SAA Austin Recap #2! Acquisitions & Appraisal & Electronic Records Section Joint Section Meeting!

Author: Scott Kirycki, Digital Archivist, University of Notre Dame

Acquisitions & Appraisal + Electronic Records Section Joint Section Meeting at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 

On August 3, 2019, members of the Acquisitions & Appraisal Section of the Society of American Archivists joined members of the Electronic Records Section for a combined annual meeting. The standing-room-only gathering examined the topic of digital appraisal through presentations and breakout sessions.

Business Meetings

After a welcome, opening comments, and an icebreaker, Marcella Huggard, Manuscripts Coordinator at the University of Kansas and Jess Farrell, Project Manager and Community Coordinator at the Educopia Institute led the section business meetings and reported on election results as well as activities of the sections from this past year. The Acquisitions & Appraisal Section has a newly-named Outreach Subcommittee that is working on ways to increase outreach. The Best Practices Subcommittee is documenting collection development policies, and the results will be available on the section’s microsite along with the popular Zotero bibliography of appraisal resources. The Steering Committee will be seeking an early-career member to join them. The Electronic Records Section is also seeking an early-career member for a community resource project and survey focused on resources for digital preservation. The Electronic Records Section blog (bloggERS!) served up twenty-seven new posts last year, and the section microsite was updated. 

 

Presentations

The first presentation of the meeting came from Christian Kelleher, Head of Special Collections at the University of Houston Libraries and was titled “Advocating for Appraisal.” Kelleher encouraged appraisers to consider not only what are the best messages for advocacy but also how best to engage receivers of advocacy. Kelleher suggested talking creators through the “why” of collection policies and not just the “what.” Kelleher also brought up the implications that appraisal has for the amount of material stored and the consequent environmental impact of storage.

The next presentation was a lightning round on tools for born-digital appraisal​:

  • Dorothy Waugh, Digital Archivist at Emory University, described Emory’s experience with the appraisal module of ePADD, a software package that supports archival processes for email archives. ePADD is designed to be used by donors on their own or by donors and archivists working together. Waugh found that less technically-savvy donors had difficulty using the appraisal module on their own, but it was still helpful for focusing conversations between donors and archivists about sensitive content that might be in the email. The archivists could then label the sensitive content prior to transfer to ePADD’s processing module.
  • Jessica Venlet, Assistant University Archivist for Records Management and Digital Records at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill introduced the tools Brunnhilde and Bulk Extractor. Brunnhilde is a characterization tool for directories and disk images. Venlet said that the summary reports from Brunnhilde help structure discussions with colleagues about large, heterogeneous collections. File format breakdowns facilitate technical and content appraisal and can surface unusual, unexpected, or unwanted files in collections. Bulk Extractor searches collections for strings of text. Venlet confirmed that Bulk Extractor is effective at finding text although the results of searches can be voluminous and hard to parse.
  • The tools that Waugh and Venlet covered are open source; Cat Lea Holbrook, Archivist at the Schlesinger Library spoke about FTK, a paid program that has some functions similar to those in the other tools as well as functions that go beyond. FTK offers format characterization and collects additional details that can be the basis for appraisal work. It also does deduplication of files and can be used to make bookmarks that correspond with finding aid arrangement. 
  • The lightning round was followed by a case study of a student project on appraising electronic state agency records​. Pat Galloway, archival educator at the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin and students Amy Padilla, Natasha Kovalyova, and Haley Latta were part of a team that worked to make sense of Texas Department of Agriculture files for the first Texas State Library and Archives Commission born-digital integration. The team came up with an appraisal approach for community development block grant files that lacked organization and did not map well to a retention schedule based around “documents” instead of digital materials. Recommendations included standardized naming conventions, linking retention periods more closely to grant period requirements, and smaller, more frequent transfers to make appraisal more manageable. 

The final presentation on collective approaches to electronic appraisal took the form of a panel discussion. 

