Since 2006, every October marks American Archives Month.
The observance was established by the National Archives as a chance to raise public awareness about the importance of historic documents and records. We hope you’ve all found ways to celebrate it this month!
If not, and/or you’re wondering what an archivist does, according to Maryville University, an archivist “determines the value of each [record], uses a system to document its arrival at the institution, and determines the best way to organize the document within the institution.”
Sounds a lot like a records manager role, right? Sort of.
Read on to learn some of the key similarities and differences between these two roles.
One of the key differences between an archivist and a records manager involves the focus of the records they manage. A records manager is responsible for managing the records solely for an organization. This includes maintaining the organization’s records such as financial documents, employee files, and other business records as needed to conduct business.
Archivists, meanwhile, have a much broader purview. Depending on the organization they’re a part of, whether that’s a museum or government entity, they might preserve and protect an extremely broad group of historical materials which are considered records. While these records aren’t necessarily meant to help the organization “function”, they do preserve important information and knowledge that has long-term historical value.
Records and information management professionals must operate by a sound and defensible record retention schedule. This ensures they’re keeping records as long as they need to be retained—and no longer. Once records have reached the end of their lifecycle, they are dispositioned.
In many cases, disposition means destruction. But in certain cases, such as when a document or record has historical value, disposition refers to transferring ownership over to the relevant archives to be handled by an archivist. Should a record be sent to the archives, the retention period is, effectively, indefinite and should be kept there permanently.
While it might seem as though they’re focused on completely different types of recordkeeping, records managers and archivists have a symbiotic relationship which shows through their similarities. For instance, both groups follow their version of the information lifecycle so they can ingest, understand, then store information until it needs to be retrieved.
Likewise, both take care to make these records searchable and findable again. Whether it’s a record or archival material, if it’s impossible to retrieve it, no one benefits. That’s why it’s important to always have the relevant metadata attached to records since that makes it easier to find that record in the future.
Should you have a backlog of legacy records without any metadata, consider investing in an automated, AI-powered records management system to help you identify and classify metadata at scale.
Finally, both are careful to protect records in their charge from theft, alteration, and damage. In the case of records managers, any of these occurrences can cause harm to the organization’s reputation or result in fines. For archivists, their role is focused on making sure historically relevant information is available in the future, so they are equally diligent on this point.
Various groups of archivists like The Society of American Archivists (SAA), the Council of State Archivists (COSA), and hundreds of individual repositories work around the clock to make historical records available to the public.
In celebration of American Archives Month, check out the National Archives website or find an archive to explore near you. And for more information on how to store your archives, check out the Access offsite storage solutions page.