Helen Kim, Sara Seltzer, Jennifer Thompson and Lorain Wang 2015-10-07 23:07:16
Records Management Outreach and Relationship Building at the Getty Best practices for developing institutional policies, procedures, and tools are commonly addressed in records management literature. While these are important foundations on which to build a records management program, the practical challenges of day-to-day implementation often go unacknowledged, particularly how to work effectively with organizational users. As archivists at the J. Paul Getty Trust Institutional Records and Archives (IRA), developing best practices to forge good relations with staff is key to strengthening the Getty’s records management and archives program. Background The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts. It is comprised of a central administration and four operating programs: the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. IRA was established in 2001 as a collaborative records management and archives program to manage the lifecycle of Getty records. IRA’s mission is dual-focused: To identify, capture, preserve, and make accessible the documentary heritage of the organization, as well as to safely discard nonhistorical materials that have outlived their business purpose or legal retention requirements. The department’s foundational policy document is the Getty Records Retention Schedule, which serves as a roadmap for decisions we make about retaining and discarding records. Records management methodologies, techniques, and best practices are used not only to support legal, regulatory, and litigation requirements through scheduled retention and destruction, but also to implement a reliable, regular workflow capable of continuously identifying and directing high-value records to the Institutional Archives for appraisal during the course of annual disposition, a time when IRA staff reach out to department liaisons to arrange records reviews and complete the disposition process. Until 2014, this function was performed by the department’s dedicated records analyst. However, a recent department restructuring resulted in the dissolution of separate records management and archives sections, and was replaced by a more holistic approach to information management: Each staff member was assigned to manage all of the records management and archival requirements of a single program. This reconceptualization encourages staff to not only gain a deeper understanding of program business processes and localized information management needs, but also facilitates the development of deeper relationships between staff and department liaisons. These deeper connections, however, do not always come easily. The success of our annual dispositions require us to be proactive in establishing connections and cultivating relationships with our departments. Outreach Not all Getty staff realize that a dedicated team of archivists is charged with assisting departments with their recordkeeping needs. Records education is not part of new employee orientation, and there is no guarantee staff will familiarize themselves with the IRA resources available on the Getty’s intranet. Because IRA’s existence is not universally known, all staff interactions are an opportunity to spread the word about records management and demonstrate the value of our services. Formal Strategies Annual disposition is an opportunity to acquaint (or reacquaint) Getty staff with our records services. When emails are sent to department liaisons requesting disposition reviews, they often include a refresher on what our records program is and how it works. Messages are tailored to a liaison’s degree of familiarity with our program and staff to ensure that essential information is conveyed. Face-to-face disposition reviews allow us to reiterate our role and the services we offer. Administrative support staff are often tasked with completing records reviews with IRA, and turnover is a common obstacle to the yearly process becoming habitual. The chance to make a good impression in person can go a long way with forging good will, especially if the liaison is newer to their department and the Getty. As staff review documents, they play an active part—with our guidance—in deciding what materials can be disposed of or transferred to the archives. During this process, IRA staff emphasize that we are the “go-to” people for anything records related. Informal Strategies We’ve found that staff are more likely to work with IRA archivists if they know us personally. These connections can occur via casual introductions through colleagues, recreational activities like book clubs organized by Getty employees, or, more often than not, a roundabout referral that leads someone with an information need to our email inbox. Selecting the proper channel for communication is also key; while email generates a paper trail, it doesn’t accommodate critical readings of face, tone, and body language. Sometimes phone or inperson follow-ups to requests are preferable. On par with the need to find is the need to purge. Accumulated materials—to the point where they are essentially eyesores and prevent the productive use of work space— can also inspire people to finally enlist IRA. At this stage, staff happily welcome us, as they are often overwhelmed with years’ worth of boxes they are ready to turn over. Regardless of how staff find us, we treat each encounter as an opportunity to demonstrate our usefulness to the Getty’s day-to-day operations and a victory for relationship building. Staff realize that working with us is a direct pipeline to the materials they may need in the future, which increases their own efficiency in obtaining them. A request that starts out small can, with the right amount of finesse, become a full-fledged partnership between IRA and a department. Challenging Personalities Working across the Getty, we encounter a variety of personalities that can make implementing records management policies challenging. Even with the best efforts to educate about records management and the services we provide, there will always be those who are less receptive and motivated to work with us. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who are willing to work with us but keep us on our toes. Here are six challenging personality types we’ve encountered, and how we deal with them. Independents recognize the value of their records but prefer to keep them in their possession, rarely seeking assistance from IRA staff. With Independents we emphasize the benefits of our services, such as climatecontrolled storage, while acknowledging the importance of their records and the value they will bring to IRA. It is important to make them feel like partners in the process, and informal outreach strategies are particularly helpful in developing familiarity, rapport, and trust. Some Independents may also be categorized as Avoiders. Avoiders ignore requests to schedule disposition reviews or repeatedly reschedule reviews. Flexibility and timing is most important in dealing with Avoiders, who are often busy and unable to set aside time to meet. We avoid contacting them when they are busiest and make an effort to work with their schedules. The most challenging Avoiders are those who are apathetic or view us with distrust because we are not located within their own reporting line. They may also believe that we are “coming to take their records away from them,” and fear a loss of control or ownership. Informal outreach strategies can be helpful in breaking these barriers and making them more amenable to working with us. Although not always an option, one approach for dealing with Avoiders is to work with their supervisors to incorporate records reviews into their scope of work. Another is to wait for the inevitable records emergency that allows us to step in and save the day. Captives are willing to work with IRA staff but lack authority to approve disposition decisions and are unable to obtain approval from their supervisors. When possible, we work directly with the supervisors. Otherwise all we can do is wait and gently remind the department liaisons that resolution is required. Dependents require the most time and attention. They need a great deal of assistance and face time, and may ask the same questions repeatedly. Patience is key, and communication is best done over the phone or in person to resolve or avoid misunderstandings that may occur over email. Hoarders believe that everything should be kept and sent to the archives. For Hoarders we explain the purpose of retention schedules, our appraisal policies, and the scope and purpose of the Institutional Archives. We may give them the option to maintain these files in their offices if liability is not an issue, or we may accession the nonarchival records (if not voluminous) with the archival records in an effort to maintain good relations, particularly if these users were once Independents. Reappraisal and weeding can occur at a later date prior to processing. Purgers see no value in their records and do not believe they are worth preserving. For many, “familiarity breeds contempt” and their focus is on moving forward to the next project. They discard records without first consulting the retention schedule or IRA staff. Consequently Purgers can sometimes exist undetected by IRA staff. If we are aware of their existence, we meet with them and explain the purpose of our retention schedules and our appraisal policies, as well as the value of their records in documenting the history of the Getty. While many of our users do not fit neatly into the above categories, or may span multiple categories, it is most important that we take the time to identify and address the underlying issues. Fortunately, we do have users whom we consider Champions, many of whom were once challenging but have since become model participants in the process of preserving the Getty’s heritage. Dynamism and flexibility are essential to making things happen in the world of Getty records management. We can document numerous procedures and policies, but records management is not just about managing records. It is also about managing the habits, expectations, and limitations of users. Social skills are essential for performing the functions integral to IRA, and using them effectively is necessary for success.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Beyond+The+Retention+Schedule/2289205/275633/article.html.