  • Carla Alvarez, from the Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin explained how a whole team (rather than an individual archivist) makes the determination of whether or not a potential project fits the scope of the collection. The team involves donors in the appraisal process and works through the donor guidelines face to face. 
  • Bonnie Gordon and Jen Hoyer from the Interference Archive, a volunteer-run library and archive of materials about social and political activism, described how their organization is set up from the start to be collective. Working groups begin with the principle that everyone’s knowledge is valuable. Rather than one person deciding what to do, all make suggestions. All volunteers and donors have access to the published collecting policy, and reappraisal discussions take place as collections are added to.

Breakout Sessions

The section meeting concluded with an opportunity for attendees to process the wealth of information they had received from the presenters. Breakout sessions formed for further discussion of the topics raised. Links to session notes are here: http://bit.ly/SAAERS19.

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SAA Session Overviews- Post #1! Session 702 (“Documenting Current Events and Controversial Topics”)

Author: Steven Gentry

“The speakers consider innovative collections of born-digital materials from both the fringe and mainstream related to current events that contain controversial or sensitive materials. They address challenges related to collection scope, ethics of collection and access, liability, contexts for the collection, appraisal, access, technology, and staff safety. This session is relevant to any archivist who is considering web archiving or social media collection of current events.”

(https://archives2019.sched.com/event/NjR2/702-documenting-current-events-and-controversial-topics

Recap: Recap Introduction

Session 702 focused on web archiving efforts related to content that simultaneously documents recent events and–by its very nature–could be considered sensitive and/or controversial. In addition to discussing their specific case studies, the three panelists–Jennifer Weintraub (Librarian/Archivist for Digital Initiatives, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University), Jane Kelly (Web Archiving Assistant, #metoo Digital Media Collection, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University), and Samantha Abrams (Web Resources Collection Librarian, Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation)–also spoke of issues and questions that had to be addressed when collecting these challenging web resources.

Part 1: Documenting Current Events and Controversial Topics (Jennifer Weintraub)

Jennifer Weintraub began the session by introducing the panelists and highlighting some of its major themes and points:

  • “Controversial material”: Weintraub defined “controversial material” broadly–”it depends”– and noted that the Schlesinger Library, along with many other institutions, already collect this kind of content. She further emphasized the ubiquity of this kind of content in archivists’ professional lives.
  • “Current events vs. regular collections”: Weintraub further emphasized that archivists who may work with digital collections–especially those that have sensitive/controversial content–must act quickly and intelligently to preserve these resources. Archivists may need to conduct research, deploy novel tools, and implement imperfect, yet efficient, solutions–while also forming collaborative relationships with fellow professionals who are also engaged with this kind of work (e.g. other archivists and  information technology staff).
  • “Ethics”: Due to its nature, ethical concerns frequently arise when working with these archives. At the Schlesinger Library, an ethics statement guides archivists’ endeavors as they collect content related to the #metoo movement
  • “Emotion”: In addition to various ethical considerations, collecting controversial web archives can be an emotionally charged, difficult endeavor. Although these kinds of projects can be difficult to accomplish, Weintraub emphasized that emotions can, ultimately, help us better understand and embrace this kind of work.
  • “Some Caveats”: All of the panelists come from well-funded institutions, for example, and the panel itself only discusses two web archiving efforts. Therefore, the panel cannot claim to be comprehensively describing these kinds of web archiving efforts.

Weintraub then introduced the Me Too movement and the #metoo Digital Media Collection project, “a large scale project to comprehensively document the #metoo movement and the accompanying political, legal, and social battles”. She highlighted the necessity of collecting this exceptionally ephemeral, at-risk content owned by external parties–especially given the focus of the Schlesinger Library and the overall importance of the Me Too Movement–while also crediting Documenting the Now as one of the project’s major influencers. Other topics briefly addressed include a description of the initial steps involved in this project, such as developing a grant and forming relationships with other Harvard University staff and faculty members; the Schlesinger Library’s previous experiences doing web archiving work; and the project’s collecting scope.

