To Become Like Living People

The following is a RMS guest post by Maarja Krusten, a retired Federal government historian who worked on records, archives, and historical research assignments and served for 14 years as an archivist in NARA’s Office of Presidential Libraries. 

Margaret M. H. Finch once said that working with permanently valuable Federal records made the people described in them “almost become living people.”  Who was Finch?  And what provides context for her own story?  Records!

After the death of her husband in 1918 during the influenza epidemic at the end of World War I, M. M. H Finch joined the Pension Bureau.  She became a branch chief and top expert in the pension records of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  In 1940, the Pension Bureau transferred the records to the National Archives.

Finch transferred to the National Archives at the time the pension records were accessioned and worked there until her retirement in 1949.  In 2015, the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) shared Finch’s story on Social Media:

“She continued to help researchers locate pension files but also gave numerous talks about researching in the records. . . .In an interview conducted upon her retirement, she explained the files made the men who served ‘almost become living people, and their descriptions of battles in which they fought are so real you feel like you’ve been an actual participator.’”

Finch
Mrs. Margaret M. H. Finch worked for the National Archives from 1940 until 1949. Image Credit: National Archives and Records Administration Facebook Page.

The research I’ve done on the construction of office buildings in Washington, DC. enhances and provides context for Finch’s story.  The National Archives holds textual and photographic records from the Commission of Fine Arts (Record Group 66) and the Public Buildings Service (RG 121).  These include a wonderful photo taken in 1940 of the Pension Building where Finch once worked. I tweeted the photo in 2017—note my inclusion of the source information!

We can use such stories to show why records matter.  Records managers ensure the proper disposition of records, including the retention of those that have historical value.  But information professionals know that the people they serve in academic, corporate, government, and other offices are busy with day-to-day mission work.

Where do employees hear about what is happening with records created outside their employing organizations?  Sometimes, it’s in a negative context—a data hack, the leak of internal documents, controversies over who said what and when.   But there are positive examples out there, as well.  And not just in the history books some of us love to read.

I’ve been thinking about that in the context of working many Education and Public Programs Division events at the National Archives and Records Administration.  Some relate to temporary displays, others to long-term exhibits, such as “Remembering Vietnam,” which ran November 10, 2017 to February 28, 2019.

I met many Vietnam war veterans over the course of the last year as I helped staff programs related to the exhibit.  I found seeing veterans reconnect with their past experiences through the records shown in the exhibit and displayed during panel discussions deeply poignant.

Last February I talked to visitors to the National Archives Museum about the Emancipation Proclamation.  It’s a fragile document displayed only once a year, at most, and then only for three days.  I especially enjoyed the questions from students, one of whom pointed to a faded circle on the last page and asked if someone had set down a cup of coffee!

A great opportunity to talk about conservation—not just the iron-based ink, but why the seal and ribbons at the top of the last page deteriorated over time.  And why President Abraham Lincoln signed his full name., not just the A. Lincoln he used in routine documents.

Employees participate in records management training sessions in-person or online. But unless they work as historians, policy analysts, lawyers, or in other knowledge-dependent functions, they may not have time to think about why saving historically valuable records is as important as destroying or deleting ones that only have short-term value.

Sure, they may see news of an important records release by the National Archives. Or they go to see exhibits in archives, museums, historical societies.  But they may not think about the insights records preserve about their own places of employment.   Let’s help them see that their stories matter, too.

Whether we work in academic, corporate, or governmental settings, we can look for stories about the places where we work.  And use them to bring the past to life. By providing interesting historical information about the construction of the buildings in which they work.  Or how the employing organization’s workplace evolved over time. And what it took to make change happen.

To connect past and present.  And to remind employees that they are part of a valuable through line.  One that stretches from those who came before to those who will follow.  Preserved for future use by records managers–and those who support them.

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Building Out the MLIS: Beyond Records Management

One of my best friends is a proponent (albeit somewhat selectively) of radical honesty. Perhaps I’ve been spending too much time with him recently, but here goes: I have been contemplating a professional life beyond traditional records management. *RECORD SCRATCH*. Huh? Does he know what this blog is about?

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy the archival and records management profession a lot. The work is interesting, challenging, and (most days) rewarding.  I’ve developed many friendships and connections over my eight years in the field, from which I’ve grown personally and professionally. I would consider myself fortunate to continue to advance within the field.

However, lately I’ve been wondering what the retention period is (had to folks) for someone in my position. As university records manager at a major research university, how do I advance? Am I making an impact? How can I prepare myself through training or further education to reach my career goals? What are those goals?

