As a person who recently earned a job as a Government Information Analyst with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), I had no idea how complex records management would be. As a former educator and law student, I created tons of records while underestimating the amount of time and skill that managing those records would take. Although my experiences with records are different than most in the records management career field, they have also been incredibly helpful with regards to organization, legalities, and everyday paperwork. SLR 504 and 508 forms, Records Management Officer (RMO), inventories, etc., my learning curve is rather steep, but rewarding all the same! While it can feel overwhelming, here are a few important things a newcomer can do to acclimate themselves to this new career environment:
1. Understand the purpose of records management.
A career in records management makes you a gate keeper to government documents and archival material. It is imperative that as a RMO, or other official in records management, you have the tools and guidance needed to make a career in records management successful.
2. Know Your Role: Where do you fit in this records management world?
According to Future Proof-Protecting our digital future, a RMO can come with many names, but they share the same goal: overseeing documents pertaining to their local government. Other roles in the records management field can range from:
- Information Management Specialist
- Information Analyst – that’s me!
and many more!
Local and State Government RMOs as well as their colleagues must follow laws and rules that apply to their government. For local governments, Local Government Bulletins A-F must be followed while state governments must follow State Agency Laws and Rules Bulletins 1-4.
3. Responsibilities in records management
Another important aspect in a records management career is to know the policies and responsibilities in your place of work. A career in records management will include:
Developing a records life cycle system.
A record goes through many stages within the cycle. These include record creation, the maintenance and use of the record, and then disposition (through transferal or destruction). These may not be the exact words your office uses, but everyone in records management has a type of records life cycle with the same theme: the creation of a record, through its eventual disposition.
Managing the disposition of records
Records disposition is the act of destroying a record, or transferring a record to another public entity. When sending a document through disposition, it is very important to keep a disposition log. This log acts as a record of documents destroyed or transferred. In the event of an inquiry, your government can show that the document in question was properly disposed of and the date of its disposal. Disposition logs are easily created.
Managing inventory of records
An inventory is essentially an upkeep of records, making sure the RMO and others know where records are located when needed. Keeping an inventory is important for several reasons. For one thing, it helps you fulfill your legal obligations to provide access to records – you have to retain records for a certain amount of time, you need to fulfill public information requests, and most importantly, you need to know where your records are stored! No one wants to be that person who can’t locate a record when the times comes to produce one. Inventorying takes a lot of time and practice. Unlike a disposition log, conducting an inventory is something that cannot be done quickly. It takes keen organization and the effort of employees for an inventory to be successful.
4. Implement disaster programs for the protection of records
Disasters can range from Acts of God to intentional destruction. It is important that RMOs have a comprehensive disaster plan in place. Something as simple as water can cause major damage to records that aren’t stored properly. For local governments, please refer to Records Storage Standards-Local Government Bulletin F for guidelines on how to store records properly. For state governments, please refer to Electronic Records Standards and Procedures-State Agency Bulletin One for more information on storing records properly.
5. Consequences of poor records management
Poor records management can result in a litany of problems. It’s embarrassing and could result in legal trouble if a record that was requested through a public information request was destroyed. Poor records management can result in missing documents, documents that were destroyed early, or even stolen! A person in the records management field must be organized, precise, and consistent when overseeing government records.
6. Do your research.
Before starting my position, I did a ton of research to prepare for my first day. However, I still didn’t understand the amount of information that existed on the “interwebs” about records management. When I began, I was introduced to websites of professional groups such as ARMA, NAGARA, The National Archives, and organizations such as AACRAO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers). These sites are a treasure trove essential to learning the ins and outs of records management on a larger scale. These organizations also have annual conferences in which those in the field can attend and learn more about a records management career.
Ultimately, there are many aspects of records management that a newcomer will have to know in order to be successful in this field. Although not readily acknowledged, records management is important work that has enduring consequences. That’s why it is so important that those in this career field get it right.
More information on the laws and rules that govern local and state records management can be found on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission website. Training resources can be found on our website under Records Management Training Resources.