Where is it?!?

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In honor of Records and Information Management month, I offer two tutorials on how to find stuff in things that we all have too many of — PDFs and pictures.

If you use a Windows environment, then you’re probably accustomed to the way that Windows indexes Microsoft Word documents, enabling you to search a folder full of documents for a keyword located in one or more of those documents.  But PDFs aren’t treated the same way.  Even if you use optical character recognition (OCR) to make the PDF text-searchable, by default this only works within a single document.  Luckily, Adobe offers a mechanism to overcome this deficiency.PDF find

  1. Open Adobe Reader.
  2. Press Ctrl + F to open the search box.
  3. Click the down arrow and click Open Full Reader Search.PDF advanced search
  4. Click the radio button beside All PDF documents in and navigate to the folder you wish to search.  Type your keyword in the search box and click Search.  (You’ll see a pop-up security warning asking whether you want to allow read-only access to your drive.  Click Allow.)
  5. All responsive documents will be listed.  Hover over a file name to see the file path, title, author, subject, and keywords.  Click the down arrow to see the search term in context in the document.  Click any of these instances to open the document and navigate directly to that location.  (Unfortunately, the document properties like title, author, subject, and keywords are only editable if you’re using Adobe Acrobat.)

NOTE: If you have your files organized into folders, this search process will be quicker because you can target your search more precisely.

 

Now for the photos.  I always organize my pictures into folders, but then sometimes I need to use pictures from various folders for a particular project — the visual equivalent of an old-fashioned mixed tape.  If I want to keep track of which pictures are used for which project, I can tag them.  Finding these tags is easy within one folder:details columns

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Under the View menu, choose Details.
  3. Open the View menu again and then click the down arrow beside Add columns.  Make sure Tags is checked.  (If it’s not an option at first, click Choose columns. . . and find it in that list.)
  4. Click the top of the Tags column to sort the list in ascending or descending order.

But if I want to aggregate tagged photos from numerous folders, this folder-by-folder method isn’t efficient.  But take heart — there’s still a way.search options

  1. Open File Explorer.  Navigate to the place in your file structure you want to search.
  2. Under the View menu, click the Options button and then choose Change folder and search options.
  3. Under the Search tab, check the box beside Always search file names and contents.  Although this will slow the search process, it’s the only way (outside of using another app) to pull together tags from multiple folders.
  4. In the search box of File Explorer, type the text of the tag you wish to search.  If you want the search to return only tags and not folders or files with the same name, type tag: before your search term and put the search term within quotation marks; e.g.,

Of course, this method of sorting photos depends on your ability to have added tags to your photos, and this is a bit opaque in Windows 10.  There are two primary ways to do it:

  • Using File Explorer, open the folder you wish to see.  Click the View menu and click on the Details pane and choose Details for your layout.  Once you highlight a particular file, you should now see the specifics about this file in the right-hand details pane, including a place for tags.  Click your mouse inside this box and type your tag; then press Save.  (Note: you can also select multiple files if you want to add the same tag to all of them at once.)
  • Using File Explorer, open the folder you wish to see. Right-click on a file and the left-click on Properties in the menu that pops up.  Click on the Details tab in this properties box, and you can add a tag here.  Click OK to save your changes.  Although this method works well if you only need to modify a single file, the previous method is probably simpler if you need to make a lot of changes.

file explorer iconOne final note of clarification — if you don’t know what I mean by File Explorer, press the Windows button + E.  Or click on the file folder icon in your taskbar.

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OPEN Government Data Act

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I’m chalking it up to the fact this legislation was signed during the government shutdown to explain why I missed that the OPEN Government Data Act is now law.  It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2017 as the Open, Public, Electronic, and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act, and it became Title II of Paul Ryan’s Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act that was signed January 14, 2019.

This bill requires:

  • open government data assets to be published as machine-readable data
  • each agency to develop and maintain a comprehensive data inventory for all data assets created by or collected by the agency
  • each agency to designate a Chief Data Officer who shall be responsible for lifecycle data management and other specified functions.