As archivists and records managers we do a good job of defining what types of training, experience or expertise professionals within the genre require – digital this, archival that, record thing this. Continuing to improve as a record keeping professional is top priority, certainly, and something I continue to desire. But do we talk enough about how to leverage our MLIS and similar degrees to position ourselves beyond the traditional boundaries of our professional genre?

I recently thought to myself “there have to be people who have naturally transitioned from archives and records management roles to something larger, right?” I figured it would be easy to identify degree or certificate offerings that would complement my MLIS. Wrong! I was surprised to find out that identifying appropriate professional development or educational opportunities that would supplement my existing MLIS-based skill set was more difficult than I thought. Note: I’m specifically not addressing opportunities like CRM, CRA, or IGP here, one because I want to push past our profession’s boundaries and two because my current institution offers wildly good tuition benefits.

I turned to SAA’s  RMS listserv for insight. Some common answers to my inquiry (what have you found to be professionally valuable in complementing a traditional MLIS-based skill set?) were as follows:

  • Business offerings (change management, organizational development, MBA)
  • Law or paralegal offerings
  • Project Management Certification (PMP or PMBOK)
  • Leadership Development
  • Information Governance Professional (IGP) via ARMA

This got me thinking even more. If I were to seek out professional opportunities that didn’t explicitly have “archives”, “records management”, or even “records” in the description, what would they be? What types of opportunities are we, allied recordkeeping professionals, even qualified for? Project management? Heck yeah. Grant writing. Instruction. Governance modeling. Policy creation. Donor Development.  Information management. You get the idea.

Admittedly, this is sort of a frightening thing to consider. I’m trained in this specific thing. I practice this specific thing. People know me (ok, some people) in the context of this specific thing. How could I leave that community, with shared interests and a collective sense of purpose? I’m not even entirely certain of the professional genre I would be interested in moving into if I put records management in the rearview.

That’s part of what makes thinking about expanding out of a traditional records management role or archival setting so difficult. Nevertheless, I find myself continuing to think critically about how one can effectively build out from the MLIS without starting over.  If necessary, how can one leverage the skill set acquired through archival and recordkeeping work into different professional genres? What types of training or degrees would allow this to happen in a successful way?

It’s a question I have yet to find a good answer for. Maybe you have?

Meet Your 2018-2019 Records Management Section Steering Committee

The Records Management Section (RMS) Steering Committee exists to direct and focus the annual business of the section, as well as to foster connections and professional growth amongst section members. Steering committee members participate in monthly conference calls, lead ad hoc initiatives, and contribute to the progress of the section throughout the annual cycle.

We encourage all RMS members to contact us directly with concerns, ideas, recommendations, or positives throughout the 2018-2019 cycle!

Alex J. Toner, Chair Toner

Alex is the University Records Manager at the University of Pittsburgh, where he has worked for five years. He provides guidance and consultation on institutional record keeping and best practices, manages the University’s contract with its off-site storage and destruction vendor, and is currently leading a campus-wide working group in revising the University’s general retention schedule and associated policies. Alex has been a RMS steering committee member for three years.

Courtney Bailey, Vice ChairBailey

Courtney has worked as a Records Analyst at the State Archives of North Carolina for five years.  In this position, she consults with state and local governmental agencies and universities on the creation, maintenance, and disposition of public records. She also works for the Traveling Archivist Program through the State Archives and serves on the publications board of the Society of North Carolina Archivists. Courtney has been an RMS steering committee member since 2015.

Eira Tansey, Immediate Past ChairEira-22-200x300

Eira has worked as the Digital Archivist/Records Manager at the University of Cincinnati’s Archives and Rare Books Library since 2013. She served as the RMS section’s Vice Chair/Chair between 2016-2018. She was previously elected to the 2014-2015 SAA Nominating Committee, and was recently appointed to SAA’s Committee on Public Policy for a three-year term. Eira has been an RMS steering committee member since 2014.

 

Holly Dolan, Steering Committee Member Dolan

Holly is the Records Preservation Manager for Denton County Records Management in Denton County, Texas. As a part of the Department of Technology Services, the Records Management Division provides consultation, policy and compliance review, and Records Center services for the county. Additionally, Holly specializes in outreach and training for her customers. This is Holly’s first year as a RMS steering committee member, and she is excited for the opportunity to contribute to the section.

Jessika Drmacich, Steering Committee Member

As the Records Manager and Digital Resources Archivist at Williams College, a small highly selective liberal arts college located in Williamstown Massachusetts, Jessika leads both the records management program as well as collection development and preservation for digital collections. Jessika is passionate about digital personal archiving, diversifying the archival record, and working with various groups at Williams. She has been a RMS steering committee member for two years.

