Understanding society through its records

Australian contributions to recordkeeping







Ideas & models
Access &

Knowledge &



Australian ideas and management models

The Records Continuum

The Records Continuum Research Group at Monash University is responsible for pioneering concepts and research that has re-invented modern recordkeeping.

The Records Continuum diagram helps us understand the nature and scope of recordkeeping in our organisations and in our society. It presents an overview of a seamless and dynamic recordkeeping regime that transcends time and space to capture and manage records for as long as they are required to satisfy business, regulatory, social and cultural requirements.

Because it addresses the whole enterprise of recordkeeping, it differs from and complements the concept of the Records Life Cycle that identifies various phases in the useful life or span of an individual record or particular bodies of records under management. The activities represented in it can take place over many years, sequentially or simultaneously and concurrently in real or virtual environments.

Records are both current and historical from the moment of their creation. By definition they are frozen in time, fixed in a documentary form and linked to their context of creation. They are thus time and space bound, perpetually connected to events in the past. Yet they are also disembedded, carried forward into new circumstances where they re-presented and used.

Records continuum thinking and practice focuses on logical records and their relationships with other records and their contexts of creation and use. Thus the Continuum is a map of a dynamic, virtual place - a place of 'logical, or virtual or multiple realities' - and it always has been, even in the paper world.

Because the continuum is holistic yet multidimensional, it can be refracted or separated out into its constituent layers like a band of light. The diagram has four vectors or axes: Recordkeeping; Authority; Transactionality; and Evidential. All interact to achieve a continuous, dynamic whole which ranges over four dimensions.

Click on each of the text boxes in the Records Continuum diagram to find out more about each dimension.

The Records Continuum model presents an overview of the recordkeeping dynamic that
transcends time and space. Adapted from the Records Continuum diagram originally
developed by Frank Upward, Senior Lecturer at Monash University.

SITES TO VISIT - See Frank Upward's original Records Continuum and his paper on Structuring the Records Continuum. Find out more about Monash University's Records Continuum Research Group and its research and publications.

Managing records/archives to meet managerial and cultural functions

In order to minimise the possible loss of important material at the uneasy/uneven nexus between business and cultural interests, Australian recordkeepers advocate a continuum approach for effective management of records and archives to fulfil both managerial and cultural responsibilities.

In this model, the functions of records/archives are:

  1. to ensure important current business and/or personal needs.
  2. to ensure effective management and/or compliance with regulations.
  3. to ensure corporate continuity and societal 'good citizenship'.
  4. to ensure cultural construction and transfer.
  5. to ensure cultural affirmation and/or celebration.

Chart 3: Management & cultural functions of records & archives describes these five functions of records/archives, the parties and stakeholders involved with each function and the retention time for records in each functional group.

Users look at records and archives in different ways.

Individual users and makers of records, trapped in their own vantage points, seldom consider or appreciate the multifaceted richness of archival records.

They experience them only in terms of their own requirements, ignoring the fact that all uses and values of records rest upon the integrity and meaning ie. 'the recordness' they initially acquired as evidence supporting their original purposes in Function One.

Furthermore, their continuing value as authoritative sources also depends upon the quality of their custody and care since creation ie. the provenance of the records. Recordkeepers must be able to prove that their essential characteristics as evidence have been protected throughout their existence and subsequent uses over time.

SITE TO VISIT - see the Australian Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System on the National Archives of Australia web pages.

Archives can be gold mines for documentary producers looking to capitalise on the wave of popular interest and nostalgia for colourful lives and events of the past. Oral histories, vintage recordings, photographs, film and television footage in playable condition, posters and memorabilia have a great attraction for producers of 'info-tainment' wanting to feature human interest stories from the past.

Australian access and management tools

Access tools

Australian institutions are making significant contributions to improving access to records and archives through public access online collection databases which provide information about records in their archival context. Useful finding aids, and in some cases, images or text of records are made accessible to users everywhere. For example:

  • National Archives of Australia: RecordSearch
  • State Records Authority of NSW: Archives Investigator
  • Queensland State Archives: ArchiveSearch
  • John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library: Electronic Research Archive
  • City of Sydney Archives: Archives Investigator

SITES TO VISIT - visit these online collection databases.

Management tools

Software for recordkeeping developed or adapted for use in Australia includes the following:

Electronic control systems for small archives:

  • Tabularium
  • Archive Manager
  • Bright Sparcs

Records management systems

  • RecFind
  • TRIM (Tower Records and Information Management)

SITES TO VISIT - find out more about these management tools by visiting the companies' websites.

Recordkeeping infrastructure tools

Australia is a world leader in devising infrastructural tools to ensure the quality of recordkeeping programs and practices. Selected important examples include:


Since 1996, governments in Australia have undertaken reviews of their archival institutions and legislation with the following results:

  • National Archives of Australia: last legislation Archives Act 1983; the last major review of Act completed in late 1996.
  • Australian Capital Territory: Territory Records Act 2002
  • New South Wales: State Records Act 1998
  • Norhern Territory: no post-1996 legislation
  • Queensland: Public Records Act 2002
  • South Australia: State Records Act 1997
  • Victoria: no post-1996 legislation
  • Western Australia: State Records Act 2000

SITES TO VISIT - See details of these laws on the websites of the National Archives and the various State and Territory Record Offices.


