What is Records Management?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Records management (RM) is a process for handling records from the time they are created to the point when they need to be disposed of. People who practice records management usually have college degrees and specialized training in this field, including training for specific types of industries and businesses. For large institutions, managing records can be a full time job for a large staff, while smaller organizations may rely on a secretary or office assistant to handle their records.

Records management systems often includes a system of both digital and physical records.
Records management systems often includes a system of both digital and physical records.

A well-implemented records management system starts at the point of creation, with a standardized system for records creation that is designed to make records useful, consistent, and easy to access. These standards apply to everything from how the record is formatted to how information is presented inside. Once created, a record enters a records management system where it is logged, monitored, and maintained.

When someone needs access to a record, the system allows the record to be located. Indexing entries can be used to confirm that a record is complete and to make notes about how and when the record was used. The system can also be used to assess fees for accessing records, a common practice when people want copies of their records. At the end of the record's useful life, it can be disposed of through archiving, destruction, or other means.

Records under management can include digital or physical records and sometimes a mix of both. As more companies have transitioned to a paperless office format, part of that process has included digitizing physical records and establishing databases that give the office's record management system room to grow.

A critical aspect of records management is compliance with generally accepted standards for the industry, as well as the law. Medical and legal records, for example, must be controlled for privacy reasons, while accounting records need to adhere to accounting standards. People who work with and handle records receive training in archival practices, security, and records organization so that they can work effectively and efficiently.

People with advanced degrees in fields relating to records management have numerous available employment opportunities. These include managing extensive archives and records, working with organizations that develop standards and practices for record keepers, and assisting with the design of software used in records management. Practitioners who lack advanced degrees may have more limited employment opportunities, even with extensive experience, depending on the types of records they want to handle.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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