n.an approach to electronic recordkeeping in which the originating creator retains physical custody of the records while the archives or another entity is responsible for access to the same recordsBearman 1994b, 280While traditional repositories have responded to these challenges by enhancing the systems capabilities associated with their centralized repositories, some archives are beginning to examine the benefits of partially or completely distributed custody. Distributed custody makes sense not only because the physical location of records in electronic formats does not make much difference in their delivery to users but also because expertise in different hardware is already found in different sites and is not easy to find in different.Bantin 1998, 22 As opposed to the “archives as a place” position, archivists who support the continuum model portray their strategy regarding custody and use a “post-custody” or “distributed custody” approach. In this strategy, the transfer of the inactive records to an archives may be delayed or deferred for much longer periods than in the past; in some cases, the records may actually remain indefinitely in the custody of the originating office. The basic premise supporting this position is that in the electronic environment, archival institutions can fulfill their responsibilities without assuming physical custody of the records. To achieve these goals, however, means developing new methodologies and techniques for managing records in a distributed custody environment.Bastian 2001, 97 Today, postcustodialism increasingly offers a way to address electronic records, favoring distributed custody and accountability over physical custody as a way of protecting evidential value.Bastian 2002, 89 In the 1990s, the twin imperatives of volume and technology introduced new elements to this emerging thinking about new custodial roles. This thinking coalesced around electronic records; battle lines formed over physical custody versus distributed custody. The proponents of distributed custody, initially led by American David Bearman, supported abandoning physical in favour of intellectual and legal control of archives. Records were to remain in the originating office. The legal responsibility and accountability for them is divided between the originating office and the archives. In the distributed custody model, the archives fulfills its responsibility for legal custody by auditing the records and records-keepers. At the same time, it recognizes the needs of the user.Shein and Lapworth 2016, 13Distributed custody/non-custody is described as an approach in which the originating office temporarily or indefinitely retains custody of some or all of its own records of enduring value, while the archives assumes the responsibility of caring for and providing continued access to the records without taking custody of them. The authors of this paper have found the reality of distributed custody to be broader and more nuanced than the available literature suggests.
This term is attributed to David Bearman. It was used predominantly in the 1990s and is less prevalent today.