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!”

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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As a result, my big records retention project for the first year or so here is eliminating the duplicate, obsolete, and superseded schedules in our database, of which there are 4500, give or take a few dozen.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.

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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.

A Record Center Is Not An Archives: Dispatches from a ARM sector change

Welcome back from SAA! Or, if like me, you were #saaleftbehind, welcome back from the weekend, I guess. I’ve been pretty quiet on The Schedule for a while; part of that has been my natural tendency to fall behind on blog posts, but the other part has been this:
BusinessCard

That’s right! In case you missed it on social media or in the MAC Newsletter, I have left my position of 10 years as University Records Archivist at UWM and moved across town to become the Records Officer and Document Services Manager for the City of Milwaukee. In some ways it’s kind of an odd position, born out of the Document Services Section’s previous life as Milwaukee Printing and Records. I manage the City’s Records Management program, yes, but also the City Records Center, the City’s imaging service for long-term inactive records (previously the microfilming service), and, for some reason, the City Mailroom (which has of course had the most major issues crop up, since it’s the part of this job I know the least about). Despite this sort of odd present, the position has an exciting future—City Records is going to be merging with the Legislative Reference Bureau library and the Historic Preservation Office to create a City Research Center, the nature of which is still being determined. Coming in now thus gives me a great opportunity to help shape not just my position, but the way that active, inactive, and archival information is managed across the whole city going forward.

But anyway! Local government! I’ve spent most of my career doing Archives and Records Management in an academic setting, and have a pretty good chunk of experience from undergrad and grad school working in a Federal government records setting, but municipal government is a new beast for me (and for this blog, I think!). Don’t get me wrong—I am enjoying the challenge of working in a new context, but it IS a challenge. Moving to a new institution and setting has given me a lot to chew over and learn about. For the sake of not writing a 5000-word post, three examples:

Continue reading “A Record Center Is Not An Archives: Dispatches from a ARM sector change”

Towards a Social Justice in ARM bibliography

First, let’s get this out of the way: I bet Matt Yglesias feels pretty stupid right now. Hahahaha ohhhh I’m going to be depressed. (Yes, I have a political bias. I’ll try to tamp it down for this post.)

Anyway! With White House pages on key issues disappearing (though not permanently! Thanks, NARA), information lockdowns being passed down to entire agencies (at least temporarily), and the possibility of science from the EPA being subject to political review before release, one’s mind tends to drift to questions of an archivist/records manager’s ethical responsibility in an institutional setting. (Didn’t you already write this post, Brad? Yes, I did, on multiple occasions, but this one’s different, I promise.) Yes, you have a responsibility towards your institution/government/whatever, but what is your responsibility towards society? Are archivists, particularly in records management roles, obliged to serve as whistleblowers? Do we save records of historical import on our own volition, despite orders (or, at best, strongly-worded suggestions) from the Powers That Be to show them the business end of a shredder? What do we make of reports that a top advisor to the president is actively avoiding creating a paper trail?

Well. I Have Opinions about all of these things. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for you), an official group blog for a component group of a professional organization is not the place for them. But those sublimated opinions have to go somewhere… in this case, I thought, “why not take a look at what the professional literature has to say about these issues?” I put out a Twitter call for recommendations, did some poking around on some of my library’s databases, and the result is a brand new category on the RM bibliography, which I am tentatively calling Institutional Records and Human Rights. More on this after the jump. Continue reading “Towards a Social Justice in ARM bibliography”

NARA survey on Records Schedule Website

[Posted by request of Anne Mason, Office of the Chief Records Officer, NARA. Easy access to, and interpretation of, records schedules is extremely important for compliance with same, so even if you don’t work with NARA proper it’s possibly worth your while to look at the RCS website and provide feedback re: what’s going well and what could be improved.

Real post from me coming, sometime after my presentation on Personal Digital Archives at Wisconsin Libraries Association tomorrow. Cross my heart.–BH]

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asks for your assistance by completing a short survey. NARA provides access to Federal agency records control schedules, also referred to as records disposition schedules, on our website (http://archives.gov/records-mgmt/rcs/). These schedules assist Federal agencies by providing authorities for disposal and permanent retention of government records. We would like to hear your thoughts and opinions about the usefulness of this site. This will allow NARA to make informed decisions about improvements to the site so we can better serve you in the future. This survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete. Be assured that all answers you provide will be kept confidential. Thank you for taking part in this important survey. Please click on the link below to begin.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HD5YTFJ

 

Transparency and its Discontents

The denizens of Twitter like to dump on Matt Yglesias, blogger and executive editor at Vox.com, but said dumping is not always warranted. Tendencies to oversimplify and be contrarian for the sake of it aside, he does write not a few pieces that do provide some good insight into the political environment. His latest piece, “Against Transparency”, ain’t one of those, however:

Treating email as public by default rather than private like phone calls does not serve the public interest. Rather than public servants communicating with the best tool available for communication purposes, they’re communicating with an arbitrary legal distinction in mind.

[…]

Government secrecy can be, and in some ways is, out of control. But a private conversation to facilitate a frank exchange of ideas is not the same as a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia. We need to let public officials talk to each other — and to their professional contacts outside the government — in ways that are both honest and technologically modern.

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God bless the internet.

As Eira Tansey, who graciously looked this post over for me (Thanks Eira!), points out, this is just the latest in a subtle, but real, trend among contrarian-type thinkpiece authors, in which  the era of open government is lamented as impeding government from functioning properly. (See this recent article in The Atlantic for another example of this genre; mourning the demise of party machines is a nice touch.) This one, however, hits a bit more home, for obvious reasons. For more explication of why this article raises my records management hackles, follow me past the jump.

Continue reading “Transparency and its Discontents”

Session 204: Why You’re Already A Records Manager…

[Editor’s Note: Geof Huth and I will be recapping this talk as a Google Hangout for the RMRT
sometime in the near future! In the meantime, please enjoy this extremely thorough recap by Melissa Torres. Thanks Melissa!–Brad]

[Editor’s Note 2: I wanted the title of this session to be “You May Already Be A Records Manager”, complete with oversized check and Geof as Ed McMahon. That got vetoed for some reason…–Brad]

Why You’re Already a Records Manager and Should be Happy About That

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One of Brad’s favorite GIFs of all time, featured prominently in the presentation

Speakers: Geof Huth and Brad Houston

2pm, August 4, Salon E, Session 204

This session focused on government, academic, and corporate sector records management. Continue reading “Session 204: Why You’re Already A Records Manager…”