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.

SAA Session 301: “‘Capstone Officials’ and Public Records: Risk, Buy-in, and Archival Selection”

This session used NARA’s Capstone approach to email as a starting point for discussing the collection of all sorts of records from senior officials.

Arian Ravanbakhsh (NARA) provided the background to the Capstone policy.  The journey began in 2011 with the Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records that aimed to modernize records management in the federal government.  Many directives and bulletins later, we have the Capstone policy.  He asserted the biggest failure of records management is user-dependent policies.  Therefore, the big benefit of Capstone is preserving permanent email records automatically.  The Capstone policy has three categories:

  • permanent retention for senior officials (agency head and deputy, “C” (chiefs), executives, directors of major programs, directors of presidential libraries)
  • 7-year temporary retention for non-Capstone officials
  • 3-year temporary retention for support and/or administrative positions

Mike Strom, the State Archivist of Wyoming, reported that their state IT department archives email for an indeterminate length of time – none of which to this point has been transferred to the state archives.  They have defined Capstone officials as elected officials, agency directors, and deputy directors.  All records of elected officials are deemed permanent, while records from agency directors and deputy directors come to the State Records Center for appraisal and disposition.  Wyoming has recently revised its retention schedules, shifting from agency-driven to function-based schedules and dramatically reducing the number of items (from 8000 to 600).  Strom suggested some disadvantages to functional schedules are that changing a schedule affects numerous agencies and the system doesn’t allow for special circumstances.  They have determined that general correspondence (related to day-to-day office administration and not identified in other records series) can be destroyed three years after date of creation.

Jim Cundy reported that the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives has defined their Capstone officials as agency heads (”the individual or collegial body in an agency that is responsible for entry of a final order”).  In addition, anything the Governor’s office sends is considered a permanent record.

Ruth Bryan, of the University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center, said they consider faculty Capstone officials because of their role in University life.  To date, the University hasn’t decided what to do with adjunct/non-tenured faculty.  They consider faculty papers public records that document both scholarship and academic functions.  Faculty records are appraised, and student-related records are discarded.  Products of scholarship are faculty-owned and are not subject to retention schedules.

Tamar Chute (Ohio State University Archives) said their state universities were removed from the state records management system in 1992 and paid a consulting firm to create a general records retention schedule.  On that university schedule, Capstone officials/upper administration include the president, provosts, vice presidents, deans and directors, department chairs, and head coaches.  They’ve had the situation of needing to determine whether artifacts are university records.  In typical records management fashion, it depends!