Searching for authority: Archivists and electronic records in the New World at fin de siècle

Richard J. Cox


The 1990's marked a turning point for archivists and electronic records management (ERM). Major conceptual solutions for ERM were proposed, and while these approaches have been adopted by some they have also generated intense debate and discussion. Three questions continue to remain unanswered. What is the authority for these approaches? How pervasive have these approaches been in influencing archival practice? How well known are these approaches across the archives field? This paper attempts to provide some preliminary answers to these questions. First, it reviews the literature on electronic records as published in the four leading North American English language journals, the American Archivist, Archival Issues, Archivaria, and Provenance for the past decade. During this period these four journals published a total of 62 articles on electronic records, and this part of the paper provides an in-depth citation analysis of these articles. Second, the author draws on data collected as part of the preparation of a single state wide long-range plan (Pennsylvania) for the management of archives and historical records, re-evaluating the data for what it tells us about the success and relevance of new approaches for ERM. The author uses these two sources of evidence to reconsider how archivists have approached ERM. He argues that the real responsibility, or authority, for ERM from an archival perspective must derive from local and institutional applications rather than relying only on model or magic bullet solutions provided from a higher level. While these new models have been very useful in helping the archival profession re-orient itself to records and record-keeping issues, they may not have been very helpful for providing practical solutions at the local level. The paper will conclude with some comments about what needs to happen to close the gap between practice and theory, application and model.

Full Text:



A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2017. ISSN 1396-0466.