The Church of Information Management

How long has it been since your last (information management) confession?

We’ve all had a moan about ‘filing’ at one time or another. Have a listen around the office, and you’ll probably hear things like: ‘It’s too complicated’, ‘it takes forever’, ‘I can never find anything’, ‘I have more important things to do’, ‘that’s someone else’s job’, and so on…

Well, working in the business of Knowledge and Information Management I thought it was time to start keeping track of these ‘confessions’. After all, admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it!

Christ Church, Oatlands, Grahamstown

The Church of Information Management (CO 1069/214/114)

Managing ‘records’ is no longer the obscure back office function you thought it was – it’s not something only the ‘office archivist’ does, and it’s definitely not something that happens by magic. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that information is kept in a way that means it can be both protected and exploited, that it’s only kept as long as necessary, and that it’s kept in a way that values information as an ‘asset’ to your business.

So to highlight the state of records management in the digital age, I’m officially establishing the Church of Information Management, and from today, we’re hearing confession.

I’ve collected a few anonymised quotes below, and added my own questions that you can use to investigate information management in your own office. Do any of these confessions sound familiar?

“I know we have a records system, but it’s so complicated that I can never find anything that I need. Instead of going through the hassle, I keep my files in my own ‘Personal Drive’ which means they’re all in one place and I always have access.”
– Is it clear where staff should be saving their files?

“For some reason my emails delete themselves when they get old. It’s really annoying – I have to forward emails to myself to make sure I still have access, and I’ve definitely lost important stuff in the past.”
– Are emails regarded as a core part of the organisation’s record holdings?

“Since joining the department I’ve been meaning to get to one of the training sessions. They’re two hours long though, and I can never find the time to waste learning how or where to file something.”
– How well is refresher training advertised?

“We have loads of guidance available to staff, it’s all available on our intranet. They can read it at their leisure, all they need to do is scroll down to the bottom, click on Corporate services > Administration > Knowledge and Information Management > Policies and Guidance. How hard is that?”
– Is written guidance too complicated, or hidden away?

“I tend to just shove papers straight into the drawer under my desk. Could be notebooks, minutes from yesterday’s team meeting, brochures, post it notes, anything really. At least it keeps the desk clean!”
– How is a ‘record’ defined in your organisation?

“I’m not all that clear on what protective marking is, but I know I should keep government information safe. I mark all my draft documents and emails as ‘Restricted’ just in case.”
– Are staff under or over classifying documents?

“Why can’t we just keep everything? Storage is so cheap – the other day I filled up my pc at home, so I got a one terabyte memory drive for 50 quid. The box says it can hold 250,000 songs!”
– Are there misconceptions around retention periods and storage costs?

“My computer at home is so much faster than in the office, and if I have access to my documents I can work over the weekends. I tend to just email a couple of things to my Yahoo account on a Friday; my stuff isn’t really that sensitive anyway.”
– How widely are risks around information security understood?

“Er, I’ve got this friend… they eventually got told off for always hitting ‘reply to all’ on their emails. Sometimes you don’t realise how many people are in the cc box, and it just fills up everyone’s inboxes with rubbish.”
– Who’s responsibility is it to make sure that valuable emails are recorded?

“I’m constantly having to ask my colleague for advice on how to use the system – they’re the only who knows how it works, if ever they left the team, I’d be totally stuck!”
– How is tacit knowledge of information and systems captured and shared?

 

If you work in the sector and can identify with one (or more!) of these information confessions, then salvation is at hand. The National Archives has guidance on our website, and we are happy to respond to concerns posted on the blog. Just understand that information management prayers are rarely answered overnight – it is an ongoing process of engaging with colleagues, reinforcing good practice, and keeping the value of your information at the centre of how it’s managed.

With that in mind, you are now free to go forth and spread the good word of information management. Filing isn’t just for the sake of it – it really is for the good of your work, and those who may follow in your footsteps.

 

“He who does not value his data, cannot exploit its goodness” (Robert 10:8)

6 comments

  1. Wendy Winter Bowman says:

    It is all very well making records available to the internet, but with technology changing so fast it is likely that your instruments will be outdated long before they wear out. I hope the original documents are not being destroyed. There is still no system to beat heat and temperature control, acid free folders, string ties and indian ink for the accessions numbers and registers.

    However, I am aware from local experience that a change of government can mean that essential functions stop, a non filer idiot is left to file, items are stolen and wind up for sale on the post office steps, and such horrors.

    So possibly spreading your information and images far and wide is a better way to keep your culture alive in times when the barbarian is at the gate. I wish you well with your efforts.

  2. David Matthew says:

    Wendy,

    I agree with most of what you have said. However with digital records there are no other original records and digital records will make research in future so boring!. One of the biggest issues is the over-classification of documents, they should only be classified for as long as they need to be. I am sure that in the future historians will argue why we ever went down the road of digital documents and being unable to access them because the technology changed whereas paper records were much more accessible.

  3. David Underdown says:

    We are of course well aware of the potential issues with digital files: see the many posts on this blog tagged digital preservation. However, in many cases for govenment purposes it remained the case initially that the offiical record was the document printed to file, and the switch entirely to digital files happened after file formats had stabilised to some degree. Common office type formats such as Word, Excel and PDF are relativvely well understood, and while particular features of these formats can cause difficulties, on the whole they are relatively well understood and are unlikely to become obsolete in the same way as early shortlived formats.

    When accessioned paper records held by us are digitised, the paper remains the Public Record.

  4. David Underdown says:

    I’ve just seen this interesting piece from Archives New Zealand http://archives.govt.nz/about/news/2013/07/archives-new-zealand-and-future which looks at some related issues.

    1. Rob Johnson says:

      David, many thanks for linking that article – was a fascinating read, and interesting to see the same issues we face in the UK reflected in NZ.

      In particular I noted the sheer volumes of digital information created worldwide each year. 1.8 Zetabytes in 2011 is incredible when in my mind it wasn’t that long ago we only spoke in ‘Giga’, or at a stretch ‘Tera’ bytes. Just goes to underline the importance of good digital information management, understanding what records you have responsibility for, how important they are, and how long you need them for.

  5. David Underdown says:

    The amounts of data that come out of scientific experiments like CERN are staggering.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We will not be able to respond to personal family history research questions on this platform.
See our moderation policy for more details.