Yeo, Geoffrey. Records, information and data: exploring the role of record-keeping in an information culture. London: Facet Publishing, 2018. xvi, 208 p. ISBN 978-1-78330-226-0. £69.95
This is not the first book about records management written by Geoffrey Yeo and published by Facet. He is a known researcher of records management with a considerable publication output, but also an active professional in the field. This book is the most conceptual of all that I have read and explores the intricate relations between the fields of records management, archival work and information management in their historical context and mainly throughout the modern era.
The author looks thoughtfully and deliberates the uprise of these different professional practices and searches for similarities and differences between the main concepts of data, records, archives and information, looking for the sense, meaning and order that they bring into modern society. The author looks into the interplay and cross-fertilization of these areas and tries to disentagle the confusion caused by terminology invading records management and archiving from other disciplines and professional areas.
The structure of the book corresponds with the main arguments that the author wants to make. First chapter provides a historical overview of record-keeping and its maturing as a distinct area of activity with specific functions. The second chapter critically explores the main conceptual paradigms related to records management that have arisen during the latest decades marked by transition to the digital formats. The theorists of the records and archive management fields have reflected on the fixity and fluidity of the documents in the digital domain, re-contextualization of records and archives by new custodians, relations between records, documents and archives, and the disruption of traditional approaches by mental models from the information systems area. The notion of records as information objects pervades the thinking of archivists.This last development is further explored in the third chapter, through changes in terminology, the concepts of convergence of memory institutions and their activities, but also disparate views, especially those relating records to evidence, rather than information.
I particularly would draw the readers attention to the chapter four where the author boldly embarks upon examining the concept of information and its various faces as well as relations to records management. The concept of data is reviewed in the chapter five, in which the notion of the 'datafication' of records and its relevance to records and archives is discussed. The author presents the conflicts arising from different concepts of records as data and records as information and the ambiguity of the 'factuality' as a measure of truth unrelated to context. In the sixth chapter, the author brings in and expatiates on the concept of 'performativity' of records as a specific type of acts and their representational nature as a testimony of human actions. Here the author places social acts in the centre of the records management and shows its 'information potential' from this point of view.
The final chapter seven and the concluding thoughts dwell on the different nature of information and records management and on the similarities in the tools and procedures employed in both areas. The author argues that this latter similarity should not overshadow their essential and distinctive functions related to different social goals, which both professional areas are pursuing.
The author in this book positions himself as a proponent of conceptual distinctions between the disciplines and professional areas that have been thrown together because new standard tools have been brought into their practice. He presents strong arguments based on a wide range of literature and introduces new concepts explaining the differences that he is arguing. Overall, this book makes a clear case for the distinction of records management from other related areas. I did not need a lot of persuasion of this as I would have readily agreed with the author even before reading the book, but the clarity of arguments, their persuasiveness and novelty of the performativity approach to records makes it worth reading even in this case.
The audience for this book is quite wide, from my point of view: existent and future records managers, researchers in the field and in the cultural heritage sector would be those who benefit most, but also information managers in organizations could use the understanding of the place of records in society emerging from this book to organize knowledge infrastructures accordingly.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2019). Review of: Yeo, Geoffrey. Records, information and data: exploring the role of record-keeping in an information culture. London: Facet Publishing, 2018. Information Research, 24(3), review no. R673 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs673.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.