Session 204: Why You’re Already A Records Manager…

[Editor’s Note: Geof Huth and I will be recapping this talk as a Google Hangout for the RMRT
sometime in the near future! In the meantime, please enjoy this extremely thorough recap by Melissa Torres. Thanks Melissa!–Brad]

[Editor’s Note 2: I wanted the title of this session to be “You May Already Be A Records Manager”, complete with oversized check and Geof as Ed McMahon. That got vetoed for some reason…–Brad]

Why You’re Already a Records Manager and Should be Happy About That

One of Brad’s favorite GIFs of all time, featured prominently in the presentation

Speakers: Geof Huth and Brad Houston

2pm, August 4, Salon E, Session 204

This session focused on government, academic, and corporate sector records management.

Beginning with “know the present to know the past to prepare for the future”, Geof Huth introduced himself as the chief records officer of the New York State Unified Court System. Previously he worked for the NY State Archives as the director of the government records service.

Government Sector

What is Records Management? Not just records scheduling, not just records storage, not just paper records. “Don’t allow your identity to become ‘records retention’.” It is improving processes, saving the institution money, serving the mission of the institution, and it’s also digital records.

Why do we do Records Management? The personal reasons, for Huth, are the variety of work, the interactivity of the work, the immediacy of the work. It is a people centered job and it embeds one into the living history of the organization, as part of the process of creating historical record. “Even if a person seems crazy, you will and can listen to them, and help them be less crazy.”

The organizational reasons  for having an RM program are: it promotes understanding of the organization to itself, it supports accountability and professional honesty,  it builds institutional policy that can live through multiple generations of employees, and helps to “clear the decks” of documentary detritus, thus improving access to what remains.

Most of all, RM is about outreach: good records managers are active in defining their programs, working with key people in multiple offices, talking to creators, and ensuring that follow up and follow through happen. And good RM program also builds trust, which in turn develops the archives: people see that records management is invested in the future of the institution, which helps them see the value of the records to “real work”, and this destroys the idea of archives being “dead” records or an afterthought.

So, why should we worry about “process improvements” to our records management work? Besides giving the archivist a “front-line” knowledge of the organization, it gives the archives organizational traction. It supports efficiencies in document production, it involves the archivist or RM in active use (which leads to better archives), and it allows the archivist to understand records better and give archivists an entirely different lens to view the records. This in turn aids the archivist in their appraisal processes and improves those processes.

We know that digital records form a special problem, which must be worked with early in the life cycle. Creation is the beginning of preservation to these records, and better records management will equal better, more trustworthy archives right away for digital materials. Efficiency in the beginning leads to efficiency on the back-end. Even retroactive projects, which marry archives and records management, can be used as a form of outreach and collaboration, and are worth exploring.

Huth, being a government sector archivist/RM, says that this sector is, above all, accountable to the public. There is also accountability to the organization itself (the government), and also to any stakeholders. There is a great need for open access, and to constantly and consistently be increasing access. On the flip side of this coin, however, is the right to privacy. The need to respect openness and also respect privacy is a balancing act, which uses all the above principles to make that balance possible.

Academic Sector

Brad Houston, the University Records Archivist at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wears several hats at his University (as well as a fine fedora today for the talk [EN: Actually a Panama Hat! But the callout is appreciated] ). The strength of wearing all these hats means he sees the records from birth to death and can use that as a strength in his work.

The common thread of this policy: Your policies in records management will always affect your work down the road. How does the academic sector differ from the government sector?

The RM mandate is usually broader for academic institutions, the power is more distributed (in some ways), and this means RMs can actually influence policy creation (although with a diffuse power structure, it can be harder to maintain your policies). This balancing act can make academic RMs more likely to adapt policy via persuasive techniques and interpersonal relationships.

Accountabilities are very similar to government entities, but there are additional accountabilities to funders like donors.

The dirty secret of RM: it’s actually the same kind of job as archives. Scanlon’s recent article on the Great Schism between RM and archives has some insight into how the jobs consider themselves different and how that occurred.

To Houston, RMs are at the center of our work (he admits there are some biases here). And appraisal is defnintely the most important part of the work– “90% of everything is crap.”

