Archives Records 2018 RMS Annual Meeting

Nearly 200 peers came together last Friday in Washington, DC, for the joint meeting of the Acquisitions & Appraisal and Records Management Sections.  I’ll leave A&A to report on their part of the meeting; here’s a summary of the RMS portion of business along with notes on the speakers that were invited by these groups.

Outgoing section chair Eira Tansey reported on RMS activities for the year:

Incoming section chair Alex Toner reported the recent election results:

  • 205 people voted in the election
  • Courtney Bailey was elected vice-chair/chair-elect
  • Holly Dolan was elected to the open seat on the steering committee
  • Proposed changes to the standing rules passed 199-1

Toner emphasized engagement for the section will be a theme for his leadership — internally through the blog, listserv, and direct interaction; throughout SAA via the annual meeting and collaboration with other sections; and across the profession and allied organizations.

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Outgoing RMS chair Eira Tansey addresses the joint meeting of the Acquisition & Appraisal and Records Management Sections at SAA’s 2018 annual meeting.

The Acquisitions & Appraisal and Records Management Sections invited two speakers to discuss “Transparency in Appraisal and Retention Scheduling.”  The first speaker was Lauren Gaines from Thrivent Financial, which is a fraternal benefit society and Fortune 500 financial services organization.  Her Archival and Heritage Services office has bounced around different parts of the organization from General Counsel to Corporate Operations and is now considered part of the compliance function of the business.  They have institutional retention schedules as well as a collection development policy, and Gaines has been working on an assessment program with business units to gauge compliance.  This is a closed repository with no reading room; all external requests for information are subject to approval by the Communications and Legal staff.

Gaines is expanding her collection development policy to include records from member activities so they can document how they help their members serve their communities and is also working on metrics, strategic planning, and recordkeeping of decisions.  Perhaps one of the most interesting points she raised was about the potential impact of the new EU right to privacy rule.  Her organization has historical member information stored on microfilm, so if they become bound by the GDPR, she will have to figure out a way to delete information from microfilm!

The second speaker was Nate Jones, Director of the FOIA Project for the National Security Archive.  He titled his talk “The ‘Indiana Jones Warehouse’: Records Appraisal, Purgatory, and Accession.”  In his role with the FOIA Project, he’s had numerous occasions to request records from NARA, so he began with a brief overview of records scheduling at the federal level.  According to NARA, only about 2-5% of federal records have “continuing value in protecting the rights and interests of the public, holding officials accountable for their actions, and documenting our nation’s history.”  NARA maintains federal records centers where agencies can rent storage for their records.  These records remain in the legal custody of the creating agencies until such time when NARA accessions the records and transfers them to an archival facility — in the meantime, NARA doesn’t process FOIA requests for the records and instead expects the creating agency to review their own records and provide access.  While from a legal standpoint this is not an unusual process, Jones sees it as somewhat problematic because it’s a difficult process to find out what is stored at the federal records centers and it’s not clear what triggers NARA to accession records.  Jones provided several suggestions, including:

  • increasing funding for NARA
  • posting all Records Control Schedules online (this one’s in process)
  • posting all Standard Form 135s (records transfer forms) online
  • embracing automatic declassification
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Nate Jones, Director of the FOIA Project at the National Security Archives, addresses attendees.

During the Q&A, an important point was raised: it’s difficult for government records managers to handle FOIA requests in a timely manner while also managing active records, so there needs to be funding to build systems that can facilitate these quick responses.

Meg Phillips, NARA’s External Affairs Liaison, explained the reason agencies retain legal custody over records stored in the federal records centers is that NARA can’t independently handle the level of FOIA requests that are made on those records so they depend on the creating agencies to be responsible for their own records.  For more information about access to records in the federal records centers, see a blog post from the Ombuds office (https://foia.blogs.archives.gov/2018/06/13/foia-and-naras-federal-records-centers/).

When asked how we can be more transparent with our appraisal decisions, Gaines suggested there need to be case-by-case conversations with individuals and business units within her organization.  Jones contended the public’s priorities should be considered and that the more secretive an agency is in its day-to-day work, perhaps the more likely that its records should be saved permanently.

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