These terms are defined by the legislation (and will be codified in 44 USC 3502):

  • data asset: a collection of data elements or data sets that may be grouped together
  • machine-readable: data in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention while ensuring no semantic meaning is lost
  • metadata: structural or descriptive information about data such as content, format, source, rights, accuracy, provenance, frequency, periodicity, granularity, publisher or responsible party, contact information, method of collection, and other descriptions
  • open Government data asset: a public data asset that is
    • machine-readable
    • available (or could be made available) in an open format
    • not encumbered by restrictions, other than intellectual property rights, including under titles 17 and 35, that would impede the use or reuse of such asset
    • based on an underlying open standard that is maintained by a standards organization
  • open license: a legal guarantee that a data asset is made available
    • at no cost to the public
    • with no restrictions on copying, publishing, distributing, transmitting, citing, or adapting such asset

The bill also creates in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a Chief Data Officer Council for establishing “government-wide best practices for the use, protection, dissemination, and generation of data and for promoting data sharing agreements among agencies.”  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is in charge of gauging compliance with this legislation as well as the value of the information made public.  It’ll be interesting to watch what metrics the GAO develops for this purpose.

The General Services Administration is responsible for maintaining the online public interface for sharing this data, which is currently Data.gov.  The OMB will work with the National Archives and Records Administration to develop and maintain a repository of tools, best practices, and standards to facilitate open data sharing.

This legislation builds on the 2013 executive order signed by President Obama, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information.  It will take effect in July 2019.

Archivists and Records Managers

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In this time of year between Archives Month (October) and Records and Information Management Month (April), it seems appropriate to take another look at the intersections between the two fields.  Several SAA presidents spoke about this topic — see especially the speeches from Grover and Radoff.  But I also came across an American Archivist article that Frank Evans wrote in 1967 that speaks to this topic.

Evans provided a timeline of how the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the National Archives (NARA) embraced records management.

  • 1940: SAA proposed a Uniform State Records Act
  • 1941: NARA created a records administration program
  • 1941: SAA’s Committee on Reduction of Archival Material became the Committee on Record Administration
  • 1949: SAA’s Committee on Record Administration produced a pamphlet for state and local governments
  • 1955: Association of Records Executives and Administrators was founded
  • 1955: American Records Management Association was organized

Evans also incorporated relevant articles previously published in the American Archivist.  In 1943, Philip Brooks had glowing remarks about the importance of records management:

“‘Authorities on the qualifications of archivists say that archivists, in order to apply the principle of provenance, should know the methods by which records in their custody are produced. . . .  It is inevitable that the iniquity of omitting care for records as they accumulate shall be visited upon the third and fourth generations of later administrators, archivists, research students, and society as a whole'” (47).

A 1948 article for Irving Shiller gave a less gratifying analysis of the impact of records administrators:

“‘Among American archivists the cost has been the abandonment of the tradition of scholarship and research, desertion of historiography, and renunciation of a broad intellectual comprehension of the records, particularly an understanding of how they relate to the world of reality beyond the walls of the repository.  The professional archivist is atrophying'” (49).

At the 1950 SAA annual meeting, Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover provided an interesting analysis of the training needed by archivists and records managers:

“‘. . . academic qualifications in history and the social sciences are essential for an archivist, if he is to develop subject-matter competence in the areas of documentation for which he is responsible.  I believe he must develop such competence if he is to perform his professional chores intelligently.  On the other hand, management outlook and experience are essential to the records management specialist, if he is to develop as a member of the management team—and it is only as a member of that team that he can ever hope to be effective in the long run'” (51).

In his 1954 SAA presidential address, Grover spoke unequivocally about the necessity of partnership between archivists and records managers:

“‘It is folly for archivists even to think of parting company, literally or psychologically, from the newly developed specialists in records management; and no less folly on the records management side than on the archival side.  Our numbers are too few; our common interests too important'” (54).

In his 1955 SAA presidential address, Morris Radoff suggested both archivists and records managers needed to be trained as “‘masters of the whole records field'” (54).  At the same meeting, the president of the National Records Management Council, Robert Shiff, asserted archivists and records managers are interchangeable, so long as they hone their abilities to serve the needs of both scholars and administrators.  Evans also uncovered evidence from the 1958 SAA annual meeting of a panel session that emphasized the necessity of cooperation and communication between archivists and records managers:

“‘Take away one—records management—from its relationship to the other—archives administration—and you remove a vital link.  Combine the two branches and you present a united front whose total impact toward professional betterment is many times greater than the sum of efforts separately pursued'” (56).

