How (not) to schedule electronic messages: Part II

Act 2: In Which Your Records Manager Gets Ahead of Himself, Thereby Tripping on His Own Feet

When last we checked in with the case of the unscheduled communications, your intrepid hero* had received a brief to write a memo to the City Information Management Committee explaining the “hidden costs” of email retention, and had scheduled a meeting with his boss (the City Clerk), the City CIO, and the assistant City Attorney who deals with records issues to hammer out a scheduling solution for text messages. The memo itself was easy, because the content is pretty much textbook records management best practice. You can read it here, or you can see my clever Prezi utilizing a “tip of the iceberg” visual metaphor here.  (Regrettably I did not get to use this at the actual presentation because I didn’t finish it with enough time to clear it with my boss. But the information is still good!) I framed the issue in terms of time=money, specifically that employee time searching = that employee’s hourly wage x the amount of time searching for the total cost of retrieving records. Two complications did come up but were easily answered:

  • We can charge back ‘reasonable’ search fees over $50 for public records requests: true, but is doing so good customer service? The City Clerk’s office is trying to push the idea of cutting through red tape to allow the public to work more easily with government, so this argument resonated, I think. Plus, of course, Wisconsin State Law prevents us from passing on redaction/review costs to the requestor, so any time spent on that because of inadequate information screening was a cost the city had to eat anyway.
  • Email (and probably eventually texts) is physically managed by a SaaS provider. This kind of threw my “costs of running the server, costs of paying someone to run the server, costs of maintaining good digital preservation practices” arguments out the window, since Microsoft includes unlimited(!) email archives storage space with the package that the city purchased. I decided to leave the question of the environmental cost of storage to another day, but I was able to point out that “unlimited” really meant “unlimited until you reach an arbitrary cap, or the vendor decides to change the terms of service” (I think we’ve all had a bait-and-switch ‘unlimited’ mobile data plan…). Beyond that, if the City ever moved on to a new system, the cost of migration would suddenly bring the size of the email archives to be brought over into sharp relief.

So much for the written component. Now I had to prep for the meeting and make my case for appropriate retention schedules. I did an informal environmental scan and quickly determined that some sort of two-tier retention scheme was going to be the only way to manage the vast quantity of texts and emails that would need to be addressed. Using examples from the State of Wisconsin, the newly-approved Wisconsin municipal records schedule, and NARA’s Capstone model, I put together the below chart comparing solutions, and paired that with a couple of sample schedules to bring to the meeting. Text ChartFair enough… but once we got to the meeting, I ran into continued resistance to implementing any of my suggested solutions. IT didn’t want to get into the business of classifying texts and emails; legal was concerned about the transition from the active system to a separate archive down in City Records; my team doesn’t really have the time or skillset to review texts to the extent needed; none of us were confident that we could leave records declaration or classification to users. We decided that as a first step, we would try to submit a schedule giving all text messages a retention of 6 months, on the theory that that time period would give us time to put holds on relevant texts, but would not require us to hold onto the irrelevant ones for too long.

I was all set to put something together, but there was one hitch: I was asked not to include my standard disclaimer for series like this, “if a record is associated with a series governed by another schedule, retain it according to that schedule.” The consensus was that the disclaimer would be confusing to end users and would not be followed in any case, and that I should submit a straight 6 months schedule and hope for the best.

ian-malcolm-quote
I am, sadly, not as cool as Jeff Goldblum, but it’s still an appropriate GIF.

….Reader, I tried. I really did. I solicited advice from other records colleagues in Wisconsin; I asked around the Records Management Think Tank for their experience with scheduling texts under a restriction like this; I sent out requests to the RMS list and to Twitter for more policies. I couldn’t find anything that supported a *blanket* 6-month retention for all texts. As I wrestled with the language for a single schedule, I thought back to the Matthew Yglesias article about exempting email from discovery that I so thoroughly mocked on this blog lo these many years ago. If every text is retained six months, with no consideration for content, what stops people from using texts for everything, with a high likelihood that evidence of questionable texts is erased from the City logs after a certain period of time? At the same time, how can anyone possible go through all of the texts being sent by city employees to determine value? I decided at this point to play the same percentage game that NARA is playing with Capstone for emails—the significant/historically important texts, such as they are, are more likely to originate from accounts higher up in the hierarchy, so it makes sense to retain those archivally (possibly deaccessioning later through use of machine learning or similar); the rest could stay at 6 months. As such, when it came time to submit schedules, I turned in not one text schedule, but two—one for Elected Officials and Critical Staff, and one for everyone else.

