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Resourceful Records Managers #1: Laurence Brewer

Below is the inaugural interview in our new monthly RMS series Resourceful Records Managers.  If you are interested in sharing your journey as a Records Manager please contact me at jgd1(at)williams(dot)edu.

Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer of the United States1. What led you to choose your current career in Records Management? Like many of us career records managers, it kind of chose me! My education and first jobs out of school were in the political science field; however, being a political science major in DC is not easy! I learned very quickly that I could not put food on the table at $5/hour with no benefits. So when I accepted that reality, the first company that hired me was a RIM organization.

2. What is your educational background? I have two degrees now in Political Science that I am not using at all. My parents are not very proud of that, especially since I have not been successful explaining to them what it is I actually do!

3. Do you or did you have a mentor who has helped you in the Records Management field? Actually the person I have to give credit to is Laura McHale, who when I worked for her at EPA, she encouraged me to learn more about RIM, and in particular advised me to study for and obtain my CRM designation.

4. How did you first become interested in Records Management? In my first jobs at EPA as a contractor, I developed an appreciation for the business-centric orientation of RM, especially when compared to archival practice. I enjoyed consulting, advising staff, and helping people with solutions to their RM problems.

5. What is your role at your institution? Currently, as Chief Records Officer, I lead an office of talented records managers and archivists who work with all federal agencies to advocate for and improve records management across the Government. Central to this charge is promoting electronic records management and modernizing recordkeeping practices in all agencies.

6. What do you enjoy most about your job? I enjoy the challenge of our core mission, but more than that, I enjoy the people who work with me to make these changes in the Government happen. We enjoy what we do and we have many smart, dedicated professionals who are responsible for our success.

7. What would you consider to be your career highlight or greatest success? Ask me when I retire in 20 years! I feel like the best is still to come!

8. What type of institutional settings have you worked in? Corporate? Government? Higher education? If more than one, how do they differ? My records management career started in the private sector as a federal contractor at EPA, then I took a position in RM at the state level in Virginia before joining NARA, where I have been in several positions since 1999.

9. What advice would you give to an individual considering Records Management as a career? It’s a challenging and rewarding field, but more than anything success today requires learning about more than just RM. Knowledge of many other disciplines is important to be successful and add value to your organization. Truly, an information governance approach is critical today – one that focuses on coordination and partnerships with IT, Legal, HR, security, privacy and so on. The world has gotten more complex, and so has the profession.

10. Do you belong to any professional organizations (SAA, ARMA…)? No, I do not….need to find the time, though I do attend many events sponsored by these organizations.

11. Thoughts on the future of records management? See #9

12. What do you perceive as the biggest challenges in the Records Management field? Keeping abreast of technology and the implications for RM for many of the emerging issues. Spotting trends and interpreting the impact on RM for our organizations is going to continue to be a challenge.

13. Besides focusing on work, what are some of your other interests or hobbies? Outside of work, I enjoy live music so you may run into me one night at the 930 Club!

14. Do you have a quote you live by? None at all. However, I do have a tattoo that reminds me to stay balanced and calm in how I approach life.

Follow Up to Body-Worn Camera Records Hangout

On February 8, the Records Management Section was pleased to host a Hangout with Snowden Becker of the UCLA Department of Information Studies to discuss law enforcement body-worn camera footage and recordings.

If you missed the Hangout, you can watch the recorded version here. In addition, Snowden prepared some additional readings on her website.

We had record turnout for this Hangout, and time for some excellent questions from viewers about exemptions from public records laws, transfer of recordings from devices to repositories, the role of bystander video, how vendors handle records, and differences between public and law enforcement perspectives on video recordings.

This topic is being addressed elsewhere within SAA; recently the Issues and Advocacy Section addressed the topic on their blog, and the Committee on Public Policy is currently  circulating a draft to selected SAA sections in order to prepare an issue brief on body camera footage.


Towards a Social Justice in ARM bibliography

First, let’s get this out of the way: I bet Matt Yglesias feels pretty stupid right now. Hahahaha ohhhh I’m going to be depressed. (Yes, I have a political bias. I’ll try to tamp it down for this post.)

Anyway! With White House pages on key issues disappearing (though not permanently! Thanks, NARA), information lockdowns being passed down to entire agencies (at least temporarily), and the possibility of science from the EPA being subject to political review before release, one’s mind tends to drift to questions of an archivist/records manager’s ethical responsibility in an institutional setting. (Didn’t you already write this post, Brad? Yes, I did, on multiple occasions, but this one’s different, I promise.) Yes, you have a responsibility towards your institution/government/whatever, but what is your responsibility towards society? Are archivists, particularly in records management roles, obliged to serve as whistleblowers? Do we save records of historical import on our own volition, despite orders (or, at best, strongly-worded suggestions) from the Powers That Be to show them the business end of a shredder? What do we make of reports that a top advisor to the president is actively avoiding creating a paper trail?

