Smith, Kelvin. Planning and implementing electronic records management - a practical guide. London: Facet publishing, 2007. 232 p. ISBN: 978-1-85604-615-2. £39.95
The introduction of the book highlights the book's focus on "practical aspects of the planning and implementations of electronic records management systems". It is also stated that "the book is aimed at information managers in all organizations", with the underlying presumption that the reader has "some grounding in the subject" (page ix).
I reviewed this book with the hope of finding something that I could use as reading material for a course on Records Management. With the advance of technology and the growth of digital documents and computer-based Records Management systems, I needed a book that addresses related issues. From the outset, this book seemed very promising. The title placed the focus directly on electronic records management and according to the contents' page, the book covered the four parts of Preparation, Design, Implementation, and The Future. Therefore, it seemed, very relevant, well structured and quite suitable for my purposes.
On closer reading I found that the book covers many interesting and relevant topics including definitions and glossary of some terms, related acts, URLs to useful and interesting sites, as well as covering the basic elements of Electronic Records Management. What I came to find though, was that the contents were not quite as well structured as I had hoped and I felt that the book could benefit from a rearrangement that would make its content more reader-friendly and accessible. For example, some of the topics were repeated and sometimes even with variations. A good example of this would be the discussion of metadata where its various types are presented both on pages 61-62 and 99 (the various types being said to be four on page 61 and three on page 99). I agree with the author that the book "does not dwell on academic theory", which is fine as the book aims to be a practical guide. In my view, however, one should not have to read a guide from cover to cover to find all the useful bits and pieces. I think guidebooks can and should be structured so that the reader can go directly to a very specific point at a drop of a hat. Here, I found that this was not quite the case, for example, some of the useful tips and addresses are well embedded in the text, hence are not very easy to find and use in a hurry. There were also various interesting factual statements throughout the book (e.g. on page 139 it is stated that "only 20% of organizations without a business continuity plan are likely to survive; 90% of organizations that suffer a significant data loss are not in business two year later."), which I would have liked to know more about but did not find any references to the sources of this information.
Another problem that I found was that I was not always sure if the author is dealing with paper-based or electronic records management. For example chapter 6 on 'File plan' according to the short introduction at the start of the chapter "describes the most crucial aspect of the design of the electronic records management system - the file plan." (page 87 -highlight by me). So I assume that the proposed design is for electronic records. However, when I read the details of this I feel confused. An example of this could be found in the section on page 94 which starts with:
"There are almost certainly not going to be any documents at the top (functional) level (Human Resources). Individual documents will be more closely described than simple 'human resources' and will be filed in folders at the lower levels…."
Surely with the help of relational databases, and the facilities that the technology affords to assign many different keywords, tags and categories to each record, one should be able to place all records in a database and access them via different access points and to present the required information in different views or interfaces to suit various needs and uses. Here, I felt confused as to why the author is referring to folders at different levels. Assigning various parameters and categories to the records will allow the user the flexibility to access and deal with various sets of records as needed. It seems to me that the thought in the design here is based on the manual possibilities of the past paper-based systems without making use of the opportunities that the current technology readily offers.
Another point worth mentioning is that the book focuses mainly on electronic records management in the UK. However, in my view this does not have to mean that the book is not of value in other countries. Many of the issues and discussions are general and although the acts referred to or the links provided are UK-based, these can be useful in providing a background, a sense of comparison and a starting point in the search for similar directives or local equivalents elsewhere.
Finally, when it comes to the choices of the topics that are included or excluded, I am not sure if the author's choices are optimal. It seems to me that some of the topics which are addressed here should be common knowledge to information managers, which are the target readers of this book, and yet again there seems to be other topics that might have been useful to include but are missing. Of course, one cannot be too sure of the background and experiences of the potential readers, so the author's choice of the contents is probably as good as any other mix. But it becomes difficult for me to identify the group of readers that would most benefit from reading this book. I am sure that an information manager who has the task of setting up an electronic records management system will find much in this book of interest and of use. There are certainly several sections that I can happily recommend to my students. Let us hope that the book will prove to be popular enough to warrant a second edition, in which case, I hope to see some changes that would allow me to make a wider use of this book in extending its target group to cover students in records management courses.