 

Here’s your takeaway for today’s installment: do not blindside your stakeholders on schedule creation. In retrospect, I absolutely should have held on to those schedules until such time as I had a chance to consult with the relevant parties and explain to them why I thought one schedule was so problematic. I suppose I was anxious to get something through the approval process, which can take up to 6 months between City and State approval, which is why I didn’t wait, but the effect of my impatience was to anger EVERYONE involved. The CIO was annoyed because of the technical capacities that I assumed in my schedules (IT had since decided not to pursue a contract with the vendor of the solution described). The assistant city attorney was annoyed because he thought I overstated the ramifications of having only one schedule for all text messages. Everyone was annoyed because I made this change unilaterally and submitted it for approval without so much as a by-your-leave.

I own it—this was absolutely an unforced error. I 100% should not have rushed to get something/anything approved without checking in with the stakeholders about major changes. I stand by my reasoning for putting in a two-tiered schedule for text messages, and I did not withdraw the schedules at that time, but I almost certainly poisoned the well for getting the schedules actually approved by CIMC. Principles and best practices are all well and good, but they don’t do anyone any good if they alienate the people you need to sign on in support. Plus, of course, as it stands the retention of text messages is sort of the Wild West, so I’m not doing myself any favors delaying it for that reason either.

Next time (tomorrow?): Brad tries to make up for lost ground, plus the followup meeting/discussion and where we go from here.

*Possibly the first time anyone has referred to a records manager as “intrepid”. Definitely the last time.

Advertisements

How (not) to schedule electronic messages: a case study/cautionary tale

Welcome to RIM Month! I have been promising/threatening my fellow Steering Committee members to write this post for a while now. My ability to write it, however, has been significantly impacted by the extent to which I have been absolutely BIFFING the process. Stakeholders have been angered; records management best practices/commandments have been violated; capstone models have been altered; hair has been pulled out in frustration; records managers have been called on the carpet*. The worst part is that it’s not even done! I’m at, at best, a holding pattern to a point where I can maybe, MAYBE submit a schedule to be approved by the state board next quarter. The frustration continues.

The tl;dr of the below: Scheduling electronic messages is COMPLICATED, particularly in the public sector. You are walking a fine line between the dictates of the historical record, the operational needs of the organization, the technical capacity of your IT department, and the political/legal considerations of the public officials affected. These four factors are, more often than not, diametrically opposed (yes, there’s four of them and they’re ALL diametrically opposed; that’s how complicated it is). I, frankly, did not walk the line very well. If we represent the hazards as shark tanks on all sides, I am currently on dry land, but bloody and scratched and missing some chunks. So: Learn from my mistakes! Don’t go charging in without considering the ramifications! This is a case where “better to ask forgiveness than permission” definitely does not apply.

This is, as per usual, going to be a long one; I’m probably breaking it up into at least 3 installments. For the purposes of this blog post (and what I was actually focusing on), I am going to refer specifically to scheduling text messages below, but the lessons learned can apply to emails, social media, and other forms of electronic communication as well (and, to a certain extent, to all formats of record). Read on after the jump.

*”Passive Voice is the refuge of scoundrels”—Unknown Continue reading “How (not) to schedule electronic messages: a case study/cautionary tale”

A Record Center is Not an Archives: Some thoughts from an interview

So, some context: one of my employees (I won’t name her here unless she sees this and asks me to) is currently pursuing her MLIS from SJSU. A recent assignment for one of her classes was to interview a practicing Archivist and/or Records Manager about the “qualified practices” of the profession and write up a paper/presentation/something else summarizing and analyzing it. Did she happen to know anyone like that in her immediate circle? As it happens, she did!