What is a “pure” records manager? Often based outside the archives, working often for Legal, Audit, IT, etc. They are compliance-focused, with direct experience and contact with the creators. And they are not concerned with archives. But they have enforcement power!

So archivists will probably want to be friends with these compliance-focused employees. This is one of the great opportunities. Start with a “pilot” project, provide historical perspective to the RMs, and use this as an opportunity to do outreach team-ups. Other bridges: talking up compliance benefits, tracking RM metrics, or helping with system requirements for digital records retention/destruction.

What is a hybrid archivist/RM? (picture of Picard as Borg!) Best of Both Worlds

Historical value is an add-on, not a value in and of itself. Administrative, Legal, and FIscal records are all values with historical tacked on. And what can hybrids do? They can offer both sides, both present actions and former actions, and give advice and documents on both. It’s one-stop shopping.

What is a University Archivist?

They are necessarily working in the historical realm, they do not have a portfolio of current records. There are more schedules for “unofficial” university records, like student papers, faculty manuscripts, and underrepresented community papers. It gives the freedom to use a standardized approach of records retention with groups which are not actively required to keep materials. Archivists can use the records management program to find the gaps in institutional memory and fill them–creating oral histories, digital archives, subject files.

What is a Manuscript Archivist?

This is where application of RM principles is most important. This is because in institutional archives, you can reverse-engineer systems from the RM. But in manuscript collections, this does not exist, or exists very poorly. Donor outreach, that happens early or concurrently, allows the archivist to act as a de facto RM to these donors, helping them shepherd their materials from conception and creators. This usually leads to more donations, and better donations, which leads to more use, which leads back to more donations. It also helps the manuscript archivist to better understand the collections which come in.

How to be a good academic RM/archivist: Be familiar with the records management mandate, with the legal requirements. Get in on the ground floor with how policies might be created or improved, and watch how information and power flows through the institution, and who might be left out of such processes. Be prepared to argue your case early and often. Practice persuasive speaking, advocate for RM/archives component in campus systems, and get comfortable with when a “light touch” may be more appropriate.

The Corporate Sector

(Huth is acting as the stand-in for a missing speaker)

What are the roles of a Corporate RM?

Accountability to thee stockholders, addressing complex regulations, and corporate rules. There is a lot of data, which is all records.

How does retention scheduling work?

  1. Identify records and perform an inventory which is “living”, constantly updated both in the archives and in the offices
  2. Create the schedule itself based on the inventory, which confirms accuracy and undergoes many levels of approvals. Be prepared for people who might not want to create hard and fast disposition rules. The schedule must be reviewed periodically, and updated. There will be levels of laws which will guide the creation, and corporate bylaws.

Part of the schedule is about enabling disposition. Records disposition is, at heart, about efficiencies. Keeps the org from being overwhelmed, saves time in searching in the future, and saves both space and money.

But it is a careful process, and many failsafes can be put in place. Preliminary notification, confirmation of eligibility, ensure against legal holds, and then finally authorize destruction, and destroy the records. The strategies for destruction are: cross-cut shredding, pulverizing and recycling, or incineration.

So far this has focused on paper records, but most orgs have a Records Management Application (RMA), with a content management system that identifies the retention schedule for electronic records, and completely destroys the digital records once they have fulfilled their purpose. All RMAs are based on the DOD 5015.2.

If there is no RMA, the system is dependent on the end user, which means that backup cycles and network storage work against permanent destruction. This requires more vigilance in the records management policies.


Why You Should Be Happy

Variety breeds imagination, broader perspectives lead to better fulfillment of the archival imperative. Good records management ultimately allows transformation and disruption of the organization in positive ways.


Question: how do you force the destruction of records if the creators want them to be permanent?

Answer: Get control of the records physically, and impress on them that these are organizational records, not personal records. Once the records are in hand, the work of review and destruction will be easier by 10.

Question: how do you make the case for more staff in both archives and RM?

Answer: make a business case, with actual numbers of how money will be saved. Coca-Cola does a great job of marrying the missions of the two.

Question: how do you keep people using the organizational RM procedures, instead of personal devices/accounts?

Answer: get a good relationship with the people who create the systems to create buy-in for document creators by making the system so good they want to use it.


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