Records and Information Management month was founded by ARMA International in 1995, and it has been a focal point of activities for this Records Management Section of SAA for a long time. But this is not a typical April. The latest numbers I saw this morning are that at least 87% of people in the U.S. are under stay-at-home orders. Most archives and businesses cannot carry out business as usual because of the unprecedented health and economic impacts of COVID-19, so we certainly don’t want to give the impression that we are calloused to these hardships.
But for a number of reasons, I don’t want to forgo this opportunity to highlight the importance of RIM work:
- I can scarcely think of a situation where information has been more vital to our well-being. I heard Jon Meacham’s evaluation this morning that “to a large extent . . . the Enlightenment’s on trial here. Facts and data that shape human decisions because they are objectively true, that is something that is now very much under assault.” So what can we as archivists and records managers be doing to ensure true facts and data are being collected and disseminated?
- People who have never before talked about data are now touting the importance of tracking who has the coronavirus and who has developed antibodies, all of which can shape medical and policy decisions moving forward. Are there RIM voices involved in these conversations to ensure the appropriate methods for collecting and maintaining this data as well as the necessary privacy and confidentiality protections?
- Many people who are not accustomed to it are being forced to telework — all the while juggling numerous other family and financial concerns — so good records management may not be at the top of their list of priorities. What can the RIM community do to ease the burden while also maintaining good (if not best) practice?
- On a related point, many of us don’t have in close proximity the human sources to whom we usually turn for guidance, so we’re using technology to fill in those gaps — and creating lots of records where there ordinarily would be none. Do all our constituents know how to handle these MS Teams chats and videoconferencing recordings etc.?
- Even in the midst of this crisis, there is essential work like processing payroll and setting up utilities that must be accomplished. Have our Continuity of Operations Plans been thorough enough to be responsive in the current situation?
- At some point, we’ll emerge on the other side of this crisis and will need the ability to learn from what was handled well and what was disastrous. Are we capturing the appropriate documentation of policy and personal impacts of this crisis?
- Outside the pandemic, there are two other pivotal data collection efforts ongoing — the 2020 Census and primary elections.
- There were already digital options in place for collecting census data, but traditionally there have also been census workers who go door-to-door to capture information from people not willing or able to submit their data electronically. The impacts on funding and representation will be dramatic if this data is incomplete.
- Some primaries have already been postponed, and some locales are looking into the possibility of voting options that are not in-person. Are there RIM people involved in setting up procedures to guarantee the authenticity of these tallies?
So both on this blog and on the SAA RMS listserv, you will continue seeing RIM month communications. Some, like the conversation starter that was posted on the listserv yesterday, will be crisis-specific in hopes of providing people with opportunities to reflect and share how their lives and work are being impacted. Some may be more lighthearted, knowing we could probably all use an opportunity to forget our troubles for a few minutes. And some will be very practical, like the information on calculating records storage costs that I’ve been teasing you with for months. My hope is that these efforts will provide you with some useful information, some relevant suggestions, and a mechanism to stay engaged with your community despite our social distancing. I challenge you to weigh in either here or on the listserv with your thoughts. And as always, if you have direct requests for the Records Management Section steering committee, you can reach us at email@example.com. Stay healthy!
Courtney Bailey (Chair, SAA Records Management Section)