Getting Started on Records Scheduling

There was a post on SAA’s College and University Archives listserv (subscriber only, sorry) this week about a problem that is all too common in many of our institutions: The Archives is expected to keep *everything* and is not given sufficient guidance/resources to do so. The author of this post was new to SAA and wanted to see some examples of what schedules people are using for both permanent and temporary records, to give him, at least, some guidance on how to start managing the mess he inherited. Seems reasonable!

Lots of good advice and examples followed, including at least one person suggesting that this was an opportunity to advocate for more storage space! My own response, which I’m adapting for this post, is more along the lines of the famous aphorism: “Give a man a fire and he’s warm for a day; light a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life.” (Wait… that’s not right. Apologies to the late great Terry Pratchett.) In other words, what should people be *thinking* about when they think about building out new records schedules?

Well, there could be (and are) whole courses on this topic. There are, in fact, proposed post series on this topic on this very blog. So this post is not so much a “comprehensive schedule-building how-to” as a “things to consider as you get started”. Even that could be way longer than I would like, so I’m going to try to shorten further by using bullet points. Ready? Follow me after the jump…

Continue reading “Getting Started on Records Scheduling”

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One Year In: Reflections on the First Year as Records Manager

I have had a foot in the archives world for some time, but I’ve only recently stepped into the world of records management. Like many of us, I have a dual title job – “Digital Archivist/Records Manager.” I started my position just over a year ago. My university’s records management program has been around for a long time, but the digital archives part is new, and a large part of my position is determining how we’ll manage born-digital archives. A frequent challenge I’ve found since arriving at my position is educating university offices to make the mental leap from thinking of their paper records as “potentially archival” to thinking the same thing of their electronic records. People are pretty good about calling us up when they’re performing a physical records cleanup (often triggered by a facility move or running out of space) to archive records as instructed on their retention schedule. However, our decentralized university environment means we have fewer triggers to encourage people to voluntarily cleanup (and subsequently transfer) electronic records.

This is the first position I’ve had in which I’ve had significant records management duties. Because I’m still learning so much about general records management practice, this has given me a lot of insight on how to effectively communicate similar messages to the people I work with and educate. In my first year, I’ve conducted several campus training workshops, and what I’ve realized is that the majority of people want to maintain their records according to our program guidelines. What becomes difficult is university staff workload often prevents people from having adequate time to tackle their records challenges. Because implementing any type of EDRMS is so unlikely I can barely entertain the thought of it, I have embraced the message of telling people that they can send me a calendar invitation any time for any reason if they feel stuck and don’t know where to start.

This means that most of my meetings are for things like record cleanups and retention schedule revisions. But it also means that I have received interesting requests, like reviewing an RFP draft for a new asset management system. Like Christie, I have found success in framing my offer of help as something other than “records management.” If people leave my workshops and the only thing they remember is there’s someone out there to call for assistance, I consider that a successful outcome.

Since I started, I have had several meetings a month with many different colleges and departments across the university’s campuses. Not only does it mean I have a better sense of the recordkeeping landscape of our university, but it allows me to build relationships and create connections that improve my larger understanding of the community and how to operate in it. In a decentralized university, the biggest challenge of all is figuring out who to talk to about any given matter. Job titles and org charts give you a starting point, but rarely tell you who the most responsive person is when you need an answer. Thanks to my frequently full calendar, I am embarking on my second year with a much broader set of personal connections and ideas to tackle the challenges I began to face in the first year.

For your consideration: Become an SAA Mentor

Recently, SAA put out a call for participants in its Mentoring Program, which matches new and experienced archivists to help form mentorship and advising relationships between archivists at various levels of professional experience. Jackie Dooley also talked a bit about the mentoring program in a post on Off the Record. I’ll go ahead and provide some additional links back to both sites, because I think this program is very important. As an archivist/records manager who is not that far away from being a new archivist himself, I remember quite vividly how bewildering navigating professional networks, conferences, workshops, etc. can be, and although I myself never had a formal mentorship set up by SAA, I think I would have benefited greatly from having someone to show me the ropes.

In particular, I think it’s really important for members of this roundtable to offer their services as a mentor, because we represent not just a different facet of archives work but potentially an entirely different profession. I know that when I was in graduate school, I didn’t even consider records management as a career until I just happened to take an elective on it, and my guess is that there are many archivists-in-training who are similarly unaware of why records management is important and of what kinds of opportunities it can afford them. If nothing else, being in a position to talk to mentees about the interaction between Archives and Records Management is helpful for opening discussions about records continuum, appraisal from a different perspective, and other aspects of the profession that might not occur to students and young professionals at first glance.

(Note also that the RMRT has a supplementary mentor program, which operates in conjunction with the main SAA one– we maintain a separate database, however, both to help match specifically to records managers and to allow us to create links between potential mentees and records managers who are not necessarily part of SAA. If you are interested in being added to that list, please email me directly: houstobn AT uwm DOT edu.)