Business analysts, known as consultants, play a ubiquitous and accepted role in the most lucrative sectors across the globe. The methods they use to analyze and document business processes increasingly relate to sectorial informatics. The authors of this volume expand on their previous work to argue that records and archives professionals would do well to adopt similar methods so as to continue to provide relevant and effective service in an increasingly complex networked society. All too often, we persist in our focus on the products (information, data objects, and records) of skills, practices, theories, and knowledge, while ignoring the tools, systems, relationships, and principles from which they are born. This is an unsustainable approach to the context and provenance we simultaneously esteem and which should provide accountability, authenticity, and persistence. Despite acknowledging this crisis and the critical research carried out by the authors—which includes the seminal development over the past two decades-plus of the records continuum framework—in practice, our professions are still largely wedded to outmoded traditional approaches to records management and recordkeeping (and therefore also to the archival endeavor or enterprise). Recordkeeping Informatics for a Networked Age presents a corrective with a conscious emphasis on workplace issues outside academe to provide a logical matrix for archives formation (p. xviii) and for avoiding the silos of the variety of information professions now inextricably linked to our work. It argues for a convergence and emergence of a “mega-profession” made up of the many different specialists in records, data, and information architecture. The book is intellectually rich, conceptually dense, and takes some unpacking.
The four authors, all members of the Records Continuum Research Group at Monash University as well as long-time practitioners in Australia, point to the book's origins in 2008 when they sought a new records management textbook that would consider both digital records as a means of business (e-records) and the networked context (cyber-physicality) in which they were increasingly being created, used, shared, and maintained. They did not find adequate resources and decided to write their own, which has taken a decade to come to fruition; a decade the authors feel has been beneficial in building a new disciplinary base across the two eras of computation (pp. xvii, xx) as we move rapidly toward the dominance of cloud-computing. However, along the way, their intended audience was vastly enlarged in correlation with the development of their theoretical and practical approach.
The book is divided into ten chapters in four parts: “The Recordkeeping Single Mind,” “Facets of Analysis,” “The Building Blocks,” and “The Future.” Its preface, added on the recommendation of a manuscript reviewer, provides necessary background and explicates the book's structure—and succeeds in pulling together what is an ambitious and important endeavor, written at different points over the last decade. Part 1 explains the basis for the theoretical underpinning of the book, including sociologist Anthony Giddens's structuration theory, the search for the archival “still point” recordkeeping informatics matrix at the heart of the dynamic complexity of the records continuum (wicked problems and all), and a short history of recordkeeping informatics—a single-minded disciplinary approach—over the past hundred years.
Part 2 presents a three-pronged analytical base for the information matrix of technology, social settings and ways of knowing using structural theory, Actor-Network Theory, and direct experience to address dissemination of digital records and “access-directed proactivity,” leading to faster evolution of control techniques, which currently lag behind the pace of records creation and related business processes. Here, the authors first raise the concept of “nanosecond archiving.” The recordkeeping culture, direct recording of business activities, access (one of the acknowledged wicked problems) and dissemination, and digital recordkeeping functionality are discussed. Also addressed are the implications of the divide between records managers and archivists, the increased agency of the individual creator over an organizational approach such as the registry or series control of records, the limitations of information governance due to a focus on data and lack of attention to overarching structures of complexity, and the need for nanosecond archiving (that is, an archival process set up at creation of the inscription so it is not lost in “information sludge”), to name but a few aspects.
Part 3 presents two building blocks for recordkeeping informatics: continuum thinking and recordkeeping metadata (which may also be construed as facets of analysis, depending on the reader's goal or perspective), for a stable matrix, which is flexible and responsive to needs. Metadata are viewed as both a description of the business transaction itself and as applied to the record (a bundling of “inscriptions” to trace their relationships, connections, and links). It also brings together models for information, publishing, cultural heritage, digital forensics, and data systems management within a continuum of recorded information. Part 4 imagines a future where a multidisciplinary teamwork approach can enable nanosecond archiving to allow persistent linking of data to its source and suggests new forms of professionalism to better leverage the potential of web-based technology. The authors pull no political punches and admit to including caustic comments, especially on the limited view by archivists of “access” as a synonym for “information retrieval.”
