The discipline vs. the role of records and why we have to stop it crushing the profession
It's been a while since I posted because I've been chewing on this idea.
I've been trying to reach a satisfactory articulation of why records management is so hard in the organisations I work with - why committed and motivated people have to struggle so much for funding, and generally only get to do the boring stuff. I've come to a conclusion that I'm not sure describes the problem, but at least I think it describes the situation.
There is a set of values and practices that come with records managment that are all about the value of high quality business evidence, and how we maintain and improve that quality level at the right level.
The challenge that we are facing however, is that because we as a profession haven't historically articulated our practices this way to our organisations, the organisations have increasingly decided what we are about based on what we've talked about, and what they've seen.
The central challenge now, is that in a large percentage of the agencies I work with and talk to, records is seen as purely retention and disposition. The reason for this is understandble - the legislation focuses us on that, and so it's what we've talked about, and what people have seen, and what has been percieved as important.
The result has been that organisations have paid lip-service to records management for many years because they're not hitting any worthwhile business objectives through retention and disposition - and given that's what we're about, why focus on us? Since records went electronic, the cost of additional storage next to the cost of cleanup is also negligible - so cost has gone as a driver for good retention management.
The challenge now, is that automated tools are appearing that really can handle classification against a retention schedule and disposition without us having to be involved.
And if our organisations have decided that the role of records is retention and disposition, this means that to them, we're no longer necessary - they can replace us with a tool. At best, we're necessary once a fortnight, or once a month - just to make sure that the tools are all functioning correctly.
To me, this is a tragedy, because retention and disposition are the least valuable, least interesting thing that we do.
I think that accurately describes the situation for many of us. The question, is how do we break out of this role, so we can give our organisations the best of records management and avoid being automated out of jobs?