Evans capped off this literature survey with a call for more thorough research on the topic that extends beyond the pages of the American Archivist and includes personal records and oral histories.  He contended that while the “archivist-records manager can and does exist,” “mutual misunderstandings” make it more difficult for the professions to realize their common goals than to emphasize their differences (57).  He concluded that the efforts of the records manager facilitate the work of the archivist and that the records manager also needs to embrace a sense of responsibility “to society at large and thus to posterity” (58).

Obviously, the archival and records management fields have further codified their differences since this article was published in 1967, but I, for one, embrace the notion that the professions have common denominators.  Maybe it’s time for someone to answer Evans’ call and do the research necessary to underscore this conclusion.

 

Lessons learned

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I recently finished a years-long work project.  The details about the genesis of the project are available in a case study I wrote for SAA’s Government Records Section; for these purposes, suffice it to say that I was tasked with overhauling the mechanism of scheduling records for state agencies in North Carolina.  The decision was to embrace the principles of functional schedules, and here’s a representation of the results:

This project provided many opportunities for interactions with records custodians and other interested parties as well as for reflection on the process of generating records retention and disposition schedules.  Here are some initial thoughts — things I wish I’d known when I began this process.

  1. No one likes records management (RM).  Sure, those of us in the biz can extol the virtues of defensible destruction and costs savings, but with rare exceptions, it is not a priority for our constituents.  Needless to say, this means getting participation and buy-in are challenging.

    Jackie Esposito, Penn State University Archivist, recently published the result of her survey of records management within the institutions of the Big Ten.  She provided this overview:

    “These services and the expectations built therein are often subject to a ‘struggle to fit’ within a myriad of administrative offices in their effort to undertake compliance, retention, disposition, permanence, and disposal of business records. Among the challenges of institutional placement are issues such as failure to thrive, inability to enforce compliance, risk aversion, slow responsiveness to crisis/breach situations, failure to create a cohesive environment and culture, and communication collapse” (5).

    One of her conclusions about university RM could also have some interesting applications in other entities:

    “Institutional placement/administration of Records Management programs SHOULD be coordinated and partnered with other institutional compliance efforts such as Risk Management, Privacy, Internal Audit, and IT Security.  This may require moving RM programs out of academic units such as Libraries to strengthen the compliance oversight needs within an RM program” (8).

    In my experience, RM directives that originate from the office of the General Counsel, for example, are met with much more acceptance and quicker responses than those coming from administrative assistants.

  2. It’s hard to write a retention schedule on a blank canvas.  Understanding the work required of the entities whose records you’re scheduling along with the records created and received in that process is essential.  Best case scenario, you can work from a relatively up-to-date records inventory to inform your schedule.  Or maybe we need to figure out a way to have RM ride alongs to ensure records analysts have a good grasp of how records are used by their custodians.
  3. It’s hard to effect change.  Those involved in institutional change recognize the extremes of the early adopters versus those who’ll push back against change until they’re left with no options.  In the context of revamping how agency records are scheduled, this means those cutting their teeth in the RM game are likely more easily convinced of the benefits of a new system because they aren’t entrenched in the old system, while those who’ve become acclimated to the old way of managing records will be a harder sell.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
  4. Try to anticipate the questions people will have about the new system and address them ahead of time — but also understand that some hand-holding will still be necessary and appropriate once it’s in place.
  5. There are a lot of legal aspects to RM, so make sure you have a good grasp of who’s generating records-related regulations at the state and federal levels and/or make sure you have a legal buddy who can help interpret inconsistencies and ambiguities.

 

“Selective Preservation of General Correspondence”

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Email seems to be the elephant in every archival room.  Figuring out what to keep and how to keep it consumes much time for practitioners and professors alike.  Knowing that email is a relatively new format yet correspondence isn’t a new issue for archives, I looked for wisdom in the literature — but it turns out few people are willing to tackle the correspondence dilemma.  I did find an article by Harold T. Pinkett in the January 1967 issue of the American Archivist.  Pinkett was a senior records appraisal specialist at the National Archives.

