A (probably doomed) attempt to desensationalize Public Records reporting

So, I suspect that Journalists on a political beat pay more attention to potential changes in public records law than is warranted by public interest in the topic. This is not altogether surprising– Freedom of Information-like acts have a direct impact on journalists’ ability to do their jobs properly by collecting key information about the actions of state government and bureaucracy. Because of this impact on their livelihoods, however, stories about potential restrictions to public records access tend to be… um… a bit overexcited. We saw this on this very blog a few years ago with the Franklin County Brouhaha, and now we’re seeing it again closer to my own home with some stories about a change to retention schedules in Wisconsin.

On the one hand, great! Happy to see Public Records Law and retention scheduling in the news. On the other hand, both of these stories get a lot wrong about what is really going on in this situation. If only there were someone on a group blog who was informed about how Records Retention and Disposition worked in the State of Wisconsin…Hmm… Well, if there is such information I bet it’s past the jump.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am technically an employee of the State of Wisconsin, and while the schedule mentioned in these stories does not apply to UW, I do work with the Public Records Board to approve our local schedules. Because of that position I am also not going to comment on the political implications of these retention changes. (Much.)

Continue reading “A (probably doomed) attempt to desensationalize Public Records reporting”

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Joint Records Management RT and SNAP RT #snaprt Chat

On Thursday, December 3 at 8 pm ET, the SAA Students and New Archives Professionals Roundtable will be hosting a joint Twitter chat with the SAA Records Management Roundtable Steering Committee and its members. This chat will allow students and new archivists to gain knowledge about records management directly from those engaged in this work. Our goal is not only to introduce students to this field, but also to facilitate dialog and understanding among SNAPers and records management professionals of all experience levels.

We would like this chat to be as conversational as possible! SNAPers can engage in the chat by:

  • responding to main questions based on their own knowledge and experience
  • posing their own questions related to the main questions during the discussion
  • following up on others’ responses with their own thoughts and further questions

We welcome everyone to join or keep up with our chat using the #snaprt hashtag on Twitter. The SNAP Roundtable Twitter account will pose main questions such as:

  • How is the work of records managers different from archivists in various contexts, such as academia, government, and business?
  • What do records managers find most challenging about their work or this field?
  • What do records managers find most enjoyable and exciting about their own work or this field?
  • What conceptual knowledge and skills are important for students to develop and how should they go about pursuing them?
  • What personal goals related to records management are #snaprt chatters pursuing?

If you would like to have your discussion topic included in this chat, please send it to @SNAP_Roundtable on Twitter, submit it through the anonymous form on the SNAP RT chat webpage or e-mail it to ariadne.rehbein@gmail.com. Please see the SNAP RT chat webpage for more information about #snaprt Twitter chats.

Definition of Records Management based on the Federal definition:
Records management is the planning, controlling, directing, organizing, training, promoting, and other managerial activities involved in the creation, maintenance and use, and disposition of information. Records management aims to achieve adequate and proper documentation of the policies and work of an organization and effective and economical management of operations.

Here some resources related to the SNAP and RM joint chat you may want to check out:

Librarians Will Be Forever Needed

Recently, I have encountered many librarians who are worried about libraries becoming bookless (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/would-you-work-bookless-library-lorette-weldon)  institutions.  Many have forgotten that libraries are primary centers or repositories for collections of books and any other sources of data to be made available at no cost to the general public.

Over 70 years ago, Vannevar Bush (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/)  proposed “memex”.  This was to be a device about the size of a desk which could store all the books, records, and communications, of an organization, on some type of media from which this data could be retrieved.  Dr. Bush had no means to realize his suggestion.  However, the suggestion was a theoretical proposal for what has become the hypertext system and digitization of data for today’s storage means.  Hence, I view the World Wide Web, the cloud, and all other digitized storage means as adjuncts to the modern library.

Continue reading “Librarians Will Be Forever Needed”

And now: Football!

deflate1It is not really much of a secret that I am not a fan of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady.  Those of you who follow this blog and are also fans of American Football (I am sure at least some of you exist) are undoubtedly aware of the #deflategate fracas surrounding the Patriots’ game vs. the Indianapolis Colts during last season’s playoffs. (For those of you who weren’t, the TL;DR version: The Patriots were accused playing with underinflated balls, which makes them easier to handle and catch and makes a material difference because each team brings its own balls to games.) An investigation ensued, the NFL released a report indicating that it was “more probable than not” that the balls were deflated on purpose and with Brady’s knowledge, and yesterday Mr. Brady was suspended without pay for 4 games for the 2015 season due to his role in the affair. I may or may not have declared myself “the happiest boy in the world” to my wife last night upon hearing this news.

But this post is not about Brady Schadenfreude! (Well, *mostly* not.) It is about the following nugget from the NFL’s official statement about the case:

Another important consideration identified in the Policy is ‘the extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigation.’ The Wells report identifies two significant failures in this respect. The first involves the refusal by the club’s attorneys to make Mr. McNally available for an additional interview, despite numerous requests by Mr. Wells and a cautionary note in writing of the club’s obligation to cooperate in the investigation. The second was the failure of Tom Brady to produce any electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information. Although we do not hold the club directly responsible for Mr. Brady’s refusal to cooperate, it remains significant that the quarterback of the team failed to cooperate fully with the investigation.

