation beyond the walls of our repositories, especially between the closely related if occasionally estranged professions of archives administration and records management—a co-operation which is more important than ever in the contemporary climate of outsourcing and cross-sectoral working. To conclude in the words of Chris Hurley: Unless you squint and take a narrow, limited, parochial view, all archives belong to a complex, rich and dense contextual background—personal, social, organisational, national and (ultimately) global—which most archival programs … have not yet begun to document more than superficially. 50 I believe the records continuum model allows archivists more fully to control, to document and to present to those who use them the rich, relevant and meaningful backgrounds of the archives in their care. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Susan Healy, Elizabeth Lomas, Ann Pederson, Phil Sawyer, Elizabeth Shepherd, Sam Steer, Mark Stevens and Frank Upward for their help with this article; any errors within it are of course my responsibility and not theirs. I would also like to thank the staff of the Public Record Office Library and Stephen Arnold of the Bodleian Library for their assistance. NOTES AND REFERENCES 1. This article is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, the place-names scholar John Field (1921–2000). 2. See respectively P. M. Romans, review of Archives and Manuscripts, vol 24, 2 (1996) in JSA, vol 19 (1998), pp 244–245 (I draw below on the work of Frank Upward mentioned in this review); Siân Yates, ‘Perspectives Down Under: tales of an itinerant archivist’, Society of Archivists’ Newsletter, no 118 (March 1999), pp 10–12; and Rhiannon Birch, ‘The records continuum’, Society of Archivists’ Newsletter, no 127 (January 2000), pp 13–14. 3. For an account of this event, see Jayne Pucknell, ‘A continuum approach to records management’, Society of Archivists’ Newsletter, no 127 (January 2000), pp 12–13. 4. Michael Piggott and Sue McKemmish (eds.), The Records Continuum: Ian MacLean and Australian Archives first fifty years (Sydney, 1994), p xi. 5. An impression I first gained at the 1999 training day mentioned above; see also the reference to a ‘new model’ in Sally McInnes, ‘Electronic records: the new archival frontier?’, JSA, vol 19 (1998), p 215. Birch, however, states that ‘The continuum is not tied to a single medium’ (‘Records continuum’, p 14). 6. Michael Moss, ‘The scent of the slow hound and the snap of a bull-dog: the place of research in the archival profession’, in Margaret Procter and C. P. Lewis (eds.), New Directions in Archival Research (Liverpool, 2000), pp 7–19. 7. AS3490-1996 (Standards Australia, 1996), p 7, cited in Jay Kennedy and Cherryl Schauder, Records Management: a guide to corporate record keeping (Melbourne, 1998), p 9. 8. However, Michael Cook’s discussion of records management in his standard textbook —a discussion rooted in an archivally oriented life-cycle model—does mention the design of records systems as part of the work of a records service: Michael Cook, Archives Administration: a manual for intermediate and smaller organisations and for local government (Folkestone, 1977), p 27, figure 2.2. 9. In a paper subsequently published as Jay Atherton, ‘From life cycle to continuum: some thoughts on the records management–archives relationship’, Archivaria, vol 21 (1985–86), pp 43–51. 10. Atherton, ‘From life cycle to continuum’, pp 43 and 47. 11. Atherton, ‘From life cycle to continuum’, pp 47–48; cited in Frank Upward, ‘In search of the continuum: Ian McLean’s “Australian Experience” essays on recordkeeping’ in Piggott and McKemmish

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15. 16.



19. 20. 21.