As early as the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, there was a recognition of the need to manage the amassing of records.  TR recommended restraint when it came to correspondence, suggesting in the name of efficiency “Government officials create and keep only enough correspondence and other papers required ‘to make a record of what is done'” (33).  With the huge expansion of the federal government during the New Deal and World War II, the big push for records management came in the post-war era.  The Hoover Commission Task Force on Paperwork Management of the 1950s analyzed the correspondence of government agencies and found it mostly fell into two categories:

  • general correspondence, including “letters, memoranda, messages, cards, and possibly reports and other records” related to the general functions of the organization
  • correspondence related to “specific transactions or projects” and accumulated in case files (34)

Pinkett found value in general correspondence, suggesting it “provides administrators with invaluable information for their review of the background, development, and effectiveness of policies, procedures, and programs of their agencies” (35).  He also asserted it is valuable to researchers (35):

  • “supplies answers to the whys and wherefores of crucial Government actions”
  • “gives insight on public reaction to Government operations”
  • “provides intimate and unique data concerning the life, interests, habits, and environment of the Nation’s citizens”

Yet even with these potentially valuable reasons to collect general correspondence, Pinkett also acknowledged general correspondence files “tend to bulge with ephemera” (36).  He looked to state archivists from Illinois and North Carolina for estimates of 80-90 percent of routine correspondence that has little research value.

Obviously the question is how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Pinkett recognized that scholars would not be able to sift through the mountains of correspondence and would be dependent on archivists to weed out the less valuable material.  He suggested several criteria to use in determining whether correspondence merits permanent preservation:

  • consider the administrative hierarchy of the organization and whether the files “contain documentation of basic policy and procedural decisions and major public reaction to such decisions and their implementation” (38)
  • recognize that middle management offices are usually involved in “detailed and recurrent activities,” with correspondence that is best preserved selectively rather than in toto because it tends to be summarized in reports received at a higher administrative level
  • prioritize correspondence from offices involved in “substantive activities” that carry out the functions of the organization and focus less on facilitative work “such as internal management and housekeeping” (39)

Long before Greene and Meissner introduced the idea of More Product Less Process (MPLP), Pinkett acknowledged it’s not feasible to review correspondence on an item-by-item basis to separate records with only temporary value from those deserving archival care.  He suggested at the higher administrative levels it might be more quickly assessed by considering the classification/organization of the correspondence files, so that “nonsubstantive material” concerning facilitative activities can be easily identified (40).  For the offices more involved with repetitive transactions, Pinkett asserted the value of sampling to retain representative samples of operating procedures.  He provided several methods of sampling:

  • pick a letter, any letter (e.g., keep all the correspondence from entities beginning with the letter C)
  • look at the frequency of contacts and services in order to determine representative correspondents

Finally, Pinkett suggested several ways to reduce the bulk of correspondence files:

  • eliminate any correspondence regarding non-major activities of the agency
  • de-duplicate records by identifying the “action offices” and consider their correspondence the official/complete record (43)

Tune in next week to see how these ideas might be applied to the modern world of email archiving.

“Managing the Records of Higher Education: The State of Records Management in American Colleges and Universities”

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The various scandals that have roiled university campuses in recent times justify an investigation into records management in the realm of higher education.  I’ll begin with this 1990 article written by Don C. Skemer and Geoffrey P. Williams.  Skemer was the head of Special Collections and Archives at the University at Albany, State University of New York; Williams was university archivist and campus records officer at the University of Albany.

The first university archives was not founded until 1938 (at Harvard).  The growth of education after World War II encouraged an explosion of college and university archives programs, growing five-fold from 1950 to 1990.  Skemer and Williams conducted a national survey to evaluate records management in colleges and universities.  They received 449 responses and were trying to answer several questions:

  • “Why have some institutions developed [records management] programs while others have not?
  • “Why do some succeed and others have not?
  • “Are there any valid operational models?
  • “What is the proper relationship between the archival and records management functions in academic institutions?” (533)

Skemer and Williams laid out a definition of records management in higher education:

“records management programs are considered to be organized efforts to provide centralized services for the management of all records in all formats generated by academic institutions in their day-to-day operations; the programs have been officially designated and legally authorized at the campus or system level to implement retention and disposition guidelines and provide other centralized services to an entire university or college, or at least in two or more of the following areas: administrative and departmental records; student records; business and financial records; and official publications” (537).