Part 2: Jane Kelly: Collecting Material about the #metoo Movement

Jane Kelly continued the conversation about the #metoo Digital Media Collection project by discussing the effort in greater detail. Kelly addressed ethical considerations first and she noted that their research–which produced an ethics statement as well as a significant bibliography–produced in the following ideas and questions:

  • Legality and ethics are two very separate ideas. Therefore, Kelly emphasized approaching ethics from the position of individuals creating content.
  • Contextual approach to privacy,” which includes questions such as, “What do content creators believe about their right to privacy on the web? How does their personal context shape their understanding and expectations of privacy and anonymity?”
  • “Social network theory of privacy”, which emphasizes that users’ “expectations regarding their privacy [is]…based on the number, depth, and breadth of connections that users have on the web”.

Next discussed were the tools and workflows used to capture relevant forms of content–all of which can be learned and implemented by archivists, as Kelly emphatically articulated. These tools included:

  • Web content: Archive-It (the primary tool employed) and Webrecorder (content captured via Webrecorder was uploaded to Archive-It). Nearly 900 seeds have been collected, the bulk of which are single page crawls that have been crawled only once.
  • Twitter content: Social Feed Manager, as well as Twitter’s Historical PowerTrack (to capture older tweets). Ultimately, about 19 million tweets will be archived as part of this project.
  • News articles: Media Cloud. Ideally, Archive-It would be used to de-duplicate the approximately 384,000 resources captured via Media Cloud.

After discussing tools, Kelly addressed the kinds of questions that guided her collecting efforts–especially given the somewhat limited resources that were devoted to the project. Some of these questions included the following:

  • “Whose voices are represented?”: The content of those whose voices were less represented in this movement (e.g. non-white celebrities) could be considered more important to capture.
  • “Is it technically possible (and reasonably easy) to capture?”: Content that proved more difficult–especially if it was deemed less important or already present in other collections–could be disregarded.
  • “Is it valuable to have this content in this collection, even if it’s also captured elsewhere?”: Vitally important content that could be quickly obtained could be captured, even if such efforts were duplicative. This helped researchers understand the captured content, meaning that this non-unique content has value.
  • “How much context do we need to provide and do we have the resources…to do so?”: How much additional, related content should be captured in order for researchers to understand the web content? And is this additional effort worth the cost?

Kelly also briefly discussed an experimental workflow that uses Zotero to create descriptive metadata for web archives. In essence, metadata about various web resources was captured in a Zotero library and exported into a CSV spreadsheet where it could be cleaned up, mapped to Archive-It’s Dublin core metadata elements, and uploaded to Archive-It.

In her conclusion, Kelly addressed the consequences of working with these controversial and/or sensitive materials. In addition to advocating that the archivist take frequent, necessary breaks, she mused on whether working with these resources impacts our professional capabilities (e.g. via desensitizing the archivist who is constantly exposed to this content). Ultimately, Kelly argued that archivists should seek out “empowerment through empathy”–or positive examples– while also asking two key questions as they work on these projects:

  • “Does our work empower individuals and communities?”
  • “How can we advocate for changing practices to ensure that this is possible?”

Part 3: Samantha Abrams: Ivy Plus Libraries Partnership Framework for Collection of Web Archives

For her portion, Samantha Abrams focused on the Ivy Plus Confederation, several of its web archiving projects, and challenges associated with those projects. Abrams began her portion by introducing Confederation–“a partnership between thirteen leading academic research libraries…that collectively provide access to a rich and unique record of human thought and creativity through resource sharing and collaboration” and its Program, “a collaborative collection development effort to build curated, thematic collections of freely available, but at-risk, web content in order to support research at participating libraries and beyond”. She also briefly described the selection process for these various web projects–how, for example, subject specialists and information professionals from the Confederation’s many institutions come together to determine which web archiving projects will be undertaken. She also highlighted that projects brought forward by an individual from one institution must have support from someone affiliated with another institution–which, as noted later, can be a blessing and a curse.

