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Somewhere along the line, I think I once described some of our discussions as being the same as astronomers loudly debating whether Pluto is a minor planet or a major planet. (http://cunninghamabovetherim.blogspot.com/2009/09/atr-records-management-as-science.html) This is one of those conversations.

While there are circumstances where the definition of a "record" very clearly comes into play, what I have found is that in my world, it really doesn't matter. If it exists, it is discoverable and playing semantic games over language has little bearing for the vast majority of stuff stored on a computer. The data is going to be forensically collected, search terms applied, then a herd of lawyers and paralegals are going to decide if the data has relevance. Maybe, just maybe, if an organization has a very formalized and routinized manner of declaring "records", then that definition will come into play. Otherwise, all that data is evidence to be produced.

Let's take a short step backwards to last night. Some of you may recall my post about imaging. I neglectfully didn't use the term "object" when describing the contents of a document management system. In my mind, "object" has a very definitive understanding as any electronic file which is sensible by itself through a computer program. What this means is that if I have a single file on my computer, I can make sense of the contents of that file by using some application on my computer. I don't need to have any other files associated with that file. The point being to distinguish an image, "document". photo, sound clip, video, etc. as a single recorded entity in comparison to a system of files required to make sense of a relational database or a website, or other more complex and dynamic system. In my world, I can manage an object by itself, but I have to manage a system more holistically because of the dependencies between the various elements of the
 system (which arguably may be a series of data files that look like objects). The likelihood that you will maintain a "system" in a ERMS or EDMS is pretty remote, but you can retain most objects in either sort of system. At the end of the day, we get to our definitions of "structured information" and "unstructured information" (which many folks get mixed up anyway, so how do those terms help?).


I dislike using the term "document" because people tend to equate "document" to paper alone. Likewise, the term "record" tends to make people think of paper alone. "Object" is more vague as to form and in the IT world, has meaning. But, as we've seen here, "object" (to Larry) will refer to a physical form like a bullet or a tissue sample. Some folks refer to these items as "ephemera", or "artifacts". But "artifacts" has a different meaning to the IT crowd. "Ephemera" has a specific documentary meaning to the archives crowd.


I suspect that all of this confusion is why the legal crowd has settled upon the term "electronically stored information" to encompass structured and unstructured information. Everything else is then some sort of physical information or a physical object.

And now I return to Ms. Tan's original question. I imagine that Ms. Tan has some sort of relevant work problem that she's trying to solve. But I'm not certain that the question is ultimately relevant for a whole lot of semantic reasons that I've demonstrated above. 


As I concluded in my referenced blog post, what we do is not a science. As demonstrated above, our language is not precise enough, and even if precise, is rarely relevant.  If a lawyer is going to make an argument that the stuff stored in a document management system is not evidence because it was never declared a record, I suspect that the judge will benchslap that lawyer into oblivion. I suppose, somewhere, there is a formal record-keeping system so precise that you could make that argument, but if there is, I have never seen it.

At the risk of sounding like Hugh, the problem with our profession remains that we do not have a standardized body of knowledge that is universally accepted. And that means, having current and relevant definitions, operating procedures, controls, and measures. We have lots of one-off anecdotes and expert thoughts (including plenty of mine). We have any number of articles, research papers, and books. But most of these items contain very little tried and tested and accepted knowledge that has a formal standing and universal understanding. Our Standards are as close as we get, but they tend to be quite technical and limited in nature, or, in the case of ISO 15489, have no teeth or requiring language. In other words, we're really good at a standard nomenclature for describing the craters on Pluto, but we're having trouble fitting Pluto into the known universe.

Friday afternoon lecture concludes...

 
Patrick Cunningham, CRM, CIP, FAI
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"Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." 
-- Colin Powell

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