Elizabeth Carron, Steering Committee Member

Elizabeth is the Archivist for Records Management at the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. The position was created two years ago and marked the launch of the institution’s Records Management Program. Although Elizabeth’s primary role is providing guidance and consultation on institutional record keeping and IG best practices, she’s deeply committed to raising public awareness about a variety of record keeping and archival topics. Elizabeth is currently serving her second year as a RMS steering committee member.

Hillary Gatlin, Steering Committee Member

Hillary is the Records Manager at Duke University. As part of the University Archives, Hillary works with departments and offices to identify, transfer, and preserve Duke University’s historical and business records. Hillary has been a RMS Steering Committee Member since 2015.

Brad Houston, Steering Committee Member

Brad is the the City Records Officer for the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Previously, Brad served as the University Records Archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has given numerous presentations on born-digital records, digitization, and research data management for a variety of user groups. Brad served on the 2018 SAA Conference Program Committee and is active in MAC. From 2011-2014, he served as chair of the Records Management Section, and has been a RMS steering committee member for nearly 10 years.

Ivy West, Steering Committee Member

Ivy is the Digital Curator, Archivist, and Manager of Records at the Johns Hopkins University – Applied Physics Laboratory. Ivy also works as a Research Librarian at Trinity Washington University.  At JHU/APL, Ivy utilizes her knowledge of archives and library research tools to access monographs, serials, photographs, and geospatial information. In addition, she performs research, and retrieves and attaches metadata to a collection of military, science and defense related records. She previously worked at the Library of Congress. Ivy has been a RMS steering committee member since 2017.

HQ2 and the Right-to-Know

Regardless of what camp you find yourself in on the topic of Amazon’s HQ2 courtship with North American cities, the process has triggered open record requests and questions about the degree to which cities are required to disclose the documentation of their overtures to the corporate giant.

This is especially true in Pittsburgh, where inclusion of the region’s bid, titled PGHQ2, as one of 20 finalist cities led to renewed demand for the full proposal to be released via the state’s open records law. Why is this important? Many cities have offered significant tax and civic incentives to sway Amazon’s interest. With promised results of $5 billion in economic investment and the creation of 50,000 jobs, an argument can be made that it is in the public interest to know how elected officials believe HQ2 will influence the social, political, and economic fiber of their region.

These desire for details have manifested themselves in open records requests throughout many candidate cities, to varying degrees of success. Pennsylvania’s mechanism for open records requests, the Right-to-Know Law, was signed into law in 2008 and is facilitated by the state’s Office of Open Records. Like many open records laws, all records are presumed to be public and are deemed “open” unless one of several exceptions bars their disclosure. Thus, the burden is on the government agency to argue why certain records, for instance a proposal with wide-ranging public impact, should not be made publicly available.

AmazonHQ2Finalists_AmazonDotCom
https://www.amazon.com/b?node=17044620011

So what’s happening in the Steel City? Like hundreds of other cities across North America Pittsburgh submitted its bid in October 2017, the details of which were not publicly disclosed. PGHQ2, led by elected city and county officials, first cited a confidentially agreement with Amazon. The reasoning for secrecy soon shifted to “protecting a competitive advantage.” Right-to-Know requests for the proposal were refused. Requests for secondary records (letters, emails, notes) pertaining to the process, not the proposal itself, were met with half hearted gestures. The City initially stated those weren’t public either; the county responded that “the records do not exist.” Eventually these secondary requests were fulfilled through state intervention (Harrisburg itself is a big proponent of Pittsburgh’s bid).

But what of the PGHQ2 proposal? As is often the case with open records requests, persistence pays off. Fast forward two months to January 24, when news broke that Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records issued a ruling on a Right-to-Know request filed by local WTAE reporters ordering Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh to make the full PGHQ2 proposal and corresponding documentation public within 30 days. In a coincidental twist, both entities have 30 days to appeal, the same period one has to return unopened items to Amazon. If delivered, there’s no doubt Pittsburghers will open this proposal package.

peduto-amazon-1511917863
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto holding the PGHQ2 proposal. Image Credit WTAE Pittsburgh.

The jury is still out on whether or not it’s truly in the region’s best interest that the PGHQ2 push is successful. With revived economic sectors, oft-touted cultural amenities, regional charm, and room to grow, Pittsburgh’s case is compelling. But the records and documents supporting that case shouldn’t be kept from the very citizens that make Pittsburgh so alluring. Open records laws, like Pennsylvania’s, are meant to serve the public good and promote transparent and accountable government. If Pittsburgh officials baited the PGHQ2 hook with tax incentives, public domain authority, or questionable civic inducements, the citizens of Southwest Pennsylvania certainly have a Right-to-Know.

