Resourceful Records Managers!

And, now for our much awaited series: Resourceful Records Managers! This month we meet George Despres, the Program Director for University Records Management at Brandeis University. If you would like to be included in this feature please contact Jessika Drmacich,  jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu.George Despres

What led you to choose your current career in Records Management?

After re-establishing an archives program at a prior company, I was promoted to head up the archives and records management team. The engagement and breadth of the records management program increasingly drew my interest.   

What is your educational background?

A BA and some graduate school studies in History and a Masters Degree in Library and Information Science, with an Archival Management concentration. I also received my records management certification (CRM).

Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field?

I’ve been lucky to have several mentors. An undergrad professor encouraged me to work as a library intern, and that started my “info pro” career. Another mentor taught me how to work with stakeholders from across an organization – a critical skill for records management success. There are also many brilliant RM thought leaders who help keep me keep current with their social media and professional conference contributions.

How did you first become interested in Records Management?

As I first assumed RM responsibilities, I sat in on a conference talk by a leader in the field, who cited a news headline on records mismanagement and dissected it with great enthusiasm. As I realized that records implications are everywhere, the massiveness (and potential massiveness) of the profession made an impression on me. I also realized that RM would force me to keep up with technological changes that affect digital records. I was hooked.

What is your role at your institution?

I’m Program Director for a university-wide RM program that is almost four years old. I manage one professional assistant and have some part time student assistant support. Having established foundational paper records services (storage, shredding, scanning) I’m leading my program to new initiatives like retention schedule expansion; electronic file and data retention management; continued outreach and engagement, and guidance in RM and knowledge management best practices for Brandeis employees.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I work with every department in the organization and apply a comprehensive view of Brandeis, and information management in general. You get really dialed in to the processes that happen across the organization and learn something new about different professional roles and viewpoints every day. Sitting down with employees to discuss their particular records and info habits and needs is something that I could do all day long. Also, RM is difficult to socialize across an organization, and I love that challenge.  

What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success?

I’ve had the opportunity to establish archives and records programs essentially from scratch. Putting these programs on the organizational map, with much help from others, has provided a deep sense of satisfaction. That said, there’s always room for program improvement.

What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ?

My first RM job was at a non-profit corporation, which ran several federally funded R&D centers (FFRDCs). The IT literacy bar was high, and the corporate feel was fast paced and results-oriented, which I liked. However, the environment was very confidential, so sharing my professional thoughts and experiences outside the company was difficult. This is different in academia, where I’ve been able to establish a blog and reputation among my RM peers by openly sharing professional views and experiences. Universities can also share their retention policies for benchmarking, which is very useful. The pace in academia has been a little slower than in corporate, and program funding can be comparatively modest, as well. In both cases, having at least some senior leadership support has been critical to program success.

What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career?

Information mismanagement is everywhere. There’s guaranteed to be at least one example in today’s (fake and real) news. This has serious ethical, financial, reputational, legal, and personal implications. We need an army of conscientious, passionate records professionals to bring this epidemic under control. It’s a very difficult battle in today’s world of digital records, with proliferation and flow of data everywhere. It’s also an exciting time for info managers. If you have the heart and a bit of a chip on your shoulder, join the fight and bring your best.  

Do you belong to any professional organizations?

I was a member of SAA and NEA, and currently belong to ARMA. I’m serving as Education Director for the ARMA Boston chapter, planning a Certified Records Manager training event. I also chair a small group of academic archivists and records managers (Boston Area Archives and Records Committee/BAARC) that meets quarterly to share professional experiences.

Thoughts on the future of records management?

There has been speculation that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain technology will replace and/or redefine much of our work. While I see this taking at least a few years to happen, the future records manager will need to follow industry and technical developments carefully and be agile and open-minded to midstream change. We will probably assume less of a custodial role and more of an analytics and rule-making one, automating record and data retention management on the back end and creating a new generation of control guidelines for a world of apps and devices in the Internet of Things.

What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field?

Rapid technology change is increasingly a challenge. We must be continually learning. Getting RM in a place where we can work side-by-side with IT and gaining senior leadership support will be critical and probably won’t be easy in many institutions. Finally, imposing control over digital records that go anywhere and everywhere, and overcoming organizational and civic cultures that accept this, will probably be the biggest challenges.  
Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies?

I enjoy playing piano, keyboards and composing music, exercising, writing, reading, and travel.  

Do you have a quote you live by?

I have five on my office wall that I try to live by:

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.  

It’s better to attempt something great and fail than to do nothing and succeed.

Don’t bring problems, bring solutions.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Just do it.

 

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Making it Stick: Records Management Training Approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAA Session 707: “Hindsights and Fresh Perspectives: Records Management Programs Learn from Each Other”

This records management session featured participation by several RMRT steering committee members, with Alex Toner (University of Pittsburgh) moderating the session and Hillary Gatlin presenting.

Anita Vannucci of Emory University emphasized the importance of knowing open/public records laws.  She suggested prioritizing work with the people who want to work with you – and then leverage this work to advocate for additional resources.  She has found it useful to look to her state archives for resources that can be borrowed or adapted and to find out what peer institutions are doing.

Donna McCrea from the University of Montana looked to the American Association of Registrars and Admission Officers Retention, Disposal, and Archive of Student Records (2013) for guidance.  They created a RRS upon the directive of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Hillary Gatlin from Michigan State University focused on records destruction.  At MSU, the Director of Archives must approve records destructions, so they’ve developed a form that can be seen here.

Daniel Noonan from the Ohio State University reported on their general schedule and department-specific schedules.  The Inter-University Council of Ohio developed a new schedule in 1992 after the universities were “liberated” from the state records management system.