What does this all mean? To answer that, you should be familiar with the authors' earlier writings on the records continuum model and recordkeeping informatics. These writings are touched on in the book, and in the interests of brevity, critical elements are often alluded to rather than fully explained, leaving gaps for readers not thoroughly immersed in both topics. A good book always leads to further reading, but in this case, it may be heavy going. The precursors to this book in the form of articles are necessarily more concise and more clearly written.1 Boning up on Giddens and the other writers whose ideas influenced the authors of this book (including colleagues such as Chris Hurley) is not a bad idea. The book necessarily condenses and extrapolates from the models, frameworks, and theories feeding into the main thrust of the book—to provide a “rebuilt,” (multi)disciplinary, and professional base of recordkeeping informatics from which to equip practitioners in meeting the challenges presented by digital and networked environments (or at least to acknowledge their complexity and feel empowered to jointly address it). Most of us, whether information, records, or IT professionals, do not have the broad knowledge that underpins the theory informing this approach.
This review does not have space to include definitions of the terms mentioned above, which are central to the ideas set out in the book, but it is necessary to point out some related structural flaws that could hold the reader back. The lack of an index heightens confusion engendered by having to flip ahead from where terms are mentioned in the preface or earlier chapters to fully understand what the authors are trying to convey. For example, “simplexity” is not defined until page 261. As a voracious reader, while I could make an educated guess from its context, the lack of an index slowed my full comprehension. (I did not want to avail myself of an online search while I was reading.) Ditto for “nanosecond archiving,” mentioned long before its full explanation in chapter 4. It is not clear why the publisher skimped on this important access point, unless it was due to cost. Well, it costs readers too. I was also taken aback by a Wikipedia article citation for Actor-Network Theory, rather than what I had to deduce was its source (Whittle & Spicer, 2008?), and by a handful of copyediting mistakes, which I would not expect from an academic press (some of which are not just typographic errors and therefore confuse the meaning of related sentences). These are quibbles, but when trying to broaden your audience—in fact, to bring an audience into the collaborative fold—these minor factors have the potential to become major detractors.
Although Recordkeeping Informatics for a Networked Age makes a valuable contribution to formulating and maturing a more holistic approach to recordkeeping and records management, I am not convinced that it will make its argument clearly enough to the full spectrum of the audience for whom it is intended—information and data managers, system designers/architects, and sector informatics specialists. I hope I am proven wrong, but it reads as simultaneously too granular in its explanation of the theoretical structure that draws across disparate disciplines and too broad in its explanation of the records and archives background that have brought us to this crisis. The former makes it almost too dense to unpick and apply, and the latter, despite its intent, signals it is still written for those who usually read our professional literature—records and archives professionals. Nevertheless, the authors' goal—to champion a recordkeeping informatics discipline base as a way toward better support of evidence, authoritative resource management, and ethics—is laudatory, stimulating, and timely.
1See especially, “Achieving the Right Balance: Recordkeeping Informatics—Part 1,” Informaa Quarterly 25, no. 1 (2009): 18–21; “Achieving the Right Balance: Recordkeeping Informatics—Part 2,” Informaa Quarterly 26, no. 1 (2010): 42–52; “Recordkeeping Informatics: Re-figuring a Discipline in Crisis with a Single-minded Approach,” Records Management Journal 23, no. 1 (2013): 37–50; “A Background Paper for a Conversation on a Single-Minded Approach to Recordkeeping Informatics,” International Council on Archives Congress, Brisbane, August 20–24, 2012, http://ica2012.ica.org/files/pdf/Fullpapersupload/ica12Final00200.pdf; and “Recordkeeping Informatics: Building a Discipline Base,” Triennial Conference of the DLM Forum 7, Lisboa, 2014, http://purl.pt/26107/1/DLM2014_PDF/02%20-%20Recordkeeping%20Informatics%20Building%20the%20Discipline%20Base.pdf.