Making it Stick: Records Management Training Approaches

Several weeks ago the University Archivist and I conducted our bi-annual University Archives and Records Management training session, part of our Office of Human Resources Faculty and Staff Development Program. This got me thinking about the various strategies, methods, and approaches records managers employ when conducting training and outreach. I reached out to my peers via SAA’s records management and ARMA’s EDU listservs to get a sense of just that, and hopefully learn some new tips and tricks!

Training Image_Medium

The following is an overview of responses through which themes of visibility, focus, repetition, and trust were reoccurring. Thanks to Peggy Tran-Le, Cheryl Badel-Stevens, Peg Eusch, Chris Wydman, George Despres, and Hillary Gatlin for sharing their insights.

Visibility is vital. While records professionals may want to nerd out on recordkeeping topics, our users may not be as pro-active. So how to improve participation in records management training (RM)? Make it hard to miss. Incorporate records management training classes with new employee orientations, or pair it with your organization’s annually required training on information security or compliance. Reserve a slot in professional development services programs, or space at annual events or expos. In true lifecycle fashion, don’t forget to consider departing employee check-ins and exit interviews as points at which to engage users concerning record transitions and purging.

Focus your approach. Once you’ve captured some attention it’s time to drop some knowledge. Develop training consultations around specific recordkeeping topics such as developing effective filing systems, understanding retention schedules, shared drive management, or email retention. Create job aids like RM cheat sheets, quick reference guides, PowerPoint modules, or a Libguide (which tracks usage stats). Focus on particular needs that users can implement directly in their daily work.

Virtual potential. Many records managers may work in decentralized organizations, with distributed offices or campuses. Providing a virtual RM training presence boosts program visibility and increases engagement opportunities. Rather than reinventing the wheel, co-opt the service of an internal learning management system, like Blackboard, or a platform like YouTube to create training videos. These can range from voice-over PowerPoint presentations and subject specific Skype sessions, to casual discussions describing what RM is all about and off-the-cuff Google hangouts.

Repetition rules. Effective and consistent engagement comes from strong relationships, and that starts at the employee level. Target specific user groups like financial or human resource administrators, IT facilitators, or committees such as an Administrative Data Users Committee. Get more granular by conducting one-on-one consults where applicable. Develop repetitive outreach through quarterly newsletters or monthly emails. Consistency in RM training opportunities and resources leads to buy-in, which leads to trust, the keystone of any relationship.

Have fun with it! The following are some fun outreach ideas you can employ in your organization to build visibility and develop relationships:

  •          Post weekly RM tips on your organization’s media platform of choice.
  •          Monthly quizzes with prizes. Chocolate is effective!
  •          “RM Nuggets”, or short pointed articles, in other department’s newsletters.
  •          RM Literature distributed to departments annually to cover employee turnover, or included in new employee and departing employee packets.
  •          Web tutorials and quizzes reporting on completion by department to up gamesmanship.
  •          At trainings, encourage attendees to introduce themselves and what they hope  to learn. Attempt to address those concerns directly, or use them to craft a new training!
  •          Share RM in the news. Make it real and tangible.
  •          RM on Demand; Quick, topic-specific, ready-to-be shared modules.

Legislating the Creation, Access, and (not) the Retention of Officer-Worn Body Camera Records

As more and more law enforcement incidents are captured on police officer-worn body and dashboard cameras, states are obliged to consider legislation that governs the creation, retention, and public access of such records. Regulations, where they do exist, often lack uniformity between municipalities, cities, and states, as illustrated by the Brennan Center’s guide detailing police body camera retention policies across the U.S.

Awareness of such regulations, and navigating their inconsistencies, is an important part of how records managers execute their positions. What happens when retention and preservation provisions are absent from legislation governing the creation and access of such police records?

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would legislate law enforcement use of body-worn cameras, and more importantly, public access to such records. Approved by the PA Senate (currently pending a vote in the House) on October 19, Senate Bill 976 – an expansion of Pennsylvania’s current Wiretap Act – would essentially do two things.

First, the bill would increase areas where police officers are permitted to use body cameras, such as within private homes and in public spaces. Under the bill, officers would not be required to directly inform individuals they were potentially being recorded. Second, the bill would place a considerable burden on those attempting to access these records.

SB976 stipulates that within 14 days of the incident a written request be submitted that includes, in “particularity”, the date, time, and location of the incident. Each individual in the footage must be identified by the requester, or at the least, described. If a request is denied – grounds for dismissal include lack of “sufficient particularity” –  an appeal must be filed in a PA Court of Common Pleas within 14 days of the denial, a $250 filing fee will be applied, the written request must be resubmitted, and finally “if the requested audio or video recording was made inside a structure, [identify] the owner and occupant of the structure.”