It’s a records management issue (Sort of)! I really am the happiest boy in the world. Tom Brady was asked to turn over electronic documents to help the NFL determine his responsibility in this matter, he refused to do so, and the NFL factored that in to his eventual punishment. Does that sound like sanctions for spoliation to anyone else? It sure does to me.

Now, a few caveats here: The proceedings were part of a conduct investigation strictly internal to the NFL, rather than a civil or criminal suit in open court. There was likely no formal discovery request, no “meet-and-confer” requirement, and the “Safe Harbor” rule probably wouldn’t have applied to (or protected) Brady in this case. But in its effects, this is basically the same– because Brady was unwilling to produce evidence as requested by the NFL, the investigating body made an assumption that the missing evidence would be materially harmful to his case, and altered the punishment accordingly. It was “a culpable failure to preserve and produce relevant electronically stored information, and [presented] a reasonable probability that the loss of the evidence has materially prejudiced the adverse party” , which the Sedona Principles explicitly calls out as reasons for courts to consider spoliation sanctions.

The upshot of all of this: when you’re talking to your “front line” employees, name-dropping Zubulake and the Sedona Conference isn’t going to mean much to them in terms of legal responsibilities to produce electronically stored information and/or destroy records according to defined retention schedules. Name dropping Tom Brady, on the other hand, may be another story. “Tom Brady’s punishment was made more severe by his failure to cough up emails and text” seems likely to at least get their attention, and lets you draw direct connections to the records they are producing and maintaining for your organization.

Yes, it’s true that the “sanction” in this case is based on the NFL’s internal judgment rather than the Federal Rules of Evidence, and so the parallel isn’t exact. If your employees know enough to point this out, a) I’m impressed, and b) you do need to have an explanation of how the law re: their public records and/or discovery responsibilities differ. That said, I won’t tell if you won’t.

Archiving Transparency and Accountability: Step 3 to Information Literacy

After the first semester that a new course is taught, I have noticed teachers asking each other for a copy of their lesson plans for that course, if they survived a semester teaching it.   This echoes the cries of the United States educational system wanting a miracle teaching method that could be used in any subject for any course for any student’s educational level.  This is the same for information professionals.  They are teachers who are using the same steps to archive, manage records, and perform reference services to help customers gain access to the information housed in various institutions and organizations throughout the world.  Everyone wants the transparency on how to find that information.  Basically, this is the transparency of how we have done are jobs to provide access to this information.

Through my series of steps to information literacy, I have found that the memory is a great place to store how we do our duties but what if others could benefit from knowing “how” we did it?  This goes back to wondering if your clients remember how to use your search tools to access the information stored at their educational institution or other type of organization.  I created a virtual assistant to review with clients the search methods that were covered face to face.  ELA, my Electronic Library Assistant, travels to the clients’ offices, homes, and classrooms, to review those searching methods with them 24/7.  So, it is like me “traveling” with them to help them “tinker” with the methods we discussed before and then “talk” about Step3other ways that they could search on their own through the Three T’s method.

ELA has been found to be very compatible with the customers’ computer skills since they could manage to always keep communications with family, fellow classmates/employees, and friends through their smart phones, tablets, and laptops.  I created a virtual teaching assistant in a blended-animated flipped classroom environment that would incorporate the technology that the customers held dear and allowed them to keep a constant flow of customer engagement inside and outside of their workplaces.  Through this virtual environment, a video archive is created that customers could go back to anytime and anywhere with lessons based upon what I had experienced with them and/or other customers (no customer names are stored).  The teaching methods are stored for continual viewing.

Any archivist, records manager, or other type of information professional, can do this for accountability and transparency of their work to be shown to their customers and departments.  If you are interested in finding out more about it, I will be giving a webinar, for Innovative Educators, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, on how to create accountability and transparency in your job through a virtual teaching assistant.  Information professionals and administrators are shown how to make a virtual teaching assistant and how to incorporate it into their presentations through GoAnimate.com, Screencast.com, and Camtasia.

Stay tuned for more adventures in information literacy.

Read more about ELA:

Editor’s Note – this article first published in Computer Savviness – and republished with the author’s permission.

Step 2 to Information Literacy

What is Information Literacy? The National Forum on Information Literacy states that it is “… the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and   effeSharingInfoctively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” In the infancy of my librarianship, I had a librarian who had actually taught me how to satisfy my hunger for information. Through the Three T’s method, my mentor “talked” with me about certain issues or problems that I questioned. This prompted my librarian to show me how to answer my questions by giving me lessons in reference tools. My librarian left me to “tinker” with the reference tools as I would find one answer only to make me come up with more questions to further understand that answer. I would “travel” back and forth to the library to gather more and more information to make me information literate. From my elementary school years up through when my librarian hired me to join his Reference Services Team, I learned from him that to become information literate, a person must be willing to continue reaching for more information, thus prompting the “talking”, “tinkering” and “traveling” during the information collection. But I was not the only library patron that my mentor was helping. He had kept a record on what I had been researching. Where was he holding this record on me and others that he could refer to immediately when the patron would come through the door?