After briefly introducing and discussing the Web Collecting Program’s evolution, Abrams discussed several web archives attempted or completed as part of this program (their descriptions from the Ivy Plus Confederation’s website are listed below):

  • State Elections Web Archive: “Campaign websites of declared candidates running for state elective offices in 2018 in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island”.
  • Brazilian Presidential Transition Web Archive: “Brazilian government websites in the areas of human rights, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and culture, for the period following the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil on October 28, 2018, up to his inauguration of January 1, 2019”.
  • Web content relating to immigrants trying to acquire political asylum in the United States: Ultimately, this collection was not created, as discussed later in the session.
  • Extreme Right Movements in Europe Web Archive: “Documents the rise of extreme right movements in Europe in the twenty-first century. Access is restricted to on-campus use within the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation”.

Key questions that Abrams found herself addressing while working on these projects included the following: 

  • Speed (“How fast is too fast?”): Web content–as exemplified by the State Elections Web Archive–can rapidly change, even as the organizations that comprise the Ivy Plus Confederation more slowly discuss enacting and supporting various projects. This prompted Abrams to consider how to implement imperfect solutions that most effectively and efficiently collect relevant content.
  • Matter (“Who matters most?”): Although documenting recent events is vital, Abrams emphasized the necessity of considering the impact of archival efforts prior to engaging in a project. This question ultimately resulted in the rejection of one project related to undocumented immigrants seeking asylum, as there was concern that other institutions (e.g. the police) could use this web archive to the detriment of those individuals featured in it. Questions also arose concerning protecting staff members associated with the project as well as ethically acquiring content from creators.
  • Context (“What’s important contextually?”): Abrams noted the importance of questioning the home of these particular archives. She asked, for example, should the Ivy Plus Confederation host these web resources–or would they be more useful/understandable if they were kept at another institution, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center? 
  • Access (“How do you provide access?”): Access to these web archives was occasionally a fraught question–for example, should the Ivy Plus Confederation provide unfettered access to the Extreme Right Movements in Europe Web Archive, for example, and what are the consequences of doing so? Here, Abrams argued that archivists should draw upon their experience restricting access to physical collections to guide their decisions with restricting access to web archives.

Abrams concluded her portion of the session by asking critical questions about web archiving efforts and, importantly, if it supports our communities.

Part 4: Questions for Panelists

In this final section, the panelists opened up the floor to questions and comments from audience members. Some of these questions are noted below:

  1. How will the #metoo Digital Media Collection project be made available–and when?Response: Ideally by Fall 2019, although it depends on the kind of material (i.e. the web archives will likely be made available on time, while the availability of the Twitter data depends on when the data requested via Historical PowerTrack becomes accessible). Ultimately, web content will be made available via Archive-It and Twitter data will be made available via Harvard’s Dataverse.
  2. Has any of the panelists explored at commercial content moderation and its impact? Response: Not really. However, Kelly referenced an article recently published in the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies concerning traumaResponse: An audience member also recommended that folks interested in this topic reach out to Wendy Duff, at the University of Toronto, who is currently researching this topic.
  3. What legal advice did Harvard’s counsel provide, especially concerning making Twitter feeds accessible as part of the #metoo Digital Media Collection project?Response: Ultimately, the archivists will hold to Twitter’s terms of service. Response: Additionally, Harvard’s counsel said there should be no issue concerning the collection of copyrighted content, since it will take researchers quite a while to find  this data. This means that there will be no negative financial impact associated this collecting effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Archives Records 2019 RMS Annual Meeting

photo of RMS annual meetingNearly 100 people came together last Saturday in Austin, Texas, for the annual meeting of the Records Management Section.  The Society of American Archivists and the Council of State Archivists shook up the schedule this year, so Saturday was a day full of section meetings.  We were pleased with the interest and engagement of the folks who attended.

As the current chair of the section, I presented a brief business report of the steering committee’s activities for 2018-2019.

