“We have a RM program?”: Reaching Out to Users

Records management programs can provide great value to units and offices, assisting them with identifying, storing, and organizing their documents. However, to use these services, users have to be aware of them, and records management awareness­­–or lack thereof– can be a major stumbling block for a program.

Continue reading ““We have a RM program?”: Reaching Out to Users”


Help the RMRT build educational offerings for archivists!

[Crossposted from the RMRT listserv. If you’re reading this and know someone else who’d be interested in presenting or developing, send ’em our way!]

Happy new year! As mentioned in the most recent RMRT newsletter, one of the steering committee’s priorities for this year is to expand on the success of our October “Records Management for Archivists” webinar and increase the number and scope of educational offerings. To that end, we’re looking for help from you, our members, to share your knowledge and experience with the rest of the roundtable (and other interested SAA members) in the form of some webinars on more specialized topics. We’re already updating the 2-day workshop on Records Management for Archivists to be offered in March (see http://saa.archivists.org/events/records-management-for-archivists-1580/582/ for details), but as with the original webinar, we’re especially interested in producing content in that format to make educational materials available at relatively low cost  to a wider group of archivists/RMs on their own time.

So, at the moment we’re looking for a few things:

1) Content Presenters. We’re looking for people here who are interested in being the voice behind the webinars, which includes enough familiarity with the content to answer questions the day of the presentation. RMRT members would help put together the proposal to the Education Committee and provide assistance with program development (see below).  Some suggested topics we received include:

  • ​​Records Management Outreach and Training
  • Retention Schedule Development
  • Managing Active Electronic Records
  • Developing RM Policies
  • RM in specific settings (Educational, Business, etc.)

2) Content Developers. Anne Marie Phillips and I were helped greatly on the RM for Archivists webinar by Farrell and Christie’s contributions, and we would like to be able to offer the same assistance to any potential presenters. Possible tasks in this role include helping to write slides or other content, reviewing presentations for accuracy or clarity, providing a run-through audience, etc. This is a great way to get involved in the process if the presenter limelight isn’t for you.
3) Content Ideas. ​If you have questions about or expertise in a topic not mentioned above, we want to hear about it! Even if it’s just something you want to learn more about but don’t want to present on, let us know– we can always add to the above list in our call for presenters or developers.

Working on a webinar is a great way to get involved in SAA and the RMRT, add to your resume, and share your knowledge with your colleagues. If you are interested in contributing to any of the above three pools, please email me, Beth Cron, or Christie Peterson. We look forward to hearing from you!

Letting Go of Comprehensiveness

When I interviewed for my current position of Records Management Archivist about 16 months ago, I was asked to present my vision for a records management program in a “modern university.” Although I stand by that vision and believe we are making good progress toward most of the ideals I enumerated in that presentation, there is one that leaps out to me today as particularly naïve:

“Records management services are integrated into and actively support the operations of all records-producing offices, departments and groups.”

Through this characteristic, I was attempting to encompass both the ideal of comprehensiveness and the value of records management to the daily activities of the campus. It is the former of these, comprehensiveness, which now feels the least realistic of all my stated goals. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I have nearly abandoned it in favor of a strategically limited approach that, while it makes sense for my context, I have struggled to find support or guidance for in the records management literature. Continue reading “Letting Go of Comprehensiveness”

Your Business Case Of The Week: Avoid ESI Spoliation Penalties!

Peter Kurilecz brought to my attention on Twitter this lovely little nugget about possible new precedent for discovery of electronically stored information (ESI). For our readers who are new to the records management (or legal) profession, discovery is a phase of civil procedure in which parties disclose records relevant to the case to the other party. This is not an optional step in the process; in most cases, the attorneys of the two parties in a civil suit will have a “meet-and-confer” session in which they agree on the terms of what records will be produced. This can be either a general request (“Give me every email you have relating to John Smith” or a specific set of keywords, depending on the level of granularity sought. The author of this piece, Ralph Losey, suggests that future cases will tip towards the specific:

…[M]ore and more courts are requiring the responding party to go the extra step and disclose what searches they did before they concluded that no responsive documents existed. Do not expect that these efforts will always be protected by attorney work-product confidentiality. Expect instead that you will be asked to disclose your search efforts. 

This is potentially a huge amount of extra work for both records managers and legal teams. In particular, if your search methodology is particularly lacking, or if there is reason to believe the records being sought were destroyed improperly, your institution may have to pay spoliation penalties, or have an “adverse inference” lodged against it (in other words, the court will assume the documents were destroyed because they showed some measure of guilt.)  Famously, accounting firm Arthur Andersen had a huge judgment rendered against it for advising its employees to improperly dispose of documents; in the Records Management world, there is the Zubulake case, which set a number of important case law precedents on spoliation, including the ability to impose sanctions for spoliation of digital material, often referred to in legal contexts as ESI (electronically stored information). Needless to say, spoliation is a Very Bad Thing.

“But Brad,” you say, “isn’t this a legal issue, and therefore my institution’s lawyers will know about it?” Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to know about these issues. As a records manager, your creation of records schedules is in large part allowing your institution (and employees thereof) to defensibly delete records. Proper records management allows your institution to invoke Safe Harbor rules, which reduces your institution’s legal liability if they were following records management procedures. Note, however, that the mere fact of having records schedules isn’t enough to invoke this principle– Arthur Andersen, after all, had records schedules in place. Rather, your institution must be following the records schedules as part of the course of regular business.

What this means for you, the records manager, is that your efforts to educate your employees are actually an essential part of protecting your institution from risk invoked by destruction of records. The fact that you are out there instructing employees to follow retention schedules, manage email as records, and only keep documents for as long as their retention schedule specifies, is itself evidence that your institution is properly following records management procedures. As such, you can make a case that a robust records management program reduces the risk of legal action by its very existence. Plus, if records are being destroyed routinely and organized in a fashion that makes them easier to find, that’s less work that the legal team has to do when a request does come in!

(Having said that, “Do this or you’ll get sued” is not always the best argument to make when you’re trying to get buy-in at lower levels, as I discovered when I started at UWM. But that’s another post.)