“We’re all mad here”: Google Team Drives

Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland / 
Public Domain

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.”

Chapter 6, Alice in Wonderland





Let me candid: I was not pleased with this announcement. 

I am not in IT and I certainly cannot fathom providing technological solutions to an institution as large, diverse and decentralized as the University of Michigan. Yet to give unfettered access to a shared storage service with nothing but a small page of “Best Practices” to read from…is this really what we need? Another – albeit virtual – basement to stuff documents into? Annoyed, my eye twitching a little, I closed my computer and went home for the evening.

The next day (and with a cooler head), I considered how we should address this potential new recordkeeping challenge.

ITS is focused upon providing technical solutions for records and information storage—> Archivists are charged with the identification of records and information of enduring historical value —> Records and information management is as much about understanding human behavior and bureaucratic processes as it is about the records and information —> I know how people are going to use Google Team Drives and….

This is when it hit me. I don’t actually know how people are going to use Google Team Drive. I don’t actually even know if IT knows about the University Archives outside of “old things”. 

This realization has inspired an outline of a plan. I need evidence to support or disprove my assumptions.

Plan Part I.

ITS provides a comparison matrix to assist members of the University community to make decisions as to what collaboration and document storage services they need. We can build upon this framework and evaluate these services against additional high-level business needs for managing digital records. Once completed, perhaps ITS will be better positioned to spread word of the services offered by University Archives and Records Management Program. Perhaps they’ll even see the value in evaluating future services by the same criteria.

(see NARA’s Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements for inspiration.)

Plan Part II.

Find out how Google Team Drives is being used across campus. If approved, a large-scale study would at the very least involve cooperation from many parties including: IT, IT divisions within each school and college, administrative leadership, and staff from across a wide variety of business areas.

As this is still only a sketch of a plan, I am very interested in hearing from anyone* who is:

  • Currently experiencing the roll out of Google Team Drives
  • Has survived the roll out of Google Team Drives
  • Is currently reviewing Google Team Drives
  • Have developed a set of workarounds e.g., recommended apps that extend the functionality of Google Apps for Education
  • Has a set of ERM requirements to share or recommend
  • Uses Google Team Drives in your own work

*Although I work in a public higher education system, we all have experienced similar challenges and concerns in our work. I value your thoughts, reactions, and questions! Feel free to message me at ecarron@umich.edu or via Twitter at @heyellee.


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.

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”

URLs Aren’t Archives ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, and Other Stories

I have not spent much time in recent months following the travails of media organizations such as Gawker and the Gothamist other than to casually peruse tweets on my timeline. A retweet caught my eye the other day, and here we are. Today’s post is mainly in response to “Digital Media and the Case of the Missing Archives,” written by Danielle Tcholakian who in turn seems to have been inspired by an article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Tcholakian’s article provoked a strong reaction from me – sharp, keen frustration. I found the assumptions made by the author to be frustrating. The lack of input in the piece by any institutional archivist, records manager or content management administrator was frustrating. The absence of details, such as the ownership of material posted on sites such as Gawker, was frustrating. The expectation of action on the part of institutions such as the Library of Congress was frustrating. Frustration all around.

I do not in any way wish to devalue the anxiety that journalists or their readership must feel when the URLs to their articles are moved or deleted. Those of us in academic and legal environments have been dealing with link and citation rot for ages. Artists, too, are experiencing the fragility of their online portfolios.

Journalists are not alone.

A Question of Vocabulary

So let us start a mutual conversation with me first asking journalists, what do you mean by “archives”? What are your archives? How are you employing the term? To describe the platform on which your articles are published and disseminated? A collection of PDFs saved on a networked server? Printouts of the articles neatly bound in a Trapper Keeper? Are you including the records of the organization in your definition of archives? The records in which the history of hiring practices, revenue sources, internal policy and decision-making is documented?

Archives the word is a challenging concept. Within the context of archives and records management, archives can refer to:

  • verb, “to transfer records from the individual or office of creation to a repository authorized to appraise, preserve, and provide access to those records”.
  • noun, “an archives”.

Information technologists, data librarians, and information governance professionals may broaden those definitions to include data backups, but generally, archivists tend to shy away from “Big Data” and instead focus on that small bit of material that is deemed archival.

Institutional archives do not have indefinite financial resources. Archivists and librarians are often overworked, underpaid, underresourced, and frankly, undercited. The provision of access and long-term sustained preservation go hand-in-hand. Services such as Archive-It require institutions to make a financial commitment towards server space and the employment of technical archivists to manage institutional collections.

Importantly, modern archivists do not make it a practice of taking things, or blindly capturing online records, without first attempting to identify and secure the right to do so. Violating this principle is wrong, legally and ethically.

I think it would also behoove us to discuss “vital records” for a moment. The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations defines vital records as the essential agency records that are needed to meet operational responsibilities under national security emergencies or other emergency conditions (emergency operating records) or to protect the legal and financial rights of the Government and those affected by Government activities (legal and financial rights records). While important, newspapers are not vital records. Janice Okubo of the Hawaii Health Department was most likely talking about records such as birth certificates and taken far out of context.

Media Archives

Since newspapers and media publication serve a variety of business functions, extant newspapers do not exist purely by chance. In the past, publishers recognized the business value of their print and retained copies for their own identified business needs. Perhaps they wanted to have a reference resource, as shown in the Oscar-winning film Spotlight. Maybe their intention was more mercantile.