  • 20 blog posts on The Schedule, ranging from scheduling email to wrangling Google Team Drives and including a new entry in our ongoing series profiling Resourceful Records Managers
  • Posted seed topics for conversations on our listserv during Records and Information Management month in April
  • Continued adding new resources to our Zotero bibliography
  • Hosted two online Hangouts:

I also reported the recent election results, with nearly 200 section members participating:

  • Jessika Drmacich, Records Manager and Digital Resources Archivist at Williams College, will be stepping into the role of Vice-Chair for the coming year, to be followed by a year as Chair, and then a year as Immediate Past Chair.
  • We also have two new steering committee members, who will serve 3-year terms:
    • David Brown is the Archivist and Head of the Office of Records Management Services at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
    • Krista Oldham is the University Archivist at Clemson University

Along with the ballot, we included some survey questions for the section, and we received some good feedback that will help us shape our priorities for the coming year.  Stay tuned for more information on the substantive data, but here’s a look at the demographic data:

graph of education for RMS
All respondents have a college degree, and nearly 90% also have a master’s degree.
graph of certifications among RMS members
About half the voters answered this question about additional certifications. In the Other category, Digital Archives Specialist was most common.
graph of RMS longevity
Nearly 60% of respondents indicated having 10+ years of experience in the field.
graph of RMS institutions
Academic institutions are by far the largest employer of section members, and about a quarter of us work for some level of government.

The bulk of our meeting was spent learning from various panelists about their transformative work in the realm of records management.

  • Jessika Drmacich spoke about her work with collaborative archiving of student records at Williams College and the vital role of relationship building.
  • Katie Howell, University Archivist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, talked about her efforts to groom records liaisons on her campus and to create visually appealing reminders about the importance of good records management.
  • Sarah Jacobson, who is Manager of Recorphoto of panel for RMS annual meetingds Management Assistance at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, spoke to us both about their transition in how they teach records management, focusing more on facilitated learning rather than lecture courses, as well as about their recent clarification of the career ladder for records managers in government positions, which now allows for internal promotion.
  • Krista Oldham, University Archivist, and Brenda Burk, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Clemson University, talked about how they are institutionalizing records management on their campus through the creation of an Advisory Council that brings together Special Collections & Archives, the Office of General Counsel, and the Office of Internal Auditing.
  • Kelly Spring, Access Archivist at East Carolina University, described their work process for migrating data into ArchivesSpace from Archivists’ Toolkit and other homegrown databases.

If you are interested in seeing the slides that accompanied this meeting, they are available here.

I would like to challenge everyone to come up with at least one way in which you can become involved with the Records Management Section this year.  If you have a topic or a work product that you’d like for us to consider adding to our developing agenda, please contact any steering committee member or send us an email at saarecordsmanagement@gmail.com.  You can always post to our discussion list through SAA Connect, and if you’d like to write a post for our blog, once again, please reach out to the steering committee.

If you need some motivation, consider this story I learned while I was in Austin.  In the years before Texas became part of the United States, Sam Houston (president of Texas) wanted to move the capital from Austin to Houston.  He recognized that the government archives identified the seat of power, so he sent a military detachment to remove the records from Austin.  A vigilante group known as the “Committee of Safety” was prompted into action by an innkeeper named Angelina Eberly, who fired a cannon to alert people to the danger.  The people of Austin recovered the government archives and preserved Austin as the capital.  No one can argue records don’t matter!

photo of Angelina Eberly statue
sculpture of Angelina Eberly (by Patrick Oliphant)

SAA/CoSA/NAGARA 2018 recap: Session 605

Session 605 – Taming the Web: Perspectives on the Transparent Management and Appraisal of Web Archives [RIM]

Session 605 offered different organizational perspectives on the management and appraisal of web archives. The perspectives included a municipality, a university, and state and Federal government.

