Occasionally it is good for all of us to go back to the basics of our trade or profession to consider our very origins and whether we have moved away from our reason for being. This article invites records managers to consider their place in the world of management rather than in the world of records.
In my early days in the Air Force (late 1950s) the people who provided the spare parts, equipment, uniforms and various other physical essentials of the military trades and professions were called "storemen." And anyone with any knowledge of any armed service in the world in those days knew that those people were well named. To put it crudely, they stored things. Just try and get them to do anything else!
In the fullness of time, the title was changed to "supplier," in the hope that they would cease storing and start supplying.
This may be a cynical comment on a body of people doing their job conscientiously under often difficult conditions, but it gives me the opportunity to indulge in a little military folklore, as well as providing the basis of an important point. It doesn't really matter whether the change of name made any difference to the preparedness of our armed forces because the reality is that it coincided with a worldwide re-evaluation of the role of storemen, not only in the services. They started getting involved in the science of warehousing, long-term planning, inventory management, physical distribution modeling, enhanced stock control, financial management, and--more recently--the possibilities of just-in-time provisioning and various forms of mathematical modeling.
The job changed dramatically, became highly professional, presented new challenges, required new skills and talents and offered a whole new product--logistics. Within that discipline we now have distribution experts, drivers, engineers, inventory managers...and both storemen and suppliers!
You will rightly tell me that the same thing has happened to records managers. The days when an entire company's information needs were provided by a file clerk, whose job description said "to file," are gone forever. The requirement is met by records managers, the professionals in the field, and those who work for, or with them, under a variety of names such as file clerks, records staff, messengers, and others. There are the related and support people such as archivists, retrieval system designers, data base administrators, and microfiche operators.
What arises out of this is what actually is the task of a records manager? The name doesn't actually tell us much about the wide variety of activities embraced by it.
Should records managers therefore be called by a name which will help them to have greater self-esteem, perhaps redirect the emphasis of the job in more productive directions, or allow them to be more highly regarded by their employers and fellow workers?
In other words, I am asking the questions:
Is the records management profession wrongly focused because it is wrongly described?
Does it lack in status and in the ability to perform because of this? If records managers manage, what do they manage? There are several answers.
THE ANSWER WHICH CONFORMS TO OUR EXPECTATIONS
The simple answer is that they do manage and that they manage information. It is my belief that if I was to suggest to any records manager that he or she managed records I would be in big trouble. They manage mail rooms, they often manage electronic devices and the media with which these work. They manage files and distribution systems, they certainly manage information. But mere management of records? Perish the thought. The profession is wider, deeper, and higher than that.
Like our storemen, and even more like our suppliers, records managers are in an expanding and vital role which works with living media, and provides a service which is no longer static as in the …