The amendment seems to contradict itself in that it specifically states that “an audio or video recording by a law enforcement officer shall not be subject to production under the act of February 14, 2008 (p.l.6, no.3), known as the right-to-know law” (Section 6702) while stipulating that that a court may grant release if a “preponderance of evidence” are met, including that “disclosure of the audio or video recording would be permissible under the right-to-know law.”

Pennsylvania civics and policy aside, you may be asking where records management fits into all this? While legislating officer-worn body camera use and record access, the bill does nothing to address appropriate retention periods and preservation methods law enforcement entities could be required to employ uniformly across the state. The bill actually removes language concerning retention periods of certain recorded communications. Primary sponsor Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, has acknowledged that provisions governing how long footage and accompanying data must be retained before it’s erased, as well as when a body-worn camera is turned on or off, are not considered in the bill.

The intent of the SB976 may be noble (“body cameras have a civilizing effect on both the officers and members of the public”), and there is no doubt that balancing public transparency, individual privacy, and the integrity of police investigations presents public policy and records management challenges alike. However, constraints to access and record keeping oversights may only serve to distance the citizenry from law enforcement and public officials, rather than fostering the transparency and trust the bills seeks to instill.

As states continue to consider legislation governing the use and access of police officer-worn body and dashboard camera records, records mangers should be engaged in this dialogue. If creation and access to such record can be legislated to serve the public interest, so too can record keeping policies. Records mangers must continue to be advocates for clear and consistent retention and preservation provisions that benefit the public good, in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Research data management at Harvard University: Creation and use of a LibGuide and new outreach efforts

This post is the third in a series on research data management presented by the Records Management Roundtable. 

Posted on behalf of Sarah Demb, Senior Records Manager/Archivist at Harvard University Archives.

Harvard Library (HL) works collaboratively with the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Harvard University Information Security (HUIT), the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Research Administration Services and other offices to provide assistance with data management, curation, sharing and archiving, as well as to support compliance with HU policies for data retention and security. In Spring of 2015, HL collaborated with Purdue University to host a two-day long internal symposium on managing research data across the University. At Harvard, we were interested in whether Purdue’s experiences could be scaled up to a university of our size and administrative complexity. A variety of speakers presented on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the topic. One of the largest discussions was on the most effective ways to communicate data management principles and best practices to stakeholders, including our many research data creators within the campus community.

As a first step, we agreed to customize the California Digital Library’s (CDL) DMPTool (data management plan tool), to which Harvard subscribes, but at that point had only been used in its generic form. Harvard Library is a point of contact for Harvard-affiliated researchers University-wide seeking data management support and services. A Working Group (WG) under HL’s Stewardship Standing Committee was convened in Fall 2015 to roll-out a customized version of DMPTool by early 2016.  It was comprised of members from central administrative and information technology offices, Harvard Library, and Harvard’s data repository, Dataverse, which is hosted by our Institute for Quantitative Social Science.

The WG analyzed the best ways to customize the tool, and due to some of the constraints inherent in the CDL platform, decided the best way of supporting the tool and to better communicate the benefits of research data management was to link the customized tool to a topical LibGuide.  LibGuides are a popular web publishing platform used by many libraries to communicate with users on specific topics. They lend themselves to incorporating embedded links to resources and are good quick references to what might be complex subjects. At Harvard, they are hosted on the Library’s main web portal and are available to the entire community as well as to the public.  The WG designed a LibGuide on data management, which was approved and released in early 2016.

The LibGuide points to a variety of resources and contains the basic principles behind managing research data. Although it is hosted by HL, it describes the entire context in which data management occurs across the University and points to collaborations and contacts in the relevant offices, including:

The LibGuide acts as a central portal to a variety of different resources on research data management. It also:

  • explains the concept and benefits of data management and data management plans
  • contains guidance on how to use DPMTool
  • points to relevant University-wide policy and guidance on research records and data, including our General Records Schedule
  • offers tips on data file naming conventions and formats for long-term preservation; available data repositories and proper data citation.

To ensure that DMP Tool users have sufficient advice on how to use the new customized tool, a team made up from across the campus libraries, Dataverse, and RMS is currently providing support via a dedicated email address, which will be evaluated for effectiveness after operating for a year. We are looking forward to receiving feedback on the LibGuide, the customized tool, and support group from our research data community.

Sarah Demb

Senior Records Manager/Archivist

Harvard University Archives