Local Government Perspective – Austin, TX

First up, Katherine Cranford described the types of records found on their websites – many of them permanent. She explained how stakeholders approach web archiving from different perspectives. They manage web content by connecting their document management system, OpenText eDocs, to their websites via API. This ensures documents are protected and maintained according to records schedules. They use ArchiveSocial according to their social media policy. To ensure only necessary information is in their content management system, Drupal, they use policies. She recommends using a style guide if policies don’t work. She emphasized the ongoing importance of content audit and governance.

University Perspective – Johns Hopkins University

Next, Jordon Steele explained how they use the Archive-It service to capture websites and Facebook. The web archiving labor includes:

  1. Deciding on seeds (working with IT and student center to get a list of all officially registered groups)
  2. Performing test crawls
  3. Troubleshooting issues
  4. Saving crawls
  5. Quality assurance
  6. Metadata creation (embedded in Archives Space)
  7. Preserving archival records
  8. Performing reappraisal on a regular basis
  9. Repeat (annual or semi-annually)

Jordon discussed the ethical considerations of documenting student groups. They managing the tension between their ethical obligation to document campus life and the ethical obligation to ask permission. If they decide not to ask, can they mitigate using redaction or access restrictions? Could they apply standard restrictions to the web archiving platform? They are trying to determine what they should do based on their priorities.

Jordon mentioned the following key resources in developing their program: Collecting Policy for Duke University Archives, Middlebury College Web Archives, University of Virginia Data Documentation & Metadata, and Documenting the Now.

State Perspective – State Library of North Carolina

Next, Krista Sorenson explained how the State Library works with the State Archive to manage state publications, documents, and public records. They began using Archive-It in 2005 and ArchivesSocial in 2012. They perform bi-monthly capture of state agency websites and content, including publications only available on web.

After 13 years, they reevaluated their approach. They are focusing on user experience as they know patrons may find it difficult to find what they need. They performed an audit and are reconsidering their approach to metadata and documentation. They’ve determined they have to periodically review their approach and create clear documentation to make a well-managed, transparent web presence.

State Perspective – State Archive of North Carolina

Jaime Patrick-Burns discussed hot they capture websites, blogs, and social media of official state organizations using Archive-It and ArchiveSocial. For quality control in ArchiveSocial they monitor accounts and for Archive-It, they download crawls, look at data, and check seeds to see how they appearing. Then they add rules and do test crawls of their 700 active seeds. They take top 5% and bottom 5%, review all errors, check how they appear in the Wayback Machine, and record actions taken. With this approach, they are looking at the seeds most likely to cause problems. They are rolling out a new approach to divide seed list and check a section at a time so all seeds get checked annually. Their ongoing issues include the maturation of web archives, scalability, communicating with stakeholders, and limits on the number of accounts in Archivesocial.  

Federal Perspective – National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

Kyle Douglas gave an overview of the NARA guidance on managing web records. While the NARA Guidance on Managing Web Records is from 2005, it is still applicable. NARA is working on new guidance and considering various options, including pursuing Capstone-like approach to manage top-level web records.

NARA asked agencies about how they are managing website records in the 2017 Records Management Self-Assessment (RMSA). In response, 55% of agencies said they are managing their websites as records and 45% said they were automatically capturing web records. 28% said they were transferring to NARA.

NARA is in the process of developing Use Cases for Website Records as part of FERMI. The use cases can be used by agencies to evaluate vendors’ ability to manage web records. Kyle also pointed to Documenting Your Public Service as a resource.

SAA/NAGARA/COSA 2018 Recap: Session 305

Making Policy Work: Creating and Implementing Information Guidance in the Age of Open Government

Christopher Magee from NARA kicked off the session by discussing the importance of policies: they can help you improve consistency across your organization. When creating policies, be sure to include as many users as possible and be transparent about your work and overall purpose. Be sure to consider immediate as well as long-term business needs.