I think a lot of professionals on the archives/RM border have done these interviews, because we are still (somehow) an anomaly to MLS/MIS graduate students. Which, fair enough! I didn’t really even realize records management was a thing until I was already in the program. So some of the questions she asked me were pretty bog-standard… but then some of them were very insightful, particularly asking me to talk about the intersections and differences between the Archives and Records Management professions. Because of the vagaries of our schedules, she asked me to write the answers to the questions rather than conducting an interview per se… So, having written those, I said to myself, “I bet I could repurpose these somehow.” And so, following her permission now that she’s submitted these for credit, I have! Below the jump, a selection of her questions and my answers (lightly edited for the purposes of this blog). In addition to the discussion of intersections, there’s some hints at what I am trying to do to improve the archival component of the City’s records program (to be elaborated on further in a later blog post).

Am I blowing smoke about how the professions fit together? Do you disagree with my assessment of how the profession is changing? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

Continue reading “A Record Center is Not an Archives: Some thoughts from an interview”

A Records Center is not an Archives: Transfer Forms!

[Note: This was a forum post to the Records Management Section list on SAA’s site that got a little out of hand. Rather than clog everyone’s mailbox, I decided to post it here. The fact that I can add Futurama GIFs to posts here, and not on SAA Connect, had absolutely nothing to do with this decision (he said, unconvincingly.)

For your reference, the original question:]

I’m interested in ANY AND ALL advice you’ll give me on forms and procedure for transferring records to a Record Center.

Our Records Center is revising the information that we ask for from our departments when they transfer records to us for storage, scanning, and/or destruction. I’m interested in seeing your version of a Records Center transfer form.

Do you ask for information at the box level, file level, or both? Do you require a full inventory of each box transferred? Why or why not?

With complex records policies, I’m concerned about overwhelming our customers with another complex form. What methods have you used to educate your users on how to transfer records to your facility? 

Thanks for your help!

Holly

Continue reading “A Records Center is not an Archives: Transfer Forms!”

Next RMS hangout: Records Managers Outside of Archives speak up!

After a few months’ hiatus, the Records Management Section Hangout Series is back!

On Thursday, March 29 at 12:00 CDT, join members of the RMS steering committee in a discussion on ““What RMs Want: Records Managers On What They Wish Archivists Knew About Them (And Vice-Versa)”. Experienced records managers Dennis Larsen (retired, formerly Records Manager for the University of Wisconsin-Colleges and Extension) and Connie Schumacher (Content and Records Manager, Argonne National Laboratories)  will answer questions about their experiences in records management environments in which archivists are removed from the immediate administrative hierarchy, but still interact with the records management staff to fulfill organizational and research mandates. Records Managers in such environments often have very different concerns and priorities than records managers also working as or under an archivist. During the hangout, we will examine those priorities and determine how archivists can work to help meet them, as well as how these different perspectives can benefit an organization’s archival program. (As a municipal records manager under the Milwaukee City Clerk but with working relationships with at least two different City archival or quasi-archival repositories, I will weigh in on this as well!)

To tune in live to the hangout, please visit the YouTube watch page; following the discussion, the recording will be available at that same URL. RMS staff will be monitoring the page feed and social media for questions for our speakers; please use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter to ensure maximum visibility for your question, or leave it as a comment ahead of time at the RMS Blog. Look forward to seeing you there!

And now: Archives/Records Carols!

Sometimes I get earworms. Sometimes those earworms involve the creation of filk snippets. Sometimes those snippets are so, ahem, compelling that I feel the need as a musician to finish them. The result of all of those sometimes around the winter holidays is the below, originally shared on Twitter and now brought here for your viewing/singing pleasure. I would apologize, but I’m not really sorry at all. THE FILK MUST FLOW.

In any case, whatever winter holiday you celebrate– or none at all– have a happy one! (And don’t forget to follow the retention period on your gift receipts!)

