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”

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Records Managers: Not Making This Stuff Up, Part the Billionth

So! The Office of the Inspector General released its report on Hillary Clinton’s emails today. Perhaps you’d heard about it.

The report itself is here (Warning: major TL;DR alert). It reads like a litany of “everything that can go wrong with a digital records management program”–poor communication, lack of executive buy-in, technology not up to the job of meeting requirements– and my plan is to break down the whole thing at some point to take a closer look at what happened from a purely records management standpoint. But in light of Eira’s excellent post on institutional silences and the digital dark ages, I wanted to quickly hit one paragraph that jumped out at me:

Two staff in S/ES-IRM reported to OIG that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the then-Director of S/ES-IRM. In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clinton’s account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system. According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.

Holy moly. I am simultaneously astonished and not at all surprised that this conversation happened. Without attempting to divine the source of this supposed gag order or the motivation behind it, there is at minimum a failure to communicate happening here, and in all likelihood a deeply ingrained culture of subordination. Two employees, rightly concerned that use of a personal email account posed a recordkeeping and security risk, were specifically told that they were there “to support the Secretary”, and as a result questioning her use of personal email was anathema. That is really an incredible directive, if substantiated. I would argue that pointing out vulnerabilities in information security and governance IS supporting the Secretary (by, say, helping her avoid a prolonged investigation into her email management practices during an election year), but that’s just me.

And yet… what do you even DO in this case as a records manager? In a lot of institutions records managers are so far down the totem pole that there’s not a lot of pushing back to be done if a C-level staffer doesn’t want to follow records management directives to the letter. It’s easier to stand up to your negligent or reluctant official if you’re based out of the Legal department (and even easier if you are yourself a lawyer), but for a records manager based out of an administrative department, or the library? How do you make the case for good records practices when you have been explicitly told not to pursue it? How far do you stick your neck out for the sake of the historical record and transparency, vs. the short-term interests of your institution? Particularly if, as in so many cases, the records law which you are following has no real penalty for non-compliance other than the hypothetical/tangential “you might get sued”?

I don’t have an answer to any of the above questions. I’ve struggled with the right level of aggressiveness in pursuing records of high-level officials at my own institution, and have almost certainly lost some key electronic records being kept on a personal hard drive or in an email account because of it. (Elsewhere in the report records staff reports “not feeling comfortable” directing the Secretary to use the internal records system and looking for an automatic system to capture the records; I feel this anxiety acutely.) In this *particular* case Secretary Clinton released (most of) the emails after the fact, so the damage to transparency and the historical record is perhaps not as great as it could have been. In other cases? Who knows what’s being lost because the records manager is not as much in control as he/she would like to be.

These are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night, because I am an enormous nerd and am kept awake by records management questions. (Well, that and a one-year-old baby.)

How do you preserve a Park in a Library or Archives?

How could we preserve a park for future generations?  Actually, this discussion pertains to a person who has taken photos on a park, documenting a history of a park during specific time periods.   The end result is a book that contains a pictorial documentary of an amateur naturalist’s ten-year travel throughout Lake Artemesia.    Due to an increasingly large number of buildings being built, with the result of less natural areas being saved, deer and other wildlife have started to move into human neighborhoods.  What happened to their natural areas?  Ten years ago, an amateur naturalist started to walk in different parks around the Maryland area.  He pointed out wildlife and plant life that I would never have noticed if I were walking around the park while listening to my mp3 player as I would exercise.  He had shown me how to stimulate my mind with the life all around me. This amateur naturalist wanted to find ways to document information about the park through pictures in case it were destroyed due to floods and other natural/unnatural events.  After ten years walking through Lake Artemesia in Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Ulysses Weldon developed a four-step process to capture different aspects of a park (https://sites.google.com/site/lakeartemesiapark).  This process could be expanded upon to fit many other parks that we never would want to forget.

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Picture by Ulysses Weldon, Taken at Lake Artemesia, Berwyn Heights, MD

Continue reading “How do you preserve a Park in a Library or Archives?”

How do you use ideas from other data repositories in the 21st Century?

Today, data repositories have been divided into at least three institutions.  They are museums, archives, and libraries.  J. Trant has defined these as “Museums most often have unique collections. Rarity and preciousness remain key to the attraction of their objects; it gives them their aura… Museum collections protect and reserve. Contrast this with public lending libraries, grounded in access and in public literacy.  Their goal is to make materials available; their collections are predominantly books, printed in many copies, inexpensively produced, often weeded regularly. Archives consist of items that are not generally intrinsically valuable but essential as evidence, especially in context.” (http://www.archimuse.com/papers/trantConvergence0908-final.pdf).

