The Information Management Umbrella

July 28th, 2016


George Despres, CRM
Program Director for University Records Management, Brandeis University

(The content in this blog reflects the opinions of the author, and not of Brandeis University.)

A colleague at another university recently polled a listserv group of records managers in Higher Ed. The survey probed the records management programs’ locations within the organization. The last “extra credit” question was whether or not we would recommend our current organizational locations. Your industry may dictate your relationship with your library people, if you even have a relationship with them. In academia, records management tends (not exclusively) to be grouped organizationally with library and archival units.

I recently presented an RM program review to my Brandeis library colleagues and noted this rather strange RM fit: humanities research, cultural heritage, instructional design, open scholarly access, and… RETENTION SCHEDULE?! In one sense, we are the Charlie Brown of an academic library department. A business suit among tie-dyes and flip-flops. On the other hand, I hope to show that we’re ultimately unified.

In her excellent Domesticating Information (p. xix), Carol Choksy distinguishes the “two cultures of understanding” between records management and library science. Records management, she states, “is pragmatic, utilitarian and rigorous; library and information science are creative and open to exploration.” While I wouldn’t contend that library and info science is never rigorous, that RM can’t be exploratory—it must be—and that information science is the exclusive domain of the library, Choksy’s “two cultures” point is correct.

After reflection on my academia colleague’s survey questions, I came to the conclusion that, while RIM/IG is a curious fit within the academic library and archives culture, I couldn’t think of another place in my organization where my program would perfectly align. Legal blesses final versions of the retention schedule before publishing, but that’s the primary touch point. I partner with our Chief Info Security Officer on projects and share his vigilance under the broader governance umbrella, but I am not responsible for endpoint detection and response, authentication protocols, malware interception, and honeypots. Interesting stuff, but beyond my job function. While we seek to influence good recordkeeping practices across the university, we also support client services (scanning, storage, shredding) that wouldn’t nestle under the COO office, either. And our legacy paper-based services, along with the business-side mission focus, preclude seamless IT departmental membership, though some academic RM programs are understandably going in this direction. We engage with stakeholders from all over the institution, with the objective of identifying, controlling, managing, purging, and facilitating optimal access to their information.

In a two-part series earlier in this blog, I covered some of the differences and similarities between records managers and archivists, who also tend to align with academic library units organizationally. Despite a somewhat parallel relationship history, the two professions have developed several nodes of integration over the last two decades, as I illustrated. The broader, shared information management responsibilities of records managers and archivists prove to be the connecting points for collaboration.

While I don’t seek to focus on the Info Governance versus RIM distinctions here, one commonality between IG and RIM (at least in the acronyms) is the “I.” We can add library professionals to this aggregation. The Info Management umbrella doesn’t detract from IGP, CRM, CIP, CA, CISM, MLS, or other related and specialized credentials.  It’s relatively accessible to the layperson. Information is not bound by format, covering structured and unstructured data, as well as complex multimedia products. News items toward the front of ARMA’s own Information Management publication cover a vast range of topics and disciplines. IM unites a broad consort of people who identify information, try to anticipate, organize, protect, and control it, and/or get it to people who need it, when they need it. All or most of us were caught flat-footed (to varying degrees) by the digital revolution and were slow to adapt to it. All of us value sufficient metadata and information context. All of us seek to sift out and steward good information and jettison the bad. All of us care more about the content value than the content vehicles, as IT does (not that we don’t care about the modes of transportation).

I am foremost an information manager. And united we stand—as a massive army for good information practice.

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