Planning and Implementing Electronic Records Management: A Practical Guide

Sarah Crofts (Senior Academic Services Librarian, University of Greenwich, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 25 April 2008




Crofts, S. (2008), "Planning and Implementing Electronic Records Management: A Practical Guide", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 192-194.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Using his extensive experience at The National Archives, Kelvin Smith has written this very practical guide to electronic records management (ERM). ERM is defined in the book as “a system that manages electronic records throughout their life cycle, from creation and capture through to their destruction or permanent retention”. The book is aimed at anyone who has responsibility for records management such as records managers or archivists and is very much a practitioner's guide, although it would also be useful to students on library and information or records management courses.

In 1992 my Information Studies MA dissertation considered the viability of storing on CD‐ROM those records which organisations were legally required to retain (Crofts, 1993). At that time, CD‐ROM was the latest technology that offered a safe storage medium for many years, although before too long it was recognised that the equipment to read the discs would probably become obsolete before the discs (Hare and Southwood, 1995). Records and information managers now have perhaps five or six years before electronic information can become inaccessible rather than the more leisurely period of 25 years before a decision is needed to destroy or archive paper records. Not only do records managers have less time to deal with electronic records, the quantity of such records is vastly increased now that all staff have PCs and the ability to create new documents.

The book is split into sections reflecting the steps that would be taken by someone embarking on the creation of an electronic records management programme, moving from preparation through design to implementation. The layout of the book is clear with the three main sections further subdivided into manageable length chapters each with a short summary at the start. It is a durable hardback which lies flat when open, important features when it is likely to receive much use.

The first chapter deals with underlying principles and provides an outline of records management which will be invaluable for many readers and particularly those in smaller organisations charged with setting up an ERM without specialist knowledge. The perspective is that of a public organisation, but the principles and recommendations may be followed by any type of organisation.

The sections relating to preparation and design make up the bulk of the book. This mirrors the proportion of time that these activities should occupy in setting up ERM. Much groundwork needs to be done on establishing what records an organisation creates and holds and their value to the organisation before a proposal is even made to the management. Perhaps one of the most important chapters is “Making a business case for ERM” in which the author emphasises the importance of convincing managers of the value of spending money on ERM. A step‐by‐step guide to setting out the report is included which has as a subsection an outline of the key stages of project management. This section alone (pp. 45‐48) could be used by anyone needing to set out a business case of any description to management. The chapter on the File Plan provides clear information on naming conventions, including the most important tip of all, “never use the words ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘general’”; advice which we probably all disregard sometimes. Again, this section will be very helpful to those without a records management background needing to set up a File Plan or just their personal filing system.

Although the explosion of electronic information has generated an increased workload for records managers, the author's view is that this has provided them with a higher profile and more important status in organisations. Linked to this is the dramatic change in public attitudes towards access to information. The public now expect to be able to access public information and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has given them the power to do this. The act imposes duties on organisations, which include knowing what information they hold and having resources to deal with requests within the required timescales. This book covers duties under the Freedom of Information Act as well as other relevant legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998.

A very useful glossary is included in chapter 2, “Context”, although, for ease of access, I felt that this would have been better placed at the end of the book. The author refers to many websites throughout the book and since these are rather buried in the text they might also have benefited from being included in a separate list at the end of the book.

Many chapters end with an appendix showing a model of the documentation discussed in the chapter, for example a model records management policy statement (p. 17) or the sample questionnaire (p. 81) any of which could be easily adapted and used by other organisations embarking on ERM. It would be very helpful for these model documents and the websites included in the texts to be made available on a companion website. Many readers will wish to use these excellent models and forms; versions that could be downloaded would make this easier.

Altogether, this book is a must for anyone who needs to create an electronic records management system or who simply wants a straightforward source of information on this topic.


Crofts, S. (1993), “The use of optical storage technology for those business records which need to be retained for legal purposes”, International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 220‐9. Hare, C. and Southwood, G. (1995), “Getting the records straight: developments in records management”, New Library World, Vol. 96 No. 1, pp. 5‐12.

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