Continue reading “How do you use ideas from other data repositories in the 21st Century?”

RMRT Meeting Agenda at SAA 2015 – Please attend!

Please join the Records Management Roundtable at SAA 2015 for a series of lightning talks on various records management topics. We have a great lineup and look forward to having good discussions. The meeting will be held Friday, August 21 from 4:30 – 6:00pm in the Grand Ballroom A at the Cleveland Convention Center. If you can’t attend follow along with #rmrt #saa15.

For the agenda, we will have a brief business meeting with announcements followed by these lightning talks:

  Speaker Topic
1 Anthony Cocciolo, Ed.D.
Associate Professor
Pratt Institute, School of Information and Library Science
A study that explores options for expediting the appraisal of email records for permanent retention, using a New York art museum as a case.
2 Sarah R. Demb
Senior Records Manager/Archivist
Harvard University Archives
Records management as a tool for risk mitigation that can be embedded into university governance structures.
3 Lori Ashley
Principal Consultant
Tournesol Consulting
How to better leverage the appraisal and records scheduling process to advance active preservation while records remain in the custody/control of the records producers.  
4 Sarah Wagner
Amway
Historical designation on Corporate Records Retention Schedule: Amway’s process of ‘purging’ to the Archives
5 Janice Schulz
Records Manager
Omya Inc.
The records manager’s role in legal discovery. How to leverage your knowledge to increase your visibility and value
6 Josh Schneider
Assistant University Archivist
Stanford University
ePADD as a tool to appraise, process, and provide rich access to email archives
7 Jessica Williams
Utilities Records & Info Management Coordinator
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Hiring student work – job descriptions for graduate assistants, undergrad/graduate hourlies, expectations for those roles, etc.
8 Christine Schmid Engels  
Archives Manager
Cincinnati Museum Center
How do you fit in records management when you’re also running an archive of other historical material, doing exhibits, working at the reference desk, etc. Or address administrative support or the lack thereof.
9 Arian Ravanbakhsh
Office of the Chief Records Officer
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
2016 or Bust: Updates on Federal Records Management

Step 1 to Information Literacy

When I was new to the library world, I learned how to do “reference service work”. The library customer would walk through the doors and ask for a subject. Whether it was too broad or too narrow in focus, it was my job to find the answer. I noticed every day that the people whoReference Service Work were asking the questions were the same people every day. Repeat business meant you were doing the job right but something was missing. Even though I found the answers, the sources that the customers were looking for, the researching model seemed one-sided. The repeat business was not learning how to remain information literate. The customers were just learning how to ask me questions.

I started to notice that what I was telling them started to form a record based on what each customer had asked for over the days and weeks. The customer records kept building with relationships to sources in the library collection. The records of customers started to help me create record connections to each type of source. The record relationships showed the customers’ library usage habits. Those habits started to mirror a learning method that was discussed in Bringing Out the Best: A Guide for Parents of Young Gifted Children. In one section of the book, Saunders and Espeland correlate information literacy to talking, tinkering, and traveling—“The Three T’s”.

Even though this book was primarily stressing a bond between parent and child, I realized that it could also define the bond between librarian and customer. Each customer that I had helped, I had talked (discussed) with them about the problem that they had. I offered some insight into sources that could possibly help them. I showed them how to use the library catalog database in the library and also how they could continue their searching from their own homes or businesses.

The customTalkingers were performing another “T” called “tinkering”. The “tinkering” aspect of information literacy allowed the customer to expand upon my discussion via a training exercise on the library catalog database. The customer then was left to “tinker” on their own.

Sometimes what the customers found would prompt them to travel, the third “T” of The Three T’s method, to other sources, whether it was a source in the library collection in another branch orTravel names of contacts, they were willing to “travel” to get more information on their problems. They would e-mail me when a source was found to not be helpful or when the source had led to another source. Our interactions continued to go to my reference service work records.

I continued this process throughout my management of the following collections and archives: disability issues; health sciences; transportation services; business solutions; higher education governance issues; higher education course lesson-plans. All of these experiences have helped me in my current position.