Australian Standard for Records Management AS ISO 15489 – 2002

Australians have played the leading role in developing this international standard which is based on Australian Standard AS 4390 – 1996, Records Management. AS 4390 has now been superseded by the Australian Standard for Records Management AS ISO 15489 – 2002.

  • AS ISO 15489 -1 Information and documentation - Records management - Part 1: General
  • AS ISO 15489 -2 Information and documentation - Records management - Part 2: Guidelines

SITES TO VISIT - see details of AS ISO 15489 on the National Archives of Australia website or view ISO 15489 on the International Standards Organisation (ISO) website.

US Department of Defense DOD 5015.2-STD

Design Criteria Standard for Electronic Records Management Software Applications (November 1997), revised June 2002.

SITE TO VISIT - find out more about DOD 50152 on the website of the US Defense Information Systems Agency.

Recordkeeping metadata

Australian institutions and organisations involved in developing and publishing recordkeeping metadata standards include:

  • Australian Research Council Industry Partnership Grant on Metadata
  • National Archives of Australia and Office of Government Online. Australian Government Locator Service (AGLS)
  • National Archives of Australia. Recordkeeping Metadata Standard for Commonwealth Agencies.
  • State Records Authority of NSW. Proposed NSW Recordkeeping Metadata Standard. Exposure Draft. Sydney: SRA, March, 2000.

SITES TO VISIT - visit these websites for more details about recordkeeping metadata standards in Australia.

Metadata entered electronically

When records are initially created or received and registered into an organisation's recordkeeping system, essential metadata documenting their content, context and structure is devised and captured. Once recorded by the electronic control system, the metadata can be migrated and re-used over time.

Professional knowledge, education and publications

Recordkeeping work is based upon an internationally developed and understood corpus of knowledge deemed necessary to manage recorded information effectively from the moment it is conceived. This evolving knowledge base reflects rigorous research and testing and comprises the general concepts, principles, attitudes, skills, analytical tools and processes that recordkeepers apply to solve problems and manage regimes appropriate to their employer’s needs and resources. In application, this body of recordkeeping knowledge is separate from, complementary to, interdependent with and filtered through a research based understanding of the cultural and administrative context generating the records. A practitioner effectively combines recordkeeping knowledge with contextual knowledge to achieve professional competence. Each culture will thus evolve its own variation of the internationally accepted professional knowledge base that suits the conditions and concerns of its own context of implementation.

Recordkeeping education: Then and now

Prior to its own professionalisation, recordkeeping was an auxiliary skill serving disciplines that used records intensively in their work. Aspiring accountants, company secretaries, lawyers, public servants and auditors, among others, learned the rules and forms of records specific to their needs, as well as the benefits of good and risks of poor recordkeeping.

In the first half of the twentieth century, business colleges taught basic recordkeeping and office skills to the trainee clerks and secretaries servicing a burdgeoning and increasingly feminised public and corporate bureaucracy. As the volume and complexity of documentation grew, governments responded by setting standards and codifying principles for quality recordkeeping in the public sector and strengthend accountability requirements for private business. To promote compliance, national and state records authorities developed publications and training programs focussing on the key functions of record classification and registration, disposal, long term storage and guidelines for the application of new technologies such as micrographics. Most recordkeeping professionals learned on the job, topped up with occasional training sessions conducted by public record authority staff.

After World War II, it was clear that the magnitude and difficulty of the work required a managerial class with a high level of education as well as specialist recordkeeping expertise. Initially, this elite cohort comprised public or foreign service administrators, ex-military experienced in supply/logistical recordkeeping and/or historians, many with European or British archival training and experience. Public record offices and archives provided internships for rising university graduates and encouraged the most promising of them to qualify for employment by scoring well on the public service examination.

In the 1960s further professionalisation saw the publication of training manuals and the development of courses of study under the leadership of national archives. Definitions and practical how-to’s dominated the scant literature and professional qualification involved on-the-job training, capped off with a specialist national archives short course or association workshop and membership in the professional association.

In the 1970s, University Schools of Librarianship and of History widened the prospects of their graduates by hiring leading practitioners to teach specialist recordkeeping electives such as archives administration, oral history, manuscripts librarianship and administrative history within their degree programs. Major employers encouraged professionalism amongst their employees by paying association memberships and university course fees, sponsoring professional events and granting special leave for study. In turn, nascent professional associations issued educational guidelines, accredited degree programs, recognised the new graduate appointees as professionals and allied with leading public recordkeeping authorities, cultural institutions and universities to promote a fully professionalised infrastructure and culture amongst recordkeepers.

Recordkeeping educator

University based programs of education staffed by full-time academics are important characteristics of professional maturity. Specialised educational programs for librarianship proliferated from the 1950s through to the 1970s. Recordkeeping education emerged in the 1960s as specialist applications within librarianship and history.

