'You Manage What?' RIM and the Meaning of Information

Article excerpt

A profession is made up of a body of skilled, highly trained people who have, by custom or by law, an exclusive sovereignty over some intellectual domain. A professional must possess a body of theoretical and technical knowledge about that domain, a knowledge mastered by those granted admission to professional practice in the given field. To that end, one seeks admittance to a required program of study focusing on the profession's domain. This period of study prescribed by the field's practitioners requires a rigorous and usually lengthy educational program--normally at the post-baccalaureate level and at a university. The knowledge acquired about the domain is to be put to good use for the practitioner's clients and for the good of society more generally.(1)

The domains of most traditionally recognized professions are clear and specific. The domain of the physician as a professional, for example, is specific and measurable: the human body. The body normally has so many bones, so many organs, so much blood, so many nerve endings, so many square feet of skin, and so forth. The physician has a multitude of tests which can measure fever, weight, white/red cells, nerve conduction, heart rate, lung function, etc. For the attorney, the domain is another kind of "body," the legal corpus, which encompasses clearly defined activities based on a written, measurable body of precedent and procedures. The dentists' domain is more narrow--the human mouth--but they know every nook and cranny of it along with the thirty-two teeth usually found there. The architect's domain of interest lies in organizing space--so many square feet, so many lumens oflight, so many bricks, and so forth--for the use of human beings. The sphere, the domain, of the information/records manager is clear as glass: information. And of course we all know how to measure information and what the unit of measurement for information is, right? Hardly!

ARE RECORDS INFORMATION?

If we cannot define--and thus measure information--what right do we have to chatter on about "information management," "information resources management," "information technology," "information. transfer," "information systems," and, of course, the ever-popular "information professionals"? How can we call ourselves "professionals" if we cannot understand the fundamental substance of our domain and discuss it in a rational, systematic, or scientific manner? How can we establish credibility with increasingly analytical, critical, and quantifying associates and senior managers ("if you can't count it, it doesn't count")? How can we manage something that we cannot measure and perhaps cannot even see?

Other fields have similar problems coming to terms with a definition for information and a unit of measurement for it, especially since there are over 400 definitions of information available--that's right, 400. Defining and understanding the nature of"information" is a serious venture for those in such fields as: information science, information economics, information theory, informatics, information technology, telematics, and informatology. The term "information" is very important to many fields beyond records and information management (RIM); they include: communication theory, archival management, museology, cognitive sciences, linguistics, psychology, cybernetics, library science, documentation, semiotics, system theory, and others.(2) Guess what: they don't know what "information" is either.

So, what are those in records and information management (RIM) talking about when they lay claim to being professiolzals Loho manage information? If we are speaking strictly of physical "records," we are at least partly correct when we talk of records in terms of cubic feet. We can legitimately use the cubic foot measurement to estimate the physical growth of records in records centers and to arrive at figures for the cost avoidances associated with filing equipment not purchased--and so money saved. …