Records management: are websites records?

I’ve been asked to contribute a post or two on Records Management (RM) and preservation, as it relates to this project. There was certainly a paragraph or two in the original JISC Invitation To Tender that made me think it was possible to apply aspects of Records Management to this task:

“A formal records management approach may be the appropriate response to handling certain kinds of web material and this assumes active management of the material throughout its whole life-cycle, an approach which is intrinsic to all preservation-related approaches.”

We think it’s quite likely this line of thinking may apply to University and HFE websites, if the institutional website is being used as a place to conduct business; or is developing into an area where corporate records are being created and stored. A webmaster or a records manager could start to ask a few questions about the organisation’s website:

  • Is it being used as a publication, or is it a record?
  • Does it store copies of materials known to be held elsewhere, or does it store the only known copies? (That could apply to individual web pages, or materials attached to pages – PDF versions of a course prospectus, a financial report, or a project output).
  • Are people – external and internal – making business decisions, based on the information they find on the website?
  • Are actual transactions – financial or otherwise – taking place over the website? Does the University need to keep records of these transactions?

If your website is included within your formal records management programme, then the records manager should be pro-actively managing any record material that may exist on the web. Records managers have been doing this for digital records – sometimes called electronic records – for some time now, although often this can simply mean static office documents and e-mails stored on networks. If the institution has a really advanced RM programme, this might be done using an Electronic Records Management system, a corporate filing scheme, and carried out in accordance with corporate policies, mission statements, and guidelines. The Records Management programme will do such things as:

  • Help the University / Institution operate efficiently – as a business and as an academic entity
  • Protect the University’s vital records (for example, records which affect significant rights of an individual, a significant asset of the University, or the performance of an essential function of the University)
  • Ensure compliance with information legislation – most notably FOI and DPA, but also IPR
  • Keep material for as long as it’s needed to perform these functions
  • Dispose of material when that business need has expired

For the purposes of this project, if your website does contain or produce records that have business value to the University, it may be appropriate to ensure that they are being managed in line with your RM policy. This leads us to all sorts of related RM areas – protection against loss or damage, ensuring authenticity, applying formal retention and disposal scheduling, and appraisal and selection. But these are all matters for future posts…