Continue reading “And now: Archives/Records Carols!”

The 10 Records Scheduling Commandments

And it came to pass that Brad was preparing materials for records management training sessions, as one does;

And the frustration with the records management practices put in place by his predecessor did boil over.

Then did Brad throw together a quick-and-dirty records management graphic, and he shared it on Twitter for a lark.

Lo! That graphic became Brad’s most RT’ed Records Management-related post ever, for Brad hath toucheth a nerve.

…Enough of that. Anyway, I put this together to deal with the new type of decentralization in place at the City of Milwaukee, to wit the records

10CommandmentScheduling

coordinator network. On the one hand, having dedicated records people in departments is nice and cuts down on your workflow… but the records management experience of these folks is, shall we say, varied, as is their control of the schedules their department may already have in place. As a result, my big records retention project for the first year or so here is eliminating the duplicate, obsolete, and superseded schedules in our database, of which there are 4500, give or take a few dozen. So, that’s a thing.

In any case, due to the unforeseen popularity of the 10 RM commandments, Eira asked me to go through them in a bit more detail. After all, these are Milwaukee-specific, but they speak to some very basic records management principles and best practices. So with that, away we go:

I. THOU SHALT have a records schedule for every type of record created or used by your office.

This is the basic point of retention scheduling—you’re only going to get a complete picture of your records ecosystem if you have all of your records scheduled, because that’s going to tell you how the various series work together. My frustration here has been departments saying “well, we keep these forever so we don’t need a schedule, right?” Wrong. A schedule is still useful for permanent records because it provides business continuity—the rest of your office sees what records are in the series, what they’re used for, and that they even ARE permanent in the first place.

II. THOU SHALT NOT create schedules for non-official copies of records, unless those copies have special destruction requirements.

Seems pretty obvious to us as information professionals, but I cannot count the number of schedules in the database that are pretty obviously for copies of the official record, held by the official office. Given the ease in which copies, especially electronic copies, proliferate, the idea of the “non-record”, and the fact that you can destroy non-records when no longer useful in most cases, is critical. (There is a line of thought that the record/non-record distinction is obsolete; I don’t see it. You’re still looking for the record used to document the actual business transaction, and the fact that other copies can still be discovered is all the better reason to get rid of the non-record copies sooner.)

III. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules before confirming that a schedule for that series (office-specific or global) does not exist.

Violation of this Commandment is why several records series in my database have 3 different record schedule numbers assigned to them. In most cases, these are created because the previous records schedule couldn’t be found in time for the submission to the WI public records board. This is testament to the need for a) the records manager to organize his/her/their schedules in a way that they will find them again later, and b) the records creator to maintain awareness of the department’s schedules and whether there’s an existing schedule for the documents he/she/they “discovered” in a closet.

Even better, use general schedules. These are easy to make available online, and you don’t have to worry about renewing a million specific schedules (see Commandment 9).

IV. REMEMBER that the existence of a records schedule does not imply a mandate for creation of that record series.

Currently, use of general schedules at the City is opt-in. I’ve already had one discussion where I was told a department didn’t want to opt in to a general schedule because “we don’t create all of the records on that schedule.” The response to this, of course, is, “That’s cool, you’re not obligated to. Records schedules specifically provide guidelines for existing records; they don’t make you create records for the sake of complying with the retention schedule.” This is not as much of a problem with specific schedules, for obvious reasons.

V. HONOR thy retention period; do not destroy records before they have expired.

Again, the whole point of retention periods, to wit giving you a time after which you can defensibly destroy/delete records. If your records creators are destroying records before that, they are doing anything from opening up their institution to spoliation sanctions, to actually breaking state or federal law, in the case of things like Sarbanes-Oxley records and records subject to public records acts.

What I *don’t* usually say in training is that most retention periods are minimums, and that the law doesn’t impose penalties for overretention except as part of the operational consequences of that decision (e.g. data is leaked that would not have been leaked had it been destroyed on time). I’m not going to *lie* if asked point-blank about it, but keeping quiet helps wear down the resolve of many a hoarder.