By the mid 1980s, the qualification most often requested in advertisements for entry level recordkeeping professionals was a tertiary degree with some recordkeeping content. The preferred credential for aspiring managerial professionals was a tertiary credential followed by a specialist postgraduate recordkeeping degree. As a long term result of the professional association-employer-university alliance, recordkeeping education and research have achieved a degree of recognition within academe; postgraduate programs with full-time specialist staff offer a range of recordkeeping qualifications and undertake profession-critical research, though their position is far from secure.

Throughout the 1990s, a small cadre of educators servicing the hybrid profession’s knowledge and research requirements refocussed and expanded their curriculum and research. However, the required metamorphosis has been made more complex because the social equity infrastructure in anglophone societies has been neglected.

Governments have privatised or curtailed a number of basic public service responsibilities and have withdrawn their subsidies for low earning social equity and 'infrastructure' disciplines such as education, social work, nursing, arts, librarianship and recordkeeping. Less government funding means many universities now only support disciplines that can pay their way ie. attract sufficient students able to pay high fees to qualify in a field that pays well. As publicly funded universities are forced to neglect goals of enabling learning and ensuring societal quality in pursuit of earning their own keep, educational standards inevitably fall. Critics assert that programs are shorter and curriculum is less rigorous. Particularly damaged are disciplines such as recordkeeping that require extra background, time and circumstances to ensure 'deep learning' takes place through reading, reflection, research experiments, discourse analysis and workplace projects.[1]

Reinventing recordkeeping education has also encountered an unexpected degree of contextual inertia and passive resistance from within academic and practitioner communities. The persistence of a preference for the relative clarity of 'doing things to stuff' have slowed the process of change. Empirical evidence suggests that university programs are still enrolling a majority of students wishing to work with historical materials. It seems that working with research sources provides practitioners with something they may prize more than achieving recordkeeping effectiveness - being left alone to exercise their own judgement to manage their holdings and themselves as they see fit. Exploratory research certainly indicates that professionals who prefer strategic recordkeeping may be temperamentally different from the majority of those now working in many archives. If further professional success depends upon our support for a unified recordkeeping paradigm, as some contend, we must adopt inclusive continuum thinking and combat separatist tendencies that hamper professional cohesion.

Despite these difficulties, professional bodies in Australia and Canada have produced guidelines detailing the knowledge, skill and attitude competencies required of new recordkeeping paradigm specialists, though the uptake of these new tools has been slow outside the vocational and technical education sectors and a few pioneering university programs. While educators and trainers agree they need to address competency standards as they develop new learning materials and programs, many believe competencies emphasise training, rather than education and enshrine the status quo rather than encourage innovation. Employers also indicate that they find them valuable as criteria for recruitment and promotion, but have lacked the time to revise existing human resources mechanisms to effectively incorporate them.[2]

SITES TO VISIT - Visit some Australian and Canadian websites to find out more about these important learning resources.

Recordkeeping education programs in Australia

Australian professional education programs are among the best in the world and, increasingly, many are available for study in distance learning mode.

The Australian Society of Archivists website provides information about ASA accredited records and archives courses available at Australian tertiary institutions.

SITE TO VISIT - See the listing of accredited courses on the Australian Society of Archivists' web pages.

The following Australian tertiary institutions currently (Dec 2002) offer courses in recordkeeping by distance learning, but you will need to visit the relevant institution's website for up-to-the-minute information about current offerings and fees.


A range of Australian publications relevent to recordkeeping have been produced; a few of the more significant ones are listed below.

  • Keeping Archives - First published in 1987, Keeping Archives is now in its second edition and occupies a unique place within the archival literature being distinguished by a number of 'firsts'. It is the first comprehensive work by multiple authors which focuses upon management decisionmaking for all archival functions. Keeping Archives is also unique in the clarity of its explanations of complex matters such as policy development, personnel management, disposal scheduling, repository planning, relationships among finding aids and documentation programs.
  • Documenting the Future: Policy and Strategies for Electronic Recordkeeping Regimes in the NSW Public Sector by David Roberts, Sydney: Archives Authority of NSW, July, 1995.
  • Design and implementation of recordkeeping systems (DIRKS) - State Records Authority of NSW And National Archives of Australia. Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems (DIRKS Manual).
  • Government Recordkeeping Manual - (of the State Records Authority of New South Wales)
  • Selected Essays in Electronic Recordkeeping in Australia. Ellis, Judith A., editor, Canberra: Australian Society of Archivists, 2001.
  • The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years. McKemmish, Sue and Michael Piggott, editors, Clayton, Vic: Ancora Press, 1994.

TO READ - go to the TO READ section for further details of these publications.

The Australian Society of Archivists maintains a select list of publications available for order. The ASA is also a good starting point for locating any Australian publication on archives and records.

SITE TO VISIT - check out the ASA publications page.


1. Richard Cox (2000), Closing and Era, pp.230-236; Terry Cook (2000) 'The imperative of challenging absolutes' in Graduate Archival Education Programs: Issues for Educators and the Profession', in American Archivist, 63 (Fall/Winter 2000) pp. 380-391.

2. Janet Knight, State Records of NSW, email message to author 4 February, 2003 discussing community feedback on the uses being made of the Australian Recordkeeping competencies.