And, now for our much awaited series: Resourceful Records Managers! This month we meet George Despres, the Program Director for University Records Management at Brandeis University. If you would like to be included in this feature please contact Jessika Drmacich, jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu.
What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?
After re-establishing an archives program at a prior company, I was promoted to head up the archives and records management team. The engagement and breadth of the records management program increasingly drew my interest.
What is your educational background?
A BA and some graduate school studies in History and a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, with an Archival Management concentration. I also received my records management certification (CRM).
Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?
I’ve been lucky to have several mentors. An undergrad professor encouraged me to work as a library intern, and that started my “info pro” career. Another mentor taught me how to work with stakeholders from across an organization – a critical skill for records management success. There are also many brilliant RM thought leaders who help keep me keep current with their social media and professional conference contributions.
How did you first become interested in Records Management?
As I first assumed RM responsibilities, I sat in on a conference talk by a leader in the field, who cited a news headline on records mismanagement and dissected it with great enthusiasm. As I realized that records implications are everywhere, the massiveness (and potential massiveness) of the profession made an impression on me. I also realized that RM would force me to keep up with technological changes that affect digital records. I was hooked.
What is your role at your institution?
I’m Program Director for a university-wide RM program that is almost four years old. I manage one professional assistant and have some part time student assistant support. Having established foundational paper records services (storage, shredding, scanning) I’m leading my program to new initiatives like retention schedule expansion; electronic file and data retention management; continued outreach and engagement, and guidance in RM and knowledge management best practices for Brandeis employees.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I work with every department in the organization and apply a comprehensive view of Brandeis, and information management in general. You get really dialed in to the processes that happen across the organization and learn something new about different professional roles and viewpoints every day. Sitting down with employees to discuss their particular records and info habits and needs is something that I could do all day long. Also, RM is difficult to socialize across an organization, and I love that challenge.
What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?
I’ve had the opportunity to establish archives and records programs essentially from scratch. Putting these programs on the organizational map, with much help from others, has provided a deep sense of satisfaction. That said, there’s always room for program improvement.
What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?
My first RM job was at a non-profit corporation, which ran several federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs). The IT literacy bar was high, and the corporate feel was fast paced and results-oriented, which I liked. However, the environment was very confidential, so sharing my professional thoughts and experiences outside the company was difficult. This is different in academia, where I’ve been able to establish a blog and reputation among my RM peers by openly sharing professional views and experiences. Universities can also share their retention policies for benchmarking, which is very useful. The pace in academia has been a little slower than in corporate, and program funding can be comparatively modest, as well. In both cases, having at least some senior leadership support has been critical to program success.
What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?
Information mismanagement is everywhere. There’s guaranteed to be at least one example in today’s (fake and real) news. This has serious ethical, financial, reputational, legal, and personal implications. We need an army of conscientious, passionate records professionals to bring this epidemic under control. It’s a very difficult battle in today’s world of digital records, with proliferation and flow of data everywhere. It’s also an exciting time for info managers. If you have the heart and a bit of a chip on your shoulder, join the fight and bring your best.
Do you belong to any professional organizations?
I was a member of SAA and NEA, and currently belong to ARMA. I’m serving as Education Director for the ARMA Boston chapter, planning a Certified Records Manager training event. I also chair a small group of academic archivists and records managers (Boston Area Archives and Records Committee/BAARC) that meets quarterly to share professional experiences.
Thoughts on the future of records management?
There has been speculation that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technology will replace and/or redefine much of our work. While I see this taking at least a few years to happen, the future records manager will need to follow industry and technical developments carefully and be agile and open-minded to midstream change. We will probably assume less of a custodial role and more of an analytics and rule-making one, automating record and data retention management on the back end and creating a new generation of control guidelines for a world of apps and devices in the Internet of Things.
What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?
Rapid technology change is increasingly a challenge. We must be continually learning. Getting RM in a place where we can work side-by-side with IT and gaining senior leadership support will be critical and probably won’t be easy in many institutions. Finally, imposing control over digital records that go anywhere and everywhere, and overcoming organizational and civic cultures that accept this, will probably be the biggest challenges.
Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?
I enjoy playing piano, keyboards and composing music, exercising, writing, reading, and travel.
Do you have a quote you live by?
I have five on my office wall that I try to live by:
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
It’s better to attempt something great and fail than to do nothing and succeed.
Don’t bring problems, bring solutions.
Chance favors the prepared mind.
Just do it.