Jobs vs. Careers in Records Management: Dead Ends and Open Roads?

Article excerpt

If money is your answer to success, you will never have it. The only success a [person] will ever have is a reserve of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Henry Ford (1928)[1]

Are you worried about your career in records management? Many are and, all too often these days, with good reasons. The general work environment is rife with downsizings, mergers, takeovers, reorganizations, divestments, relocations, outsourcing, and layoffs. Any functions in the organization which do not produce revenue - and that normally includes records management - are automatically in some jeopardy no matter how well run and effective they may be. Also, the rising tide of information technology appears, at least, to be sweeping aside much of records management as we have traditionally understood it. Many of the recordkeeping functions once centralized in records centers and reprographic units are becoming decentralized and being performed by the user at the personal-computer level. The nature of work itself is under siege as the traditional concept of a "jobs" is being eroded by the broader construct of "work." Continuing developments in this direction may lead to the more comprehensive concept "information specialist/manager" overtaking "records manager" and spelling the eventual demise of this information specialization.

Whether or not "records manager" as a concept or term survives in the long run seems less important right now than the survival of those who are records managers caught in the corporate mayhem. I have talked with many of these persons and have read some of their stories on the records management list-serv. Their stress prompts this issue's column. How those persons - including yourself, perhaps - will survive and even thrive is metaphorically related to the very similar problems of survival in our endangered organizations. Like "survivor" organizations, individual survivors will overcome the shock of events like layoffs and outsourcing if, among other things, they can be flexible, adapt to ambiguity, be willing and able to re-define themselves, make careful-strategic choices, be creative, develop networks, be constantly learning and re-educating themselves, stay aware of and alert to changes in the environment, and market themselves aggressively. This is less likely, it seems to me, to happen for those who see themselves as having records management jobs and more likely to happen to those with a career interest in records and information management at the professional level.

Some might suggest that the very idea of a professional career in records management could be a form of oxymoron. Most records managers will freely admit that they either "fell into" or were "pushed into" records management, that they knew virtually nothing about the field before entering it. Not only do these "falling" and "pushing" images conjure up some unflattering impressions and misconceptions about the field, but they might lead us to be concerned as well about the durability and desirability of the field as a career. (My personal view is that while the nature of the field will change, not all records managers will change with it; and many change-resistant records managers will not be able to continue in the field to the ends of their normal work lives.) While this is not the place to resolve all those issues,[2] it is appropriate in a column whose theme is professional issues to consider what one might do, having "fallen into" the field, if the threat of workplace eruptions threaten career security. After all, do you have a records management job or a records management career? There is a difference. If you have a records management career, what kinds of stresses on it might you expect? And what might you do about these stresses?

JOBS VS. CAREERS

As a foundational step to understanding career development and security, let us consider the critical difference between being a professional and being an employee. …