Today, I have built upon The Three T’s to not only include reference service work record relationships but also lesson-planning records in higher education. As a college professor, I must also instill the learning method of The Three T’s in my students. The Three T’s allows not only librarians and records managers to be on the same researching page of their customers but allows teachers to be on the same page with their students. This is a much needed occurrence which promotes information literacy in another educational setting—the college classroom.

Stay Tuned for the next steps I experienced with information literacy through The Three T’s method.

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

Easy Listening: Archives and Records Management Podcasts

By now, many archivists have had the opportunity to listen to (or have at least heard of) More Podcast, Less Process, the excellent podcast series hosted by Jefferson Bailey of the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) and Joshua Ranger of AudioVisual Preservation Solutions. Listening is a great way to stay abreast of trends in our field, and hear a little more about the all of the unique and inspiring projects our colleagues are working on. One of my favorite episodes is on the topic of shared services and institutional collaboration. Take a listen!

61250519f57d60b84847b5478861769cI recently discovered the IRMS Podcast Series a records management themed podcast produced by the UK’s Information and Records Management Society. Hosts Heather Jack and James Lappin discuss key records management trend and issues with leaders in the profession. Recent topics covered included automated intelligence, a SharePoint case study and even records management theory. I especially enjoyed listening to episode IRMS013 – Laurence Hart on trends in collaboration and records management software.

If anyone else knows of other podcasts that would be of interest to archivists and records managers, please share in the comments!

 

 

The Records Lifecycle: Moving Permanent Records from the Records Management Phase to the Archival Phase

For those of us working in a university or institutional archives setting records management is not just about risk management and efficiency, but also about documenting the history of our institution. This happens through the scheduling of records that have been appraised by archivists to have enduring historical value.

Examples of records that are often scheduled for permanent retention because of enduring historical value include annual reports, executive correspondence and memoranda, even photographs.

My own institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), has created a list of the most common types of permanent records found in our university’s departments and offices for quick reference. That list can be found here.

Take a moment to enjoy these digital photographs from December 2002, when an early winter storm encapsulated UNC in a layer of ice. You can easily see why an archives would want to acquire and preserve this type of material, and why archivists and records managers should work together to ensure that these types of records are scheduled as permanent and transferred to an archival repository.

 

[Digital photographs of ice storm, December 2002, in Medical Illustration and Photography of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40307, University Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]

And just to map this process to the records lifecycle, these photographs were (1) created by the Department of Medical Illustration and Photography in UNC’s School of Medicine, (2) maintained and used by that department until they had met their retention period, at which point they were (3) transferred to the University Archives at UNC, and then (4) accessioned into the archive’s holdings.

Then, they were (5) arranged and described by archivists and (6) ingested into the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR), UNC’s digital preservation repository. Today, we are able to (7) access them through the CDR and even share them through a blog like this!

Meet the RMRT Steering Committee: Meg Tuomala

Over the next few weeks we will be posting a little bit more about the Records Management Roundtable Steering Committee members who contribute to this blog. First up is me, Meg Tuomala!

Hello! I am Meg Tuomala, and I have been on the RMRT SC since the spring of 2012. I work in University Archives and Records Management Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), where I am the electronic records archivist.

Meg Tuomala, electronic records archivist at UNC
Meg Tuomala, electronic records archivist at UNC

As electronic records archivist I lead efforts within University Archives a to acquire, manage, and preserve born-digital materials. I also assist the other special collections at UNC acquire, manage, and preserve the born-digital materials that they collect. Additionally, I support UNC faculty, students, and staff in depositing digital materials into the Carolina Digital Repository (CDR), and  work with other library staff to define and implement repository policies, workflows, and capabilities. And last but not least, I’m also responsible for ensuring that the electronic records created and used by everyone here at UNC are being properly managed and preserved.

Before I came (back) to UNC, I was the Digital Archivist at the University Archives of Washington University in St. Louis. And before that I worked at at UNC as the Records Services Archivist. I have a M.S.L.S. and a B.A., you guessed it, from UNC. As you can probably gather I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, and when I die I’ll be a Tar Heel dead!

“[Lyrics from ‘Hark the Sound’]” in North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
“[Lyrics from ‘Hark the Sound’]” in North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Although I’m an archivist and not a records manager I really love records management work, and one of my favorite parts of my current job is getting to help my fellow UNC colleagues better manage their electronic records. It’s really gratifying, plus I just love going to different offices on campus and meeting new people.

Other things I love are Tar Heel basketball, Carolina BBQ (both Eastern and Lexington-styles), cooking and eating good food, and spending time with dear friends and family.