Purpose – This work aims to draw attention to information retrieval philosophies and techniques allied to the records management profession, advocating a wider professional consideration of a functional approach to information management, in this instance in the development of information architecture. Design/methodology/approach – The paper draws from a hypothesis originally presented by the author that advocated a viewpoint whereby the application of records management techniques, traditionally applied to develop business classification schemes, was offered as an additional solution to organising information resources and services (within a university intranet), where earlier approaches, notably subject- and administrative-based arrangements, were found to be lacking. The hypothesis was tested via work-based action learning and is presented here as an extended case study. The paper also draws on evidence submitted to the Joint Information Systems Committee in support of the Abertay University's application for consideration for the JISC award for innovation in records and information management. Findings – The original hypothesis has been tested in the workplace. Information retrieval techniques, allied to records management (functional classification), were the main influence in the development of pre- and post-coordinate information retrieval systems to support a wider information architecture, where the subject approach was found to be lacking. Their use within the workplace has since been extended. Originality/value – The paper advocates that the development of information retrieval as a discipline should include a wider consideration of functional classification, as this alternative to the subject approach is largely ignored in mainstream IR works.