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Brief History of Records Management

Brief History of Records Management

Early records management

Up until the 1930s, there was no set standard for record keeping in the United States. Government offices and businesses alike kept records in whatever format suited them best. The records were stored until no longer needed, or until storage costs became too expensive and prohibitive. The national archives were created in 1934, with the purpose of cataloging and storing the nation's ever increasing supply of old documents.

Before long, it became quite clear that the Unites States government needed a better, more efficient, more uniform way of creating, storing, and destroying its records. And so, the concept of records management was born.

1950s-1960s

As the economy of the United States continued to grow during the years following WWII, specialized records management facilities began to emerge. Many of these early records management companies were started by moving companies. At the time, these moving companies had all the resources and know-how to get the job done. They had warehouses located in highly populated, urban areas, they had trucks to perform pickup and deliveries, and most importantly, they had ongoing relationships with local businesses. During this time period, most records management companies operated only one storage facility, and served local customers.

1970s

During the 1970s, two new developments led to the expansion of the records management industry. First, computers were introduced to business during this time period. With computers and word processing software, documents could be produced at a much accelerated rate. Second, new legislation in the 1970s required businesses to start retaining records for certain (usually lengthy) time periods. The combination of these two factors- the increasing rate of document production, and required document retention- drove the need for even greater levels of records management. For the first time, records management firms began to make use of electronic file storage. They also, for the first time, began to branch out into larger geographic regions.

1980s

The 1980s saw two more new technological breakthroughs in records management and storage. First, bar code scanners were introduced. With these scanners, barcodes could be attached to files and boxes for identification later on. These systems greatly improved the management, control, and security aspects of records management. The second new piece of technology introduced in the 1980s was the compact disk (CD). These disks are capable of storing thousands of documents in a very small space indeed, and helped to cut the costs and hassles associated with paper documents.

1990s

Finally, in the 1990s, computer technology advanced once again, and led to even greater efficiency gains for the records management field. With the advent of digital scanners, paper documents could be read and converted automatically into electronic files. This new technique saved many hours of expensive data entry labor. Furthermore, computer systems became ubiquitous during this time period, and those in the records management industry began to have a new vision for the future - the paperless office.

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