(eds.), Records Continuum, p 119. Upward’s article is also available via the website of the Records Continuum Research Group, based at Monash University, Melbourne (<> [accessed 13 March 2000]). Compare developments in the field of appraisal theory in the last few decades: see Terry Cook, ‘Interaction of archival theory and practice since the publication of the Dutch Manual’, Archivum, vol 43 (1996), pp 199–203; and Terry Cook, ‘Mind over matter: towards a theory of archival appraisal’ and Terry Eastwood, ‘Towards a social theory of appraisal’ in Barbara Craig (ed.), The Archival Imagination: essays in honour of Hugh Taylor (Ottawa, 1992), pp 38–70 and 71–89, respectively. See Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society: outline of the theory of structuration (Cambridge, 1984). See also Terry Cook, ‘Mind over matter,’ pp 65-66, n29; and Richard Brown, ‘Records acquisition strategy and its theoretical foundation: the case for a concept of archival hermeneutics’, Archivaria, vol 33, 1 (Winter 1991–92), p 42. A useful collection of the work of these theorists may be found at the website of the Records Continuum Research Group, as above. Upward’s two articles are available at this site. These are ‘Structuring the records continuum part one: postcustodial principles and properties’ (Melbourne, 1998) and ‘Structuring the records continuum part two: structuration theory and recordkeeping’ (Melbourne, 1998). They were first published in Archives and Manuscripts, vol 24, 2 (1996) and vol 25, 1 (1997). Upward, ‘Structuring the records continuum part two’. Upward’s compatriots have produced interpretations of his reading. An extremely useful account is Sue McKemmish, ‘Yesterday, today and tomorrow: a continuum of responsibility’ (Melbourne, 1998), available at the Records Continuum Research Group’s website (accessed 24 May 2000). This was first published in Proceedings of the Records Management Association of Australia 14th National Convention, 15–17 September 1997 (Perth, 1997). For an application of the records continuum model to a particular record-keeping activity, see Danielle Wickman, ‘What’s new? Functional analysis in life cycle and continuum environments’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol 27 (May 1999), pp 114–127. Upward himself presents a summary of his reading of the model in an article in the Records Management Journal entitled ‘Modelling the continuum as paradigm shift in recordkeeping and archiving processes, and beyond—a personal reflection’ (forthcoming; I am grateful to the author for supplying me with a draft). For the theoretical context, see the commentary on Michel Foucault’s ideas in Terry Cook, ‘Mind over matter’, pp 43–44. Other work in a similar vein includes the articles cited above (note 14) and Terry Cook, ‘Electronic records, paper minds: the revolution in information management and archives in the post-custodial and post-modernist era’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol 22, 2 (1994), pp 300–328. These are based on a discussion with his Monash University colleague Sue McKemmish. Upward, ‘Structuring the records continuum part one’. The fourth statement of principle lays down that ‘archival science is the foundation for organising knowledge about recordkeeping’, and reflects McKemmish’s and Upward’s role as archival educators. I am grateful to Frank Upward for permission to reproduce this diagram. Another version illustrates Birch, ‘Records continuum’, p 14. My commentary follows Upward, ‘Structuring the records continuum part one’. Upward now uses the even less specific term ‘recordkeeping objects’: see ‘Modelling the continuum as paradigm shift’. Michael Cook, Archives Administration, p 85, figure 5.3. This diagram also nicely shows the transfers of responsibilities for records implicit in the life-cycle model. Upward suggests that a single actor is still a ‘work unit’, thus removing any doubt that he views the records continuum model as valid for personal papers as well as for organisational archives. A practical example of this second record-keeping dimension is an initiative—prior to a corporate merger—for the identification and preservation of corporate documentation and records entitled ‘Capture It’, which took place at Glaxo Wellcome plc in 2000. Hilary Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration, revised edn (London, 1937), p 11. A more detailed examination of the Upwardian criterion for the definition of a record rather than mere information than is possible in this article would be of value. Any significant research based on business archives may well be read before publication by representatives of the companies involved—something which its author may be required formally to agree to before he or she even begins research. As enjoined by the ‘Pittsburgh model’ of functional requirements for record-keeping: see for example David Bearman, ‘The physical archives and the virtual archives’, Archivum, vol 43 (1997), pp 150–167, especially Appendix A; and McInnes, ‘Electronic records’, p 217. For essential record attributes, see the commentary in Terry Cook, ‘Electronic records, paper minds’,


26. 27.


29. 30.



33. 34.



37. 38.

