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A brief history of the Information and Records Management Society - United Kingdom

Birth of the Records Management Profession

The human need for textual based information is as old as the art and science of writing things down. The invention of the printing press made possible the production of multiple copies of documents possible.  The copying of business letters, reports and correspondences were hand written. Such hand written documents needed to be catalogued, filed and stored for future reference so that the information they contained would not be lost. 

From 1867, a technology revolution arrived in the form of the ‘typewriter’ and typed written textual documents began to be created.  The typewriter produced skilled secretaries, typist, typing pools and clerks whose entire career was based on the creation, storage and retrieval of textual documents. The combination of these people, the typewriter, carbon paper, shorthand notebooks and filing cabinets could be said to have started the first-generation blue print for a document and records management system for business and government. 

The birth of the records manager evolved at the end of World War II to resolve the chaos of managing the mountains of hard copy documents, folders and storage boxes.  The records manager and records management team (in simplistic terms) sat between the filing cabinet and storage area.  Their primary role was to pick up storage boxes, catalogue, track, protect, archive and return hard copy folders and storage boxes on request.  

The Evolution of the Records Management Society in the United Kingdom

In 1983, under the guidance of Tom LeCompte as the first Chair, the Records Management Society (RMS) of UK was established and this marked the dawn of professional records managers and records management in the United Kingdom. The primary goal of the Records Management Society was to serve the growing community of record managers. Starting small and growing slowly over the years the Records Management Society took on more and more members, volunteers and membership benefits.  It was not until 2011 that the Records Management Society rebranded to reflect the changing landscape and technology drivers to become known as the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS).  The following table is a list of Chairs during the period 1983 to present day all of whom have volunteered their services, provided leadership to our teams of volunteers over the ages and been drivers towards making the Society what it is today.

2020-Present Reynold Leming
2016-2020 Scott Sammons
2014-2016 Meic Pierce Owen
2013-2014 Nicholas Cooper
2009-2013 Matthew Stephenson
2005-2009 Paul Duller
2003-2005 Clotilde Wang
2002-2003 Ceri Hughes
2000-2002 Mike Marsh
1998-2000 Catherine Hare
1995-1998 Philip Jones
1993-1995 Mike Steemson
1992-1993 Graham Southwood
1989-1992 Sue Garland
1986-1989 Shelley Hardcastle
1984-1986 Bill Young
1983-1984 Tom LeCompte


Reflecting on the time line of changes

Reflecting on the time line of changes marks the start of a new era for record managers.  One of these changes goes back as far as 1961 with the introduction of the IBM 7090.  It allowed users at different terminals to log into the computer and transfer files they were using onto the computer’s central hard disk thereby effectively using the operating system as a mail box.  The sending of text-based messages between computers in this way therefore predates the existence of the world wide web and the internet. 

In 1985, we saw the introduction of the first Microsoft Windows PC’s and word processing packages.  This was the start of the explosion of hard copy printed documents and the gradual demise of typing pools, the typewriter and carbon paper became a memory of the past.

The 1990’s also saw the expansion of capture, digital storage, scanning, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) and business software applications such as EDRM (electronic document and records management).  It should be noted that from the mid-1960’s OCR was being used by companies for tasks such as bill payments and sorting mail.  It was possible to connect OCR systems directly to computers, thus producing data as electronic files. ICR for data extraction from handwritten and textual documents started to emerge as a business tool in about 1993. 

In 1995, the first ‘webmail’ (known today as email) programs were demonstrated, such as Microsoft’s Outlook.  IT and business embraced the adoption of webmail as a business communication tool, and the printing out and filing of business related emails commenced.  The combination of word-processing and email had an adverse impact on records managers.  This technology phenomenon contributed to a range of record management deliberations by industry professionals. Outcomes of these ponderings was to provide theories, frameworks, standards, policies and guidelines on how to manage and preserve the volume growth of printed hard copy documents and the associated record management challenges. 

By 1995, 34 years had passed since OCR and Omni-font were available.  PC’s were now embedded into the daily business routine with documents not only being printed but also saved onto network drives, floppy disks, USB and other storage devices.  It would be another couple of years before digital scanning of hard copy records was to be considered as an IT solution to the growing hard copy document problem.  

Snapshot of events and a new era for for the Information and Records Management Society

The introduction of scanning moved the records management profession towards the concept of ‘digitisation’ and contributed to the changing landscape for records managers in the United Kingdom.  From 1995-2007 a great many influences and drivers brought with it some exciting transformations for the Records Management Society.  For example:




· The first HTML 2.0 standard was published

· The Dublin Core Metadata initiative begins

· The Internet Explorer 2.0 web browser is introduced


· The PNG 1.0 image format approved as a W3C recommendation


· HTML 4.0 standard is released

· The Extensible Markup Language (XML) standard is produced

· The Encoded Archival Description (EAD) Version 1.0 is introduced


· The XHTML 1.0 (transition to XML) becomes a web standard


· Microsoft SharePoint web application framework and platform developed and launched

· The industry begins to use the term ECM (enterprise content management) to refer to integrated solutions


· Development of an international standard that defines the use of the Portable Document Format (PDF) for archiving and preserving documents this will be known later as PDF/A.


· USB Flash Drives prosper


· Twitter is founded and establishes the birth of a new social networking phenomena

· Microsoft with SharePoint enters the entry level market segment for ECM

· Open source ECM products are becoming available e.g. Alfresco


· Apple releases the iPhone marking the shift to handheld digital devices

· Software-as-a-service offerings are becoming available


During the period from 1995 and 2010 the Records Management Society was slowly growing and actively seeking new ways of attracting new volunteers and members. In 1996 under the then Chair Philip Jones (1995-1998) the Records Management Society launched it’s ‘professional of the year’ award and in 2000 under the Chairs of Catherine Hare (1998-2000) and Mike Marsh (2000-2002) the Records Management Bulletin was launched. In 2007, under the Chair of Paul Duller (2005-2009) the first 'large scale' conference for members and non-members was held at the Hilton Metropole in Brighton.  Three years later in 2010 under the Chair of Matthew Stephenson (2009-2013) the Records Management Society saw the launch of the Alison North New Professionals award to encourage new talent and professionals into the records management industry.

From 2011, to date the acceleration of technology, savoir-faire and the disruptive forces of Cloud, Big Data, Software-as-a-Service, mobile information centric solutions and evolving technology solutions have and continue to push the boundaries and the future of records management.  In response to the changing needs and to better reflect the needs of its members two landmark events took place. Under the Chair and leadership of Matthew Stephenson (2009-2013) the Records Management Society in 2011 rebranded and was to become known as the Information and Records Management Society (IRMS)


In 2012 the Information and Records Management Society launched ‘Accreditation’ as a class of membership to demonstrate a certain level of skill and experience within the profession which members can apply for.  2013 was an exciting time for the Information and Records Management Society as it marked its 30th Birthday.  At the annual conference and as part of the Information and Records Management Society 30th Birthday (under the Chairs of Matthew Stephenson (2009-2013) and Nicholas Cooper (2013-2014)) the society launched the category 'fellowship of the IRMS' by awarding it to 30 industry professionals.


To find out more about what the Society currently offers today click on one of the below links or feel free to browse the website!



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Chester House
68 Chestergate
Macclesfield, SK11 6DY
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0)1625 664520
Fax: +44 (0)1625 664510


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