I asked him this question. Without a thought, he pointed to his head. He told me that in order to promote information literacy you would have to practice what you preach. You must retain the information in order to know what more you had to add to it. In response to a comment made on my article, Step 1 to Information Literacy, the records in which I speak are records of my customers that were in my head. Through this record keeping approach to reference service work, the library patrons get a feeling of familiarity and warmth when they return to the library because the librarian remembers who they are and what they had been looking for in the past.

Let’s reflect on customer records and privacy. If the records were kept in the library database, in which statistics on customer usage could be tallied, libraries could follow the ALA Code of Ethics, Article III, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received, and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” My observations on how to help library patrons to become more information literate are not based on written notes or digital records. My observations are based on mental records from within my mind on each customer I have served in the present and in the past.

If a librarian would see you all the time and run to the computer to pull up your file, you would not feel that warm and fuzzy feeling that you were remembered. Even if the customer does not reflect emotions of sentimentality, they do show it by coming back to you again and again. I was reminded of this concept through the Chevrolet Cruze’s commercial. The theme song to the 1980’s American sit-com, “Cheers”, comes on as we watch customers of a gas station being welcomed warmly by the cashier. All of the customers know each other too. The warmth can be felt coming out of the television screen until a cold breeze comes in and the music stops. A new customer comes in to pay for the gas for his Chevrolet Cruze Diesel. No one knows his name. The slogan for this car is “The Chevrolet Cruze Diesel gets the best gas mileage of a non-hybrid, so no one at the gas station will know your name”. This commercial tries to convey that the customers have to come to the gas station so often that the cashier and other customers know each other’s names. So when someone new comes in, they try to know the new guy by rushing to the window to see what type of car that person was driving so that they could identify him next time he would come to gas-up his car.

In order to be able to “talk”, “tinker”, and “travel” with the customer, you would need to be able to pull up the customer’s name up in the records in your mind. In those records, you would be able to remember what they had asked for before and where you had found that information. This would also help you to remember any other questions that the customer may have had before, in case they are here for a follow-up to a question they had already asked. Of course, you may have customers who come in with a new question. This continues the learning process and the hunger for more information by you and your customer. This also adds to their record in your mind—a mental record.

The librarian who knows the customer’s name can have a successful research-relationship with the customer. This would help the customer continue their quest in becoming information literate.

Stay Tuned for more of my adventures in becoming information literate.

Editor’s Note – this article first published in Computer Savviness – and republished with the author’s permission.

For Your Consideration: Adjusting the level of Archival (and RM) appraisal

A signal boost to this important post on NDIIPP’s The Signal blog, in which Meg Phillips discusses the impact of distant reading/text mining/computational analysis on the nature of archival appraisal (and, incidentally, the records management scheduling that supports same). The key passage, in my opinion, is the following:

The interesting thing about these questions is that the answersmay rely on the presence of records that would clearly be temporary if judged on their individual merits. Consider email messages like “Really sick today – not coming in” or a message from the executive of a  regulated company saying “Want to meet for lunch?” to a government policymaker. In the aggregate, the patterns of these messages  may paint a picture of disease spread or the inner workings of access and influence in government.  Those are exactly the kinds of messages traditional archival practice would try to cull. In these cases, appraising an entire corpus of records as permanent would support distant reading much better.  The informational value of the whole corpus cannot be captured by selecting just the records with individual value.

If we adjusted practice to support more distant reading, archivists would still do appraisal, deciding what is worth permanent preservation.  We would just be doing it at a different level of granularity – appraising the research value of an entire email system, SharePoint site or social media account, for example.

Yee-ikes. In a way, this isn’t new– the Capstone plan for dealing with email of the top administration of federal agencies is kind of based on the same principle, for example– but this is talking about the issue at an entirely different scale. Providing permanent access to the entirety of an organization’s information ecosystem seems like it would be a herculean task logistically, not to mention the privacy/confidentiality concerns that would come into play. Plus, I wonder if maintaining a system in its entirety would have a deleterious effect on the ability of researchers who DO still want to do close reading of individual documents to find what they’re looking for. Quicker searching and location of documents by the records creator is, after all, on of our profession’s major selling points for why people should practice records management. (To be fair, Meg does acknowledge these difficulties in her post.)

On the other hand, the overall point is a good one, and sort of gets to the heart of one of the major archival appraisal arguments: “Who are WE to determine what it is that future researchers will find useful?” Even in our own analog materials here at UWM, we have a number of records in our collections that I as a records manager would recommend be destroyed if they were being produced today–except that those records get a LOT of use from researchers looking for historical context. So maybe this shift is just proof of cycles in Archival and RM practice.  In any case, a lot to chew on– Please weigh in on the comments there or here.

Oh, also, an aside from Meg’s post: “Incidentally, on a practical level this level of appraisal might also lead to disposition instructions that are easier for creating offices to carry out.” Possibly THAT is the key point, rather than the above.