39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

S. J. A. Flynn pp 313–314. For the virtual nature of electronic records, see for example Charles Dollar, Archival Theory and Information Technologies: the impact of information technologies on archival principles and methods (Macerata, 1992), pp 36–38; and McInnes, ‘Electronic records’, p 215. See Sigrid McCausland, ‘Adapting the series system: a study of small archives applications’, in Piggott and McKemmish (eds.), Records Continuum, p 184. See also Terry Cook, ‘Easy to byte, harder to chew: the second generation of electronic records archives’, Archivaria, vol 33, 1 (Winter 1991–92), p 207, and ‘Interaction of archival theory and practice’, p 206. Ian McLean’s obituary of Sir Harold White, sometime National Librarian, entitled ‘Long felt admiration and gratitude’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol 20, 2 (1992), p 196, cited in Steve Stuckey, ‘Keepers of the fame? The custodial role of Australian archives—its history and its future’, in Piggott and McKemmish (eds.), Records Continuum, p 40. For Upward’s backdating, see ‘Structuring the records continuum part one’. His commentary is Upward, ‘In search of the continuum’. The classic text on the CRS System is Scott’s own concise and masterly exposition: Peter Scott, ‘The record group concept: a case for abandonment’, American Archivist, vol 29, 4 (1966), pp 493–504. See also Susan Healy, ‘The classification of modern government records in England and Australia’, JSA, vol 11 (1990), pp 21–26; and Mark Wagland and Russell Kelly, ‘The series system—a revolution in archival control’ and Chris Hurley, ‘The Australian (‘series’) system: an exposition’, in Piggott and McKemmish (eds.), Records Continuum, pp 131–149 and 150–172, respectively. For Upward’s gloss on the CRS System, see ‘In search of the continuum’, p 120. Wagland and Kelly, ‘Series system’, p 141; Upward, ‘In search of the continuum’, p 122. McKemmish has observed that Scott thus anticipated archival relational database applications by two decades: Sue McKemmish, ‘Are records ever actual?’, in Piggott and McKemmish (eds.), Records Continuum, p 193. See Sarah Flynn and Mark Stevens, ‘Petty criminals, publicans and sinners: petty sessions records in the Berkshire Record Office’, JSA, vol 16 (1995), pp 41–53. I am grateful to Mark Stevens for supplying me with the catalogue pages on which this discussion is based. See also McInnes, ‘Electronic records’, pp 217–218. Significant publications include F. Gerald Ham, ‘Archival strategies for the post-custodial era’, American Archivist, vol 44 (1981), pp 207–216, developing ideas first expressed in his earlier piece, ‘The Archival Edge’, American Archivist, vol 38 (1975), pp 5–13; and Terry Cook, ‘Electronic records, paper minds’. For the change of orientation from storage to management see Ham, ‘Archival strategies’, p 207. On archival volume increase, Ham points out (p 210) that this was reflected in the mushrooming of archival repositories in the USA. He gives the example of university and college archives, which grew from 561 in 1966 to 940 in 1981. Terry Cook cites the parallel growth in print media: ‘Electronic records, paper minds’, pp 309–310. For the broadening focus of archival work, see Terry Cook, ‘Electronic records, paper minds’, pp 301, 303 and 311. On the DIY nature of electronic records, Kevin Ashley has made similar points in ‘Digital records and digital archives: some random observations’, presentation to the Society of Archivists’ London Region, 21 October 1999, and in his e-mail entitled ‘re: Modern electronic records’ posted to the archives-nra mailing list on 5 August 2000, available via the mailing list website < archives-nra.html>. The quotation is from Terry Cook, ‘Electronic records, paper minds’, p 302. In other words, regimes narrowly orientated towards the compartmentalised life-cycle model: Upward, ‘Structuring the records continuum part one’. For example, on the management structure at British Telecommunications plc in 1999, see David Hay’s message entitled ‘re: Reporting structures for business archives’ posted to the archives-nra mailing list on 12 February 1999, available via the mailing list website. For local government, see advertisements for positions in records management at Scottish Borders Council (Society of Archivists’ Newsletter, no 131 (May 2000), p 26) and in document management at Hertfordshire County Council (Society of Archivists’ Career Opportunities, no 2000/06 (15 June 2000), [p 2]). Terry Cook, ‘Interaction of archival theory and practice’, p 205; Stuckey, ‘Keepers of the fame?’, pp 44–45. McCausland, ‘Adapting the series system’, p 184. McKemmish, ‘Are records ever actual?’, p 187; ‘Yesterday, today and tomorrow’, table 2. Upward, ‘In search of the continuum’, p 111. Compare the engaging metaphorical question posed by Terry Cook in the context of post-custodialism: ‘Does Michel Foucault meet Sir Hilary Jenkinson on a field of Hollinger boxes in mortal combat? Or do they walk arm-in-arm down a garden lane into a sunset of mutual contextuality?’ Satisfyingly to this

Records Continuum Model in Context


author, Cook concludes that the latter is the case. (‘Electronic records, paper minds’, p 315.) 44. Jenkinson, Manual, p 8, n3. He later gives two examples of documents among the medieval public records which were used again decades or even centuries later (p 33, n1). 45. Personal communication from Phil Sawyer, 13 October 2000. 46. For the ‘unblemished line’, see Jenkinson, Manual, p 11, and Upward, ‘Structuring the records continuum part one’. For the distinction between records and archives, see Upward, ‘In search of the continuum’, p 114 and p 128, n15, citing Hilary Jenkinson, ‘Some reflections on T. R. Schellenberg, Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques, in Roger Ellis and Peter Walne (eds.), Selected Writings of Sir Hilary Jenkinson (Gloucester, 1980), pp 339–342; see also T. R. Schellenberg, Modern Archives: principles and techniques (Chicago, reprinted 1975), in which part 2 deals with ‘Record management’ and part 3 with ‘Archives management’. 47. George MacKenzie, ‘Archives: the global picture. The Maurice Bond Memorial Lecture 1998’, Archives, vol 24, 101 (October 1999), p 3; I am grateful to Elizabeth Lomas for this reference. It is interesting to note that French archivists did not ‘discover’ records management until the 1960s: Philippe Barbat, ‘Discovery of records management in France and its consequences’, Records Management Bulletin, no 95 (February 2000), p 17. 48. An Australian example of work on this subject is McCausland, ‘Adapting the series system’. 49. See Upward, ‘Modelling the continuum as paradigm shift’. 50. Hurley, ‘Australian (‘series’) system’, pp 164–165.

Record Continumm  

The Records Continuum Model in Context and its Implications for Archival Practic