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Taking the long view of medical records preservation and archives

Lorraine Dong (School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




The purpose of this paper is to present an argument for taking the long view of the retention and preservation of inactive medical records.


Using the theoretical framework of Actor-Network Theory, the author examines medical records, and especially mental health records, as actants that participate in the classification and treatment of patients, and in the development of psychiatry and mental hospitals as social institutions.


The varied and profound roles of medical records demonstrate the ability for records to have multiple “lives” that can touch many individuals beyond a single human lifetime.

Practical implications

As the current and future custodians of historical medical record collections, information professionals are in a position to be greater advocates for the increased preservation of and mindful access to these materials.

Social implications

Medical records have potential to be cultural heritage documents, especially for emergent communities.


This paper articulates the ways in which medical records are an embedded part of many societies, and affect the ways in which illness is defined and treated. It thus suggests that while laws regarding the retention and destruction of and access to medical records continue to be deliberated upon around the world, such records can have enduring value as information artifacts.



Dong, L. (2015), "Taking the long view of medical records preservation and archives", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 71 No. 2, pp. 387-400.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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