Well. I Have Opinions about all of these things. Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for you), an official group blog for a component group of a professional organization is not the place for them. But those sublimated opinions have to go somewhere… in this case, I thought, “why not take a look at what the professional literature has to say about these issues?” I put out a Twitter call for recommendations, did some poking around on some of my library’s databases, and the result is a brand new category on the RM bibliography, which I am tentatively calling Institutional Records and Human Rights. More on this after the jump. Continue reading

Records Management Bibliography

During our annual meeting at Archives*Records 2016, the Records Management Roundtable Steering Committee debuted the new Records Management Bibliography. The reenvisioned bibliography is now in Zotero and is available for all to use and collaborate. Zotero is a free, open-source research tool that helps users collect, organize, and analyze resources and share them in a variety of ways. Zotero provides the ability to store author, title, and publication fields and to export that information as formatted references. Zotero also provide the ability to organize, tag, and search resources.

The Records Management Bibliography in Zotero builds upon the bibliography the RMRT published in 2012. By sharing the bibliography in Zotero, anyone can join the group to contribute to the resource list. It is no longer a static document.


It is really easy to add resources to Zotero as you are searching the web. After you install the browser extension, Zotero can sense when you are viewing a book, article, or website and then save the reference information for that item. The Zotero Mini-Guide is an excellent resource for an introduction to Zotero and the basics of adding resources.

To contribute to the bibliography, you must first create a Zotero account. Then you can request access to join the SAA RMRT Group.

The bibliography is in a Group Library in Zotero and currently has 24 categories and over 300 resources. We hope to add, with your help, even more resources. The RMRT Steering Committee will create a process to regularly review resources to ensure they are up-to-date and will add new resources as they become available.

Please contact Beth Cron ( if you are interested in adding resources! We are looking for volunteers to review publications, such as American Archivist and Information Management magazine, to find resources to add to the bibliography.


NARA survey on Records Schedule Website

[Posted by request of Anne Mason, Office of the Chief Records Officer, NARA. Easy access to, and interpretation of, records schedules is extremely important for compliance with same, so even if you don’t work with NARA proper it’s possibly worth your while to look at the RCS website and provide feedback re: what’s going well and what could be improved.

Real post from me coming, sometime after my presentation on Personal Digital Archives at Wisconsin Libraries Association tomorrow. Cross my heart.–BH]

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asks for your assistance by completing a short survey. NARA provides access to Federal agency records control schedules, also referred to as records disposition schedules, on our website ( These schedules assist Federal agencies by providing authorities for disposal and permanent retention of government records. We would like to hear your thoughts and opinions about the usefulness of this site. This will allow NARA to make informed decisions about improvements to the site so we can better serve you in the future. This survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete. Be assured that all answers you provide will be kept confidential. Thank you for taking part in this important survey. Please click on the link below to begin.


Session 204: Why You’re Already A Records Manager…

[Editor’s Note: Geof Huth and I will be recapping this talk as a Google Hangout for the RMRT
sometime in the near future! In the meantime, please enjoy this extremely thorough recap by Melissa Torres. Thanks Melissa!–Brad]

[Editor’s Note 2: I wanted the title of this session to be “You May Already Be A Records Manager”, complete with oversized check and Geof as Ed McMahon. That got vetoed for some reason…–Brad]

Why You’re Already a Records Manager and Should be Happy About That


One of Brad’s favorite GIFs of all time, featured prominently in the presentation

Speakers: Geof Huth and Brad Houston

2pm, August 4, Salon E, Session 204

This session focused on government, academic, and corporate sector records management. Continue reading

Faculty research and public records laws

This post is the fourth in a series on research data management presented by the Records Management Roundtable. 

Working in higher education records management, I am fascinated by how different states treat records commonly associated with universities. One of the most unpredictable areas is state law regarding the public record status of public university faculty research.

What’s key to remember here is that state law is all over the place when it comes to public records exemptions that apply to state-supported universities. In all 50 states, state open records laws apply in some fashion to state-supported institutions — but the question of how looks radically different from state to state. For example, in Ohio all public university employees create records that could conceivably be subject to a public records request. On the other hand, this isn’t the case for public university employees in Delaware. And then there is Pennsylvania, which has some of the most unusual state university public records laws when you consider the concept of “state-related” institutions, to put it mildly.

In addition, the question of who formulates records retention schedules (which are very closely related to, but not the same thing as responding to public records requests — indeed, in many institutions those duties are located in separate areas) within public universities varies widely. For example, in Ohio, the state public records law authorizes each university’s Board of Trustees to establish university-based records management policies (in practice, the Trustees then delegate these records management responsibilities to other areas of the university, such as University Archives or General Counsel), and most Ohio public universities take retention scheduling advice from a state association known as IUC. However, the universities still look to the broader state law regarding what can and cannot be released as a public record under state law. In Kentucky, records retention schedules are established by the state-based Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. In my opinion, questions of decentralized or centralized retention scheduling authority has vast impacts on educating the larger university community on records issues, be they retention scheduling, or educating records creators about potential public records issues.