One-third of the survey respondents had records management programs, with three-fourths of these programs occurring at public colleges and universities.  Skemer and Williams asserted these results were so skewed because of “public expectation and requirements of legal and fiscal accountability” (537).  In a little more than half of these records management programs, archivist and records manager were shared duties.

Most of these campuses used office-specific retention and disposition schedules, usually developed from records surveys.  Compliance with these schedules was facilitated on about half the campuses through operation of a records storage center that could house obsolete and inactive records.  The survey noted little in the way of electronic records management.

The survey documented a number of benefits from records management programs (541):

  • better archival documentation
  • improved access to information
  • vital records protection
  • space and equipment savings

Yet problems still persisted, including (541-42):

  • inadequate staff and space
  • huge volume of records generated
  • inadequate support
  • low prioritization of records management
  • weak policies and outdated schedules
  • lack of compliance
  • inability to handle electronic records

The survey found that some individual offices — notably registrars — organized records management programs in the absence of campus-wide solutions.  This decentralized approach to records management was much more prevalent at private institutions.

Skemer and Williams contended that “legal requirements accompanying public finance and the success of records management in the public sector over the past half century are important reasons for the creation of campus records programs” (544).  They also acknowledged the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) necessitated policies, at least regarding student records.  They concluded:

“a change in archival thinking about records management might be beneficial.  The management of current and recent academic information for administrative purposes has to be considered as important to resource allocators and archivists as the preservation of historical information for cultural purposes is to archivists.  Unless archivists have a broader interest in the management of all administrative information, either directly or by coordination of decentralized efforts, most of them will continue to have weak records management programs or none at all” (547).

“Appraising Public Records in an Ahistorical Culture”

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Although in a records management sense this article is dated, I can’t pass up the opportunity to review something entitled “Plowing the Sea: Appraising Public Records in an Ahistorical Culture.”  Roy Turnbaugh, who at the time this article was published in 1990 was the state archivist of Oregon, had some bold opinions about public records and archival work.

He began with a simple premise:

“Public records archivists work in a culture without a sense if history.  Government cares little about yesterday.  It functions in a kind of existential present” (563).

Based on a study he conducted in the mid-1980s, he concluded there was little that could be considered standard practice in the appraisal of state government records.  Some of his respondents prioritized informational value while others appraised based on evidential value; some sought to protect the rights of the state and its citizens while others focused on possible historical research.

Turnbaugh clearly disdained the use of any appraisal criteria that considered potential users.  He referred to the scholarly research community as “at best a marginal constituency” for state archives (564).  His simple answer to the problem of appraisal was that state archives “exist to make sure that the records of the significant actions of government are preserved” (565).

As someone who spent his career in state archives in Illinois and Oregon, Turnbaugh expressed a marked cynicism about government.  I find myself wondering if his analysis of public records wasn’t influenced by this mistrust of government in general.  I’ve documented in many SAA presidential addresses the schism between archivists and records managers (see Radoff, Grover), but I believe there’s a lot we can learn from each other.

To me, the bigger difference for government archivists and manuscript archivists is in the records creators.  Many donors to manuscript collections have developed a sense of self-importance that likely shapes many of their documents.  On the other hand, many government employees have a very siloed approach to their work that prevents them from seeing the big picture of how their records contribute to the overall functions of their agency.  Without this, these employees are unlikely to recognize the potential value of their records.

Here are the intersections between archival and records management work that I think are especially important for government records (or really any sort of institutional records):

  • Essential records.  The Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology defines essential records as “emergency-operating records immediately necessary to begin recovery of operations after a disaster, and rights-and-interests records necessary to protect the assets, obligations, and resources of the organization, as well as its employees and customers or citizens.”  Although not all essential records (e.g., payroll records) would be considered archival, from the standpoint of identifying and protecting vital records, this is still an important conversation for government archivists to have with records creators.
  • Institutional memory.  Any institution that is subject to employee turnover should care about institutional memory so that each successive generation of employees doesn’t wind up reinventing the wheel.  Good records management can help accomplish this — and in the long run, these records could likely provide the long-term context necessary for archival researchers investigating an institution.
  • Business planning.  As Lord Byron said, “The best of prophets of the future is the past.”  So for any institution that is in a planning stage, seeking out the records of the past can aid in figuring out what has worked well and what has failed dramatically.  And these documentations of successes and failures could be useful archival collections.

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