VI. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules for the same records in different formats.

holman_destruction_of_korah_dathan_and_abiram
The fate which awaits people who create a schedule for “E-mail”. Well, maybe not. But why chance it?

There are SO MANY of these in the City schedule database. SO MANY. People who do this are worse than Korach. THESE SCHEDULES ARE WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.

Well, not really, but they ARE why records creators get confused about retention with multi-format series. “Now, do I keep the paper permanently and scrap the electronic, or do I convert all of it to Microfilm and THEN destroy it, or…” Keep It Simple, Smarty. Record value, being based on content rather than format, should remain constant regardless of format, so why bother with 3 schedules when one will do the job? (Having said that, it may be worth indicating that records from one format may be disposed of once converted to another, e.g. via imaging.)

VII. THOU SHALT group functionally-related records with identical retention periods into as few schedules as possible.

My predecessor *really* liked building records schedules. Unfortunately, this often meant that individual forms or document types would get their own schedules, creating 3-4 schedules where one would have done the job. In general, I have been encouraging departments with a lot of these mini-series, where the various records support the same function and require the same retention period, to supersede the smaller schedules with a broader one that encompasses the whole series vs. individual documents. I was able to eliminate 37 License Division schedules this way—the old way of doing things had individual schedules *for each type of license*, all with the same retention period. Unreal.

VIII. THOU SHALT NOT create records schedules for specific projects or time periods, unless the records are unique and/or scheduled for archival retention.

This is something that would happen from time to time at UWM as well, where departments would submit requests for records schedules for particular projects they were working on. This is, needless to say, not an efficient way to do records scheduling. If you just do one schedule for ALL project files, you cover retention needs for all similar records and don’t have to keep filling out the form every 9 months. The City introduced a new variant that I hadn’t seen before, where one series existed for records before a given date (1846-1900, say), and then a second for records after that date… but again, with the same description and retention period. This is making scheduling harder than it needs to be. Conservation of schedules never hurt anyone.

The one exception to this commandment is that if a series is no longer created, and either of historical value or needing a new records series in order to destroy it, I will reluctantly consent to a project-specific or date-limited series. My overall preference, however, is to go general when possible—and unless you like filling out the same schedule 50 times, it should be yours too.

IX. THOU SHALT review thy records schedules yearly and renew expiring schedules before they lapse (10 years after effective date).

In Wisconsin this is easy, because the Public Records law requires schedules to be renewed every 10 years in order to remain in effect. Fine… but the City of Milwaukee didn’t follow the procedures of the state records law for a long time with regards to schedule adoption, with the result that there are many, many schedules in my database that don’t have any expiration date at all. Even if the 10-year sunset period didn’t exist, however, it still would be a good idea to go through schedules periodically and make sure that they all reflect current workflows and legal and administrative needs, so I am not sure why that wasn’t done (Well, aside from the fact there were 5000 of them). So now I am doing the renewal and related research on updating schedules largely all at once for Department records, which does help me get a sense of what the different departments do or did. I would definitely rather do this a bit at a time rather than all at once, though.

X. THOU SHALT make the City Records Officer aware of any state, federal, or industry-specific legislation or regulations affecting retention or confidentiality of your series.

This Commandment is why Records Coordinators are so useful in the first place—they have knowledge of the specific industry or functional context of their own records in a way that a centralized records manager never will. As such, when writing retention periods, knowledge of any laws/regulations/etc. that govern the creators’ need to keep records around for a specific period of time is invaluable. Records Managers can, of course, look for inspiration in other institutions’ schedules for similar records, as well as in statutes and regulations they’re already familiar with for setting retention and privacy levels… but why go to the trouble if the records coordinator can just tell you “our professional organization suggests keeping these for 6 years”?

Thus did Brad share the rationale for his Records Management 10 commandments; Yea, he did so at his usual great length, approaching 2000 words.

Brad spaketh, “Please feel free to use/tweak these in your own institutions—they have served me well.”

Whereupon, he wandered off to call down the wrath of the Records Management LORD on those kids on his lawn.