Our eagerly anticipated series Resourceful Records Managers returns! This month we meet Brad Houston, City Records Officer and Document Services Manager for the City of Milwaukee.
*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?
Honestly, I kind of fell into it– took a RM course as an elective during my archives program at the University of Maryland, had an RM internship in the Executive Office of the President that summer, and when I was done with school I took a job at UW-Milwaukee doing records management. Somewhere along the line I said “hey, this is actually really cool” and I haven’t looked back.
What is your educational background?
I have a BA from Grinnell College and an MLS from the University of Maryland-College Park, back when it was still the College of Library and Information Studies. (I refuse to use the i-word in conjunction with that program. I got in before it happened, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) While I was at Maryland, I participated in the HiLS (History and Library Science) program, which allowed me to work on my MA in European History at the same time as I was working on my MLS.
Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?
A few– mostly members of the Records Management Roundtable steering committee, who were very good about reaching out to new members and providing good advice about progressing in the RM side of the Archives career. (This is, BTW, one of the reasons I want to do education when I have the time– I want to pay it forward.)
How did you first become interested in Records Management?
I guess it was that internship at the Executive Office of the President I mentioned– I had done archives work before but this was my first real-life exposure to active records, and I found it fascinating. Records are the life-blood of an organization, and categorizing them in series to make sense out of them is an intriguing puzzle to solve.
What is your role at your institution?
As records officer for the City of Milwaukee, my primary duty is to manage and sign off on the city’s records retention program, and a lot of my day is spent on that. I am also, however, manager of the City Records Center, which is Milwaukee’s storage space for inactive records and home of the city’s central imaging program. As I mentioned in my recent(ish) blog post it’s easy to fall into the trap that I’m still overseeing an archive, but I’m constantly reminding myself that a lot of what we have is not going to stay around, by definition. (That said we *do* have a lot of really good archival stuff that we should do more to promote.)
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The challenge! I know that’s a cliche answer but it’s really true– I was getting a bit into a rut at UWM, but working at the City is giving me a chance to work with a functional EDMS and imaging program, a central records system, and learn about entirely new functions and activities of both my unit and of the city as a whole. There’s a lot of work to be done– for example, I am working on cleaning out 4000 of our approximately 5500 schedules, which is obviously going to take a while– but it’s interesting work and likely to keep me busy for a while.
What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?
Honestly, looking back at my tenure at UWM I am pleased to have left both the records management and electronic records programs better than I found them. I feel like I really raised the profile of both programs and made UWM employees more aware of the their records and archives responsibilities, which is going to lead to more of the University’s institutional history being preserved. That’s a great feeling. Hoping I can replicate it at the City!
What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?
I’ve worked in University archives and am now working in Local Government. I’ve talked a bit already on this blog about some of the differences, but here’s another one– I am, to a much greater extent than at UWM, on my own with regards to retention management. It was nice having the safety net of my colleagues at the other UW campuses to bounce questions/concerns off of, and to work with on vetting legal and administrative requirements in scheduling; here, I largely have to do that myself (though we do have an Info Management committee that provides review/feedback.) See above about The Challenge.
What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?
Lean into it! Records Management is an invaluable skill to have, even if you are going to be doing mostly archives, because it encourages you to take an analytical approach towards appraisal, processing, preservation, etc. In general, helping institutions apply records management in situ means less work for you the archivist later. (Plus, of course, you’re making yourself that much more hire-able if you have a specialty like this– Records Managers promise a tangible return on investment to institutions, and so the positions are a bit easier to find.)
Do you belong to any professional organizations?
I’ve been a member of SAA since 2006, a member of the Midwest Archives Conference since 2011, and recently re-upped my membership with ARMA. I also joined NAGARA upon taking this position, since I am still new to Local Government and will take all the help I can get!
Thoughts on the future of records management?
I’m with Don Lueders (https://nextgenrm.com/2017/04/29/on-why-the-records-management-profession-must-endure/) on this– I don’t feel like records management is going to be replaced by information governance, nor should it be. There’s so much stuff being created every day, so much of it is taking up space (physical or otherwise) unnecessarily, and it is our job as information professionals to apply our expertise to, if not solving the problem, at least remediating it. If information governance is part of that solution (and it should be), great. IG doesn’t have the same objectives or focus as RM, however, and it’s important to maintain that focus, especially in a digital world.
What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?
Again, it’s cliche to say “electronic records”, but it really is! ERMSs are one thing, but increasingly we’re dealing with an information ecosystem that can’t be put into a DoD 5015.2 box, or at least not easily. We need to be actively thinking about the next big thing in the way we as a society convey information, and about what we want to do with that next big thing from a management and retention viewpoint. I feel like a lot of institutions give RM the role of managing paper records only, and we collectively need to push back on that– we have (or should have) a lot to offer in the digital realm as well, and we need to keep growing if we are to survive as a profession.
Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?
As followers of my Twitter account will soon surmise, I play the Magic: the Gathering collectible card game, I have a more-than-casual interest in National and Wisconsin politics, and I am an outspoken Cubs fan. (They were eliminated last night… Hopefully we won’t have to wait 108 years for the next World Series championship.) I like to bake, garden, and bike ride, but my time for those has been reduced significantly by the birth of my son 2 years ago. (Luckily he’s now at an age where he can help me garden and goes in the bike trailer, but baking with a 2 year old is still a challenge.)
Do you have a quote you live by?
“Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.” –Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (This is the flavor text on some versions of the Archivist Magic card, which MAY have something to do with my appreciation of this quote.)