I am struggling at the moment, bobbing up and down in a sea of change. I have reached that stage in my information career when I need to decide where to put my efforts. I feel stuck in the current past where clients don’t really want new ideas they want status quo, and I really want to discuss and deliver the future. Writing about and delivering presentations on the future of work for information professionals is not exactly bringing in much income, but it brings pleasure and excitement and a real interest in new technology and all the possibilities ahead of us. Projects, consultancy, education and training focussed solely on the traditional view of records management and even information governance needs revamping no matter how prettily it is spun or jazzed up with video links, social media feeds, webinars and that endless stream of standards; best practices and frameworks. So what do I do – ditch the old and stick with the new; bury my head and say most folks aren’t ready for new just yet, and stick with traditional; or leave it, and you lovely folks, behind and go off into space with Richard Branson or whoever makes a space trip commercially feasible for the masses?
Simply speaking, information belongs to everyone now. You immediately opt-in to this giving mode when you create something, unless you opt-out, which typically isn’t done any quicker than the “declaration” of records in an electronic document and records management system, i.e. so far after the fact that opting out (or declaring) is a moot point; or, perhaps you opt-out when something dramatic happens to expose your opt-in non-private habit. And I’m not just talking about your personal information, a similar attitude prevails in organisations when you attach a document and send it around via email, to as many people as possible, bcc-ing your private email address, just in case you need to look at the document on your own smartphone; or when you go off base and create a shared folder in a less than secure, free cloud product; or when you print it out and read it on the train, or worse leave it on the train. Transparency is everywhere, but generally transparent to the wrong people.
There is no way that traditional records management methods can keep up with this opt-in giving attitude. We couldn’t even keep up in the paper days when we at least knew where the filing was piling. We couldn’t keep up when it was recognised that most information was being produced electronically (and secretly – am I paranoid?) on individual desktops; and, we are certainly not keeping up now.
We preach to ourselves and nod in agreement, and we create too many inward looking circles to do so. We really need to teach others about the value of managing information not just for today but for tomorrow as well. Today’s management of information is not about records management methods it is about people and awareness; it is about communication to the masses about their responsibilities. However, no one seems to want to take responsibility for managing their own information and in truth records managers have little or no responsibility to manage others’ information – so Catch 22. I know that some of you will argue with these comments but in all honesty I have never yet met a records manager that truly has control over the management of the information in an organisation.
Let’s not fool ourselves, if all records managers disappeared tomorrow no-one would miss our function at work, even if they did miss us as friends.
Those of us who have a found a niche advising on data protection /privacy, security, freedom of information, digital preservation etc. are no longer records managers, you are specialists for a specific type of information and that is definitely an avenue for the generalist records managers to explore. It is not just records managers that move into these fields, however, there are lawyers, IT people, archivists even accountants and auditors that are dealing with these topics also.
And so to the new kids on the block those who work in data. Almost living inside their machines, they sift and sort, analyse and declare “value” in data that may not have seen the light of day for five years. They have discovered so much in such a relatively short time – curing disease and famine; stopping terrorists and criminals; delivering recommendations to consumers – do I sound sarcastic – I don’t mean to because there have been some amazing discoveries through linking of data sets across previously competing organisations. This is definitely a positive use of data that businesses may have disposed of in the past. It does bring into focus, however, that fourth pillar of records management – retention and disposition. Somewhere I have hung my hat very successfully in the past. Does it matter anymore? Discounting the privacy issues around the keeping of personal data – why not just keep everything else forever, who knows when you might get value from something old?
I watch and weep as our life-cycle pillars for records management crumble into dust. If I believe my own words, I am doomed unless I find another profession.
Watch this space for “Professional Joy and Laughter” coming soon to a social media feed near you.