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J Med Libr Assoc. 2010 October; 98(4): 316–317.
PMCID: PMC2947138

Managing Electronic Records. 4th ed

Reviewed by Marcy L Brown, AHIP

William Saffady 
Managing Electronic Records. 4th ed.
Lenexa, KS: ARMA International. 2009. 246 p. $75.00. ISBN: 978-1-55570-686-9. 

Since the third edition of William Saffady's Managing Electronic Records was published in 2003, content and document management systems have become commonplace and electronic communication has totally replaced print communication in certain fields and disciplines. Archivists, records managers, and librarians who manage internal information that is born digital and exists completely within an electronic lifecycle desperately needed an update to this professional bestseller.

Book reviews usually evaluate style and content relative to an intended audience. The review of this recent edition was difficult because the style and content imply a different audience than the stated one. Saffady's target audience includes “professional records managers, computer systems professionals, office systems analysts, archivists, administrative system specialists, data center managers, librarians, and others” (p. vii), leading the reader to believe that the book will be geared toward working professionals with some degree of experience, perhaps with print records. This audience is likely also technologically sophisticated. Yet many features of the book—the lack of references, key terms highlighted in bold, the inclusion of a glossary—indicate that Managing Electronic Records is a textbook, intended for students and new records managers with little to no experience. The author assumes his readers have little prior technical knowledge and devotes quite a bit of space to elementary discussion of media formats and storage as well as basic records management issues.

Regardless of the audience, the author's approach is practical rather than theoretical, making the book an easy read. Chapter one offers an extensive definition of “electronic record” that Saffady uses throughout the book. Several words in this introductory chapter are printed in bold type, and this reviewer assumed that bolded words would appear in the glossary but this was not always the case. Saffady pinpoints a key problem as the management of what he calls “unstructured electronic records” (p. 12) and offers relevant examples. Other chapter sections include records control, redundancy, system dependence, media stability, arrangement, and remote access. Other than remote access, the author explores most of these issues in greater depth in subsequent chapters. Although this fourth edition was published in 2009, few of the reports or statistics quoted in chapter 1 are dated beyond 2006.

Chapters two and three focus on storage media, including magnetic and optical, and file formats for electronic records. Chapter two seems rudimentary and outdated (when was the last time you used or even saw a floppy disk?) and yet goes on for thirty-four pages. Chapter three describes various text files, compound documents, email messages, markup languages, and image, audio, and video files. These two chapters seem inappropriate for a professional readership, and this reviewer wishes the space would have been used for more in-depth discussion of the intellectual analysis of these file types. How, for instance, do we distinguish important email messages from inconsequential ones when an organization generates thousands per day? Is that even a consideration?

The chapter on performing an electronic records inventory describes a step-by-step process for identifying digital data in one's organization. Planning for an inventory first requires the records manager to map the entire information technology infrastructure of the organization, which is no small feat in itself. With senior-level support, the records manager must then decide on the scope of the records inventory. A single inventory could not describe every electronic record in an organization; an appropriate scope might enumerate the records of a single program or division, several functional series across divisions, or records that fall within a certain time frame. Saffady offers a useful and interesting fact: an inventory in a corporate or government agency with 50 computer applications will require at least 100 to 150 working days, not including any analysis at the tail end of the inventory (p. 95). This is a very useful guideline for records managers who are new to inventorying electronic content.

The book offers readers a sample checklist (Figure 4.1) to assist in creating a records inventory survey instrument. This extremely useful feature is notable because the book has few other samples overall. Readers would be well served by the addition of specific examples demonstrating activities and principles discussed throughout. What does an inventory look like? How have organizations structured their electronic records series for electronic documents? What are some actual organizational policies for determining the legal or operational significance of electronic records? Readers might expect the inclusion of samples in an introductory volume.

Saffady discusses the various criteria for making retention decisions, including legal, operational, and historical criteria. He points out that different retention periods may apply to different formats, cementing the idea that there is still usually an “official copy” of an electronic record. In a substantial section on the admissibility of an electronic record as evidence in a legal context, Saffady reviews e-discovery and federal rules, records authentication, and the legal status of electronic signatures.

Chapter six focuses on managing those records critical to an organization's mission, termed “vital records” in the discipline. Interestingly, vital records may be considered vital for only a portion of their retention period. The chapter presents a summary of federal laws and regulations for vital records protection and outlines the key components of an internal program: establishment by senior management, identification of vital electronic records, analysis of risk, and selection and implementation of loss prevention and records protection methods. Saffady proffers examples of risk analysis, including the identification of threats and vulnerabilities, and both qualitative and quantitative likelihood of such threats occurring. He includes a simple, mathematical risk analysis formula.

The final chapter includes sections on electronic content management systems, records management application software, media filing, and media management. Similar to his approach in the earlier chapters, Saffady places more emphasis on the physical handling of electronic media and devices than on the intellectual handling of content within electronic records. Unfortunately the book ends abruptly. Rather than provide a wrap-up or concluding chapter, Saffady takes the reader to the first appendix immediately following chapter seven.

The first appendix, “Suggestions for Further Study and Research,” offers an interesting alternative to a traditional bibliography. Noting that electronic records practice changes quickly and that references are quickly out of date, Saffady offers the reader a number of business, legal, and science-technology databases likely to contain articles about electronic records management, and he even provides keywords likely to yield relevant information. Additional back matter includes a glossary and a comprehensive index.

This well-written volume is easy to read and adequately defines all jargon, acronyms, and key terms for the novice record manager. But that same novice may require additional examples of some practices discussed in the book, such as the determination of records series or the difference between a master retention schedule and a program-specific one. It is likely that everyone who reads this book will learn something about the development or enhancement of an electronic records management program. But the author's attempt to be many things to many groups somehow fails to satisfy the likely needs of the experienced records and content managers that he targeted. This reviewer hopes that the next edition of this important work focuses on either a novice or an experienced audience and targets the content appropriately.


Articles from Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA are provided here courtesy of Medical Library Association