Johna Von Behrens from Stephen F. Austin State University said an internal audit is a good means of identifying the risks of poor record management:

  • non-compliance
  • records not appropriately classified and identified
  • recordkeeping process not effective
  • records (paper and electronic) not adequately safeguarded
  • inadequate record retention management
  • process not communicated

Mary McRobinson reported that Willamette University began a records management program in 2010, and because their archives staff had no bandwidth for this additional work, they brought in outside consultants to devise retention and disposition schedules.  Their process was as follows:

  • set up steering committee with stakeholders
  • sent out RFP
  • consultants toured campus, interviewed departments, developed retention and disposition schedules
  • consultants also produced guidance report – current situation, implementation, etc.
  • RM program is introduced at new employee orientation
  • individual training of departmental liaisons is coordinated by RM program

Virginia Hunt from the Harvard University Archives said their RM program was established in 1995 by a corporation vote.  They ultimately combined collection development and RM services.  They’ve found web archiving to be an effective form of outreach.

SAA Session 602: “Building Effective Relationships with Legal Counsel”

This session featured a variety of archivists discussing the necessity of having a good working relationship with legal counsel.

Kathleen Roe, former SAA president and retired from the New York State Archives, noted two trends — an increasing professionalization of archives and an increasingly litigious society.  She asserted all archivists need to know about FOIA, the PATRIOT ACT, state public records laws, HIPAA, FERPA, and IP laws.  She counseled that ignorance of the law will not stand up in court – even if it’s how your predecessors did it!  She provided several words of wisdom:

  • “archivists need to be proactive, not reactive”
  • “everything’s an advocacy opportunity”

Roger Christman of the Library of Virginia explained that their processing guidelines haven’t been vetted by an attorney, so they err on the side of caution, and many items are restricted that probably only need to be redacted.

Samantha Cross works at CallisonRTKL, Inc.  Their archives has been housed in IT, Operations, and now resides in Legal.  She contended that it’s vital to be assertive and to have an advocate.  She suggested the importance of helping people understand that records management is a liability and risk management issue.

Javier Garza work at the Historical Resources Center, University of Texas MD Anderson (MDA) Cancer Center.  They have conducted oral histories with MDA administrators, doctors, and nurses – some of whom were also patients.  So they created a HIPAA decision tree to determine access to these oral histories.  He clarified that any type of health information is protected if that person is a patient of MDA – even if MDA didn’t treat that particular issue.

Christina Zamon from Emerson College explained the copyright complications that arose when a musician/humorist wanted to donate works and make them freely available.

SAA Session 409: Working Together to Manage Digital Records: A Congressional Archives Perspective

At this session, panelists discussed the transfer and preservation of digital congressional archives, providing perspectives from a variety of records professionals who work with congressional archives in both a records management and archival capacity.

Elizabeth Butler, Deputy Archivist for the U.S. Senate Historical Office, described the basic functions of the Senate Historical Office and focused on their interest in capturing electronic records. The Senate Historical Office is working on developing guidance for Senator’s offices in order to better assist them with managing their electronic documentation. Elizabeth sees a significant need for stronger collaboration with IT Administration, particularly with the increase in born-digital records. Continue reading “SAA Session 409: Working Together to Manage Digital Records: A Congressional Archives Perspective”

SAA Session 503: “More Access, Less Process: Practical Born-Digital Access at Scale”

This session featured archivists from the American Heritage Center (AHC) at the University of Wyoming discussing their efforts to provide users access to born-digital materials.

Irlanda Jacinto described the AHC as an “access-driven institution” – fast, open, and responsive.  They create a catalog record and trunk EAD, which make the records discoverable in the catalog.

Amanda Stow reported that the digital files aren’t indexed.  If patrons want to download materials, they must purchase a flash drive from the AHC.  The patron agreement specifies that users are responsible for abiding by any copyright restrictions.

Tyler Cline described their process of ingesting a backlog of 1.5TB from physical material.  They developed an home-grown system because the vendor solutions they investigated seemed either incomplete or too expensive.  They have a dark archive and also produce access copies.  The in-house computer used by patrons is locked down with read-only access.  The system requires active intervention by an archivist to map user access to particular folders — in the survey, patrons reported resentment of this process.  Users also resented the limitation of only being able to access born-digital records in the reading room.  In response to the survey, the AHC moving forward plans to move restricted files up one level in the file structure so an archivist doesn’t have to monitor access within a folder.  He also contended that patrons need to be educated that access won’t be a Google-like search because the files aren’t indexed — instead, access looks more like a database, with a finding aid as an access point.

SAA Session 410: “The New Approach to Government Records in the Canadian Federal Government”

This session featured representatives from the Library and Archives Canada (LAC).  Nathalie Villeneuve explained they are using a risk-based approach to remove access barriers to records that are already in archival custody, and they are also asking departments to open records before sending them to LAC.  They are rolling out an EDRMS called OpenDocs, and by fall it should incorporate a transfer to archives element.  LAC no longer houses semi-active records – only inactive archival records transfer.

Michael Dufresne clarified that LAC isn’t responsible for government publications, ministerial records, or web/social media content – they collect only government records of historical or archival value.  They have applied macroappraisal:

  • helped distinguish more from less important institutions
  • employ multi-institutional disposition authorities (MIDA) and some institution-specific DAs (ISDA)
  • tried a social network analysis to guide appraisal, but it was too unwieldy

Dufresne asserted, “the focus of appraisal should be on narrowing the field of vision to identify and acquire the most succinct archival or historical evidence possible.”  Their emphasis is on identifying archival records, and the new DAs identify, at a high level, activities likely to generate records of archival value.  Then they employ a validation exercise to determine the list of archival records for activities of interest; records generated for all other activities may be disposed of immediately.  LAC suggests retention periods, which the agencies do generally follow.