Here at the Government Records Section, we often talk about the life cycle of a record. In graduate school, I learned this term through some sort of circular graphic like this one that I found from Rutgers University:
This graphic is used to explain records management in a way that should be familiar to most of you. For electronic records, you can imagine the “distribution” icon as an email and the “maintain” icons as hard drives. The graphic is still helpful in illustrating the general definition that the Society of American Archivists gives for a record life cycle: “The distinct phases of a record’s existence, from creation to final disposition.” As you can see, records are created for a purpose, used, stored for evidentiary (i.e. for audits) or reference purposes (“What was last year’s professional development travel budget again?”) for a period of time and then ultimately preserved in an archival environment or destroyed. (Check my previous blog for Value(s) of Records and Mark’s Destroy in Office: Not As Scary as it May Sound.)
Now there is more to this story when it comes to archival records. The permanent State Agency and County records we house at the State Archives of North Carolina have a life beyond the “disposition” stage where they are put in acid-free containers. First, archivists “process” the records, meaning we put together a description of what we see so that others can tell if there’s anything that interests them in a particular collection. We gather this descriptive information while we straighten out papers and put them into neat, acid-free containers, where they may last longer. Then, of course, anyone can come in to our library and look at the collections. The materials in our collections could answer any number of questions you might have, or even inspire new ones! I’m always thinking up new article topics and questions whenever I’m looking through our vast and varied holdings. So these records continue on their life cycle in another form: the narratives that users weave together from these historical records.