Gail Snow from King County Records and Archives in Seattle, Washington spoke on promoting transparency during the policy creation and implementation process. King County is a large and complex local government where it is extremely difficult to get any policy adopted across the entire county. Some of the challenges include having policies which technically only apply to the executive branch of government as well as providing policy guidance to employees who are not stationed at a traditional desk. One solution that worked for them involved prioritizing the overall records management policy, an on-boarding policy, and an exiting/transferring employee policy, as these were common functions throughout the entire county. They also leveraged services provided by the RM program to get buy-in from other government branches and elected officials. In addition, they used the county’s Public Records Committee to sponsor policies. To increase transparency and accountability, they have pushed all RM policies to the web.

Continue reading “SAA/NAGARA/COSA 2018 Recap: Session 305”

SAA/NAGARA/COSA 2018 Recap: Session 201

Email Archiving Comes of Age

This session was composed of lightning talks about various email archiving projects, including the first NHPRC electronic records case studies focused on email archiving.

Chris Prom from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported on the CLIR Report on Technical Approach on Email Archiving (CLIR 175). The report is available here. The purpose of the report is to document how archivists are currently preserving email as well as to frame email preservation in terms of what technology is available and how it can be used. The report includes topics such as why email matters, technical definitions, lifecycle models, tool workflows, as well as an agenda for email archiving moving forward.

Continue reading “SAA/NAGARA/COSA 2018 Recap: Session 201”

SAA/CoSA/NAGARA 2018 recap: Session 706

Guest post by Scott Kirycki, Digital Archivist, University of Notre Dame Archives

Session 706 – Opportunities in Change: Transition to Functional Records Scheduling in Washington, Wyoming, and North Carolina

Session chair Courtney Bailey (Records Analyst, State Archives of North Carolina) introduced the panel’s topic with the SAA Glossary’s definition of functional analysis: “A technique that sets priorities for appraising and processing materials of an office based on the relative importance of the functions the office performs in an organization.” The presenters then described how they applied functional analysis in creating functional records schedules for their states. They spoke in the order that their states implemented functional records scheduling (Washington, Wyoming, North Carolina), and Bailey mentioned in particular that she learned from what her colleagues had done, thereby illustrating that it is not always necessary to “reinvent the wheel” in records management.

In Washington, Russell Wood (State Records Manager, Washington State Archives) faced 28,000+ record series along with issues such as duplication of schedule numbers that were supposed to be unique. The schedules’ organization was based on which office created a record, and this led to the need for monthly changes to the schedules as office structures evolved. Switching to an approach based on the function of the records enabled Wood to develop a general schedule for records common to all state agencies and eliminate duplication. Making the schedules smaller helped get record creators on board with using them.

Mike Strom (State Archivist, Wyoming State Archives) told of a similar process of simplification by moving from office-specific to more general schedules. So far, the original 8,000 schedules have been reduced to 600. The process has involved some agitation, however, among agencies that were used to having their own sets of schedules. Strom emphasized communication and education as the keys to addressing the agitation. He gave examples of a training video that explains how to use the schedules and crosswalks that show how old and new schedules relate. He also suggested seeking input on proposed changes from the people who use the schedules.

Bailey spoke as well about the need to involve stakeholders in the making of schedules.

Over 200 individuals participated in meetings to evaluate North Carolina’s schedules as they were developed, and Bailey posted the schedules on a blog so those who were not at the meetings could provide feedback. To determine agency functions, she looked at their websites and previous schedules and asked records managers within the agencies to identify functions.

Later, when the schedules were ready, records analysts did training with the units. For additional training, Bailey wrote choose-your-own-adventure-style tutorials.

To show that the schedules are not arbitrary, Bailey included legal citations even though it was challenging to figure them out. She made an appendix listing the titles of series that come to the archives. This appendix helps record producers and managers, and also offers the public transparency about what kinds of records archives consider archival.

The session concluded with a question from the audience about whether members of the public might find general functional schedules harder to use when making records requests than agency-specific schedules. Wood recommended writing either type of schedule in a way that the public can understand. Bailey answered that uniformity in retention has cut down on confusion for the public. Strom indicated that Wyoming is not using the new schedules directly with the public in records requests, but he suggested that the new schedules may help cut down on the time it takes staff to find records to respond to requests.