Archive for February, 2012

Social Media Guidelines posted

February 13, 2012 Comments off

The use of social media is increasing at a phenomenal rate. For example, people are watching 3 billion YouTube videos every day and Twitter search engines are indexing an average of 2,200 Tweets per second. Social media is popular because it enables collaboration and because it makes mass communication in real time possible. Social media is changing the way we communicate and changing the way we do business. To explore how government in Utah is using social media, check out this site

For records managers the consequence of the proliferation of social media is an expansion of government records. Since Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) defines a record by content and not format, the use of social media for government business generates records. Whether it be a city or county hosting a blog or FaceBook page, a state agency uploading video content to YouTube, or an employee sending a Tweet, all are creating records that must to be managed.

In order to assist records officers with the daunting task of managing records created on social media, the Utah State Archives and Records Service has posted “Social Media Guidelines.” These guidelines emphasize the following points:

  1. The use of social media should have a clear business purpose.
  2. Government should adopt policies and guidelines that define how social media will be used.
  3. Records created through social media must be managed as government records.

Why Effective Records Management Matters in a Democracy

Typically, the justification for a records management (RM) program is tied to cost cutting, efficiency, and managing risk. While certainly important pieces of records management, for government records managers there is an additional and significant reason for a RM program. 

Government archivists and records managers typically are guided by mission statements that focus on preserving and documenting government institutions. One of three elements of the Utah State Archives and Records Service mission is to preserve records of enduring value. The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) mission statement states that one of its goals is “safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government” so that citizens have access to the records that document their rights. These missions are partly outward facing and concerned with providing sufficient evidence of government actions so that citizens can access and understand the decisions of government officials. Records document actions taken by the government. Keeping records in democratic governments matters because the government must be accountable to its citizens. Records are neutral; they can be used in a variety of ways — Some positive, and some negative. For example, the records collected in Paraguay’s Archives of Terror demonstrate that the same set of records might be used to oppress or, ultimately, to seek justice and reconciliation.   

According to NARA 1-3 percent of the records created by federal agencies have long-term legal or historical value. The Utah State Archives estimates that approximately 5 percent of the records created by state, county, and municipal agencies are retained permanently as part of the state’s historical record. It is the responsibility of government records managers to create and follow retention schedules that will determine how long records are kept. As retention schedules are applied records managers sift through and reduce a government’s records, leaving behind the materials that will become the entity’s documentary heritage. Records managers are actively involved in ensuring that records that need to be kept are kept, while those that need to be destroyed are destroyed. By reducing the records static – those records that have temporary value – records managers help clarify and focus the historic record that remains. This is not a task to be taken lightly, and it is one that cannot be avoided as each decision to keep or destroy a record represents a privileging of the stories that can be told from that record.  

Verne Harris argues that all records are essentially tied up in storytelling. He writes, “Telling stories of our past is a quintessentially human activity. Story is crucial to our construction of meaning and is carried by our dream of the impossible. Without story we are without soul.”[1] As records managers we are a part of the records making process. We have a role to play in shaping the story that will be told about the institutions we serve and, in the end, about ourselves.

[1] Verne Harris, “Postmodernism and Archival Appraisal: Seven Theses,” in Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2007), 102.

2012 Winter/Spring Training Events

February 3, 2012 Comments off

To register for a training event, please click here.

Salt Lake City, UT

Controlling and Managing Law Enforcement Records, 9:00 am to 12:00 pm

  • February 8, 2012

Providing Public Access to Government Records, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • February 22, 2012
  • May 23, 2012

Essential Records Protection and Disaster Recovery, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • April 11, 2012

What’s in Those Cabinets? Tackling the Records Inventory and Appraisal Process, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • April 25, 2012

Brigham City, UT

Handling Office Overload: Basic Records Management, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • March 28, 2012

Providing Public Access to Government Records, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

  • March 29, 2012

To register for a training event, please click here.

2012 Resolution Challenge pt. 2: Simplifying Records Retention

February 1, 2012 Comments off

On January 4, 2012 we published the first installment of our 2012 Resolution Challenge to Records Managers. In that post, we asked you to evaluate your entity’s records management program or practices. Did you do it? How did you score? Let us know in the comments. Typically, 88 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, in part because they are too vague, general, or unrealistic. Not this year. As we say goodbye to January 2012, now is an excellent time to dust of your January 4th evaluation and set to work trimming away those old — long past their approved retention — records turned office décor.

Our goal with part two of the 2012 Resolution Challenge: DLTIYHBTIYN– “Don’t let the information you have bury the information you need.”[i] One of the many challenges records managers face is the 20 foot high, 6 inch thick, concrete wall called the “keep everything” mentality. This mentality can be both a legal liability and cost prohibitive as staff time and storage costs increase with the demand to do “something, anything” with those records. Not to mention that the more records you keep beyond their retention the more records you are required to produce in response to a records request.

Overcoming the “keep everything” mentality is a profession-wide challenge. One method for achieving entity-wide buy-in is to adopt simple solutions that function as a part of the business process. For example, when writing a draft of a document, place the “draft” watermark on the document.

Another solution is to move towards a records management system that emphasizes “big buckets” which can simplify the records management process and mitigate employee resistance to move the records they create to the appropriate person or location. The “big bucket” approach calls for identifying related record series that are produced as part of a specific business function—legal records fall under the legal function of the entity. Sounds pretty logical and easy, right?

Unfortunately, everyone loves an exception and we all think we have one. Just like in our personal lives, in the office we often make new years resolutions that we never seem to follow. Instead of coming up with reasons we can’t go to the gym we find reasons why we can’t apply the retention schedules we promised we would follow. Maybe the records in the office were created for a special event that does not have a retention period yet or we have case files with multiple record types: correspondence, research, studies and evaluations. Or we have project files that contain contracts, proposals, photographs, summaries, etc. Often times the manner in which we conduct business does not fit into neat, tidy categorizations. We want to look at a general retention schedule and find that there is already a written description and retention period that matches the files on our desks perfectly. Or because many of us wear more hats than just that of a records manager we set aside those files that for the reasons above just do not fit. Keep in mind, we all have them, they aren’t special. In fact, 30-50 percent of office records could be considered exceptions.[ii] Given that percentage, maybe, they are not really exceptions at all.

As a profession we need to move towards a culture where the exception is just that, the exception, and not the rule. We can start by evaluating what files in our offices are records and which are not. Non-records should follow a big bucket retention schedule. Examples of non-record buckets include: general working documents and personal reference documents or more simply, non- records.

At this point in the process, you should not be focusing on actual records, records series or record content. Simply identify at the highest level what buckets you need for how your entity does business. Stop thinking about all the exceptions, those come later. For today, we encourage you to examine what buckets you use, or need to use, to effectively conduct business and create an environment where the information you have does not bury the information you need. The Utah state general retention schedules can help you get started.

In the interest of keeping our 2012 Resolution Challenge focused and realistic, we recommend that each records manager identify one entity function and compile a list of items that do not need to be retained for that function: duplicates, superseded or obsolete records, drafts, etc.

[i] Acronym reprinted from ARMA International’s “Hottopic” supplement and belongs to the CA Information Governance solution.

[ii] “Trimming Your Bucket List” hottopic, ARMA International. September 2008. Accessed January 31, 2012.