Circulation and subscription models expanded to include the sale, or rental, of microfilmed versions of these publications. Publishers retained the original long-lasting microfilm masters to make even more copies from, or add to their business archives, rendering the retention and management of paper versions moot. Computers made it possible to digitize that microfilm, secure it in a database, distribute publications even more widely.

Unlike print newspapers, digital-only news has no physical form. A subscription to digital content usually provides an institution or reader with rented, limited access to files that are managed by the newspaper producer via a digital asset management system, and the legal terms associated with access. There is a critical difference between this short-term access model and long-term ownership. Under this model, archives and libraries usually do not take custody of the digital objects that comprise the “news”— including images, websites, social media, text, apps,  and other content forms.

This is not to say that there are no media archives. Many media outlets maintain internal corporate archives or employ records managers to manage the CMS. There is a degree of archiving required of these folx in their work, but much of their work is curation – making sure that assets are discoverable and maintained.

Examples of media archives who have made this transition include:

WNYC is a smashing exemplar of how institutional archives can partner with the community it serves. While Gawker is under siege by political and economic forces outside the scope of this post, the Gothamist will continue to exist. WNYC received funding from anonymous sources to purchase the intellectual property rights along with the published material. It is crucial to note that the WNYC archives did not take, or “capture,” the Gothamist website. WNYC worked with the Gothamist to obtain the legal right to retain and disseminate the archives for the future.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation is also doing impressive work. They have recently set out to capture Gawker.com with the understanding that the articles disseminated for public consumption are not intellectual assets of Gawker. In other words, Gawker.com is no more protected property than copies of old newspapers found in your grandparents’ attic.

What can journalists do?

Brush up on your information literacy, for one. If your work is changing the world, then you need to carve out some time. Look into services such as Perma.cc and the Wayback Machine. Practice good hygiene in the management of your records. Ask questions at work: does the organization have an archivist or records manager? Who maintains the content management system? What would happen to your work in the event of bankruptcy or a change in ownership? Is our website even technically archivable? Look for opportunities like Personal Digital Archiving for Journalists to expand your knowledge about managing your media for the long haul. Most importantly, please always feel free to reach out to archivists and librarians! Society of American Archivists is one resource. ARMA is another. Explore Open Scholarship with a renewed commitment to maintaining your body of work.

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!

I Want to Legal Hold Your Hand

This guest post is by Holly Dolan, MLS, Assistant Manager of Denton County Records Management in Denton, Texas. If you would link to download copies of these valentines for your own re-use, Holly has graciously made this PDF available.

At some point in their career every records manager has felt the air go sour when they’ve walked into a room. What is it about records management that sets people on edge? Perhaps it’s the dense policy documents, the fear of making a mistake, or that dreaded word—compliance—that creates resistance and fear in our customers. Whatever the cause, overcoming this distrust can feel like an impossible task, but failing to address the issue can create communication barriers that make effective records management nearly impossible. So how do records managers build relationships of trust in the organizations that we serve while still gaining compliance?

RMValentines

To build relationships I try to focus on creative outreach, and one easy way I accomplish this is through fun holiday messages. Light-hearted messages make compliance information easier to digest and boosts the knowledge in my organization without relying on formal training. A great example of this type of outreach is our Valentine’s Day cards. When I first designed these cards, the main goal was to make my co-workers in our Records Management division laugh. I quickly realized, with each card having a records management term on them, this was a great outreach opportunity. We sent a copy of the cards to all of our records management liaisons countywide along with a link to our glossary. We received great feedback and even some positive comments from departments whom we rarely have the opportunity to interact with. It was great to see that inserting a little bit of humor into the topic made records management a bit more palatable to them.

Since then, we’ve tried to continue sending creative and upbeat outreach materials. Messages, newsletters, and even policy updates that include fun graphics and colors tend to be well received. For example, new records management liaisons each receive a colorful infographic outlining their duties. Last year’s Halloween message let our customers know that, even though cleaning out your file cabinet can be scary, Records Management can help! I truly believe that since we’ve focused on this type of outreach, our division and its mission has become better received throughout the county.

So why does creative outreach make such a difference? I believe that the nature of our work and the preconceived notions about records management sets us at an immediate disadvantage when attempting to communicate. We need to remain visible to our organizations, but when we just focus on the policy, we tend to exacerbate these communication issues and risk turning people off. Using humor in outreach establishes a mutual humanity with our customers, and when they see that we’re human (rather than the records management robots they were expecting), they may decide that records management isn’t that horrible after all.

Upcoming Hangout: Institutional Placement Survey — Records Management and Archival Services

Mark your calendars for the next Records Management Section Google Hangout!

On Monday, December 4 at noon Eastern, the Records Management Section will be hosting a hangout with Jackie Esposito from Penn State University. She will be talking about the report on her Institutional Placement Survey — Records Management and Archival Services.

Institutional archives and records management programs provide such a wide variety of services that institutions often “struggle to fit” them within administrative offices.

From July to December 2016, Jackie conducted a study on where records management and archival services are located within universities. She developed an online survey and visited all fifteen Big Ten Academic Alliance universities for on-site interviews with a variety of stakeholders. They discussed the needs, issues, successes, and failures for different models of placement.

Review the report and be sure to tune in live to ask questions or watch later at your convenience. You can view the Hangout here.

We will be accepting questions for our speaker from you. If you have a question or topic for discussion please leave it as a comment here or use the #saarms hashtag on Twitter.  We will also monitor the comments on the YouTube live streaming page.