In recent years, there have been a number of public university faculty whose research records have been requested by the public. Recent high-profile cases illustrate some of the issues associated with faculty research and public records laws.** Climate change researcher Michael Mann, currently at Penn State University (and formerly of the University of Virginia) has been involved in a number of civil actions and public records requests from the state of Virginia and from a think tank. A timeline can be found here  (readers note that the timeline comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has filed an amicus brief in the past in support of Mann — I was unable to find a similar comprehensive timeline from a mainstream news organization). In the original 2010 civil investigation demand, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli requested “all data and materials presented by former professor Michael Mann when he applied for five research grants from the university.” In 2012, the Virginia Supreme Court sided with UVA and Mann. In 2011, the American Tradition Institute (now known as the Energy and Environment Legal Institute) filed a public records request “seeking all of the documents that “Dr. Michael Mann produced and/or received while working for the University . . . and otherwise while using its facilities and resources . . . .”. Ultimately the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against the Institute in 2014, and ordered them to pay $250 in damages to Mann and UVA.

In a more recent case, Kansas University student group Students for a Sustainable Future filed a public records request for contracts, correspondence, and CVs concerning economist Art Hall’s hiring, funding sources, and correspondence on specific topics. A district court temporarily stopped the University from releasing the records after Hall filed a lawsuit against the university. The case was ultimately settled out of court, with only a selected group of records released as part of the settlement.

A common theme in the discussion of public records laws is if and how there is a chilling effect on what public employees are willing to state in the written record. This concern carries over to the question of the public records status of faculty research, since some faculty may avoid engaging in controversial research if they believe their research will be targeted through public records requests. Furthermore, release of research records can mean a researcher’s work may be “scooped” before she can publish it. This is a huge risk for tenure-track faculty, who depend on a successful publication of original and novel research in order to obtain tenure. This is likely why in many states that have carved out public records exemptions on faculty research records, they often exempt research records for work that has not yet been published (for example, Virginia, Michigan, and Ohio).

In addition to research records, some requesters have asked for records not specifically tied to faculty research, but other faculty activities, particularly in areas of teaching, activism, and shared governance. This gets into the knotty question of academic freedom, and if/how it should cover records that aren’t exclusively related solely to research activities. For example, in 2011, the Wisconsin Republican Party filed a public records request for the emails of University of Wisconsin geographer William Cronon, who had been publicly critical of Governor Scott Walker’s actions on public employee unions.

In a sign that professors are beginning to grapple with this issue in new ways, professor Laura Wright of Western Carolina University released all of her emails from a recent records request on her blog. Links to the redacted emails are here and here.

I think there is a very clear justification for public records exemptions pertaining to unpublished faculty research. As noted above, unpublished research that is subject to public record requests would very quickly compromise universities’ research profile, and create a chilling effect on controversial research (which is often important and groundbreaking research). State courts have recently sided with this argument, finding that the chilling effects outweigh disclosure of research records (see pages 9-12 of this brief). Regarding other non-research records, there remains two problems:

  1. What exactly is a “research record”…? My inbox is full of emails with colleagues where we discuss things like “Hm, what’d you think of $XYZ in the news? Maybe we should eventually collaborate on this thing and turn it into an SAA conference proposal or a research article. If we did, we should go about it $ABC…” Does that count as a research-related record? It’s certainly opening the door, but we haven’t formalized an actual project.
  2. Some public university faculty members understandably want to invoke academic freedom to either intentionally or unintentionally set themselves apart from other public employees subject to records requests. Academic freedom is critical to being able to research, teach, and do academic service, and public records requests for information related to any of these activities has the potential to compromise academic freedom. Obviously, records managers are as familiar as anyone else with politically-motivated harassment via records requests. The problem with invoking this claim is that faculty members aren’t the only public employees subject to political harassment and intimidation for carrying out their work as they see fit. Many state agency employees have been politically targeted for doing work that is within the sound confines of their professional expertise — look no further than Florida Department of Environmental Protection climate scientists. To me, the better argument isn’t to create a wholly exempt class of public employees, but to ensure that public employees engaged in potentially controversial, but legal and ethical work, in the public interest have full civil service and collective bargaining protections in order to perform their jobs effectively.

**In the interest of full-disclosure, not only am I a records manager, but I also hold faculty status at my public university, am a member of the American Association of University Professors via our university’s AAUP collective bargaining unit, and conduct research related to the intersection of archives and climate change.

This post updated on March 3, 2017 to more accurately describe the type of request Professor Wright received.