What's in a Name?

Article excerpt

With the Protestant Reformation and spread of literacy to the secular segments of society, the clergy's power greatly diminished. In the late eighteenth century, the generally anti-clerical democratic revolutions and very secular industrial revolution further degraded the social status of the clergy. The job of clerk was no longer synonymous with the clergy, but it shared in the debasement of the clergy's status. In the new companies arising within industrial economies, clerks became the non-professional, underpaid, often despised "office help," memorialized in Charles Dickens' depiction of Bob Cratchet in A Christmas Carol.

In terms of function, records managers are the direct heirs of the clerks of the past. It is understandable that they should wish to distance themselves from the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century images of this occupation. One way of doing this is to stress their credentials as "professionals," even going so far as to differentiate records management "professionals" from the records clerks who work for them. This distinction has some validity. Less valid have been the records managers' attempts to improve their status by inflating the words they use to describe themselves and their work. This tendency was already somewhat in fashion among the archivists. Thus, instead of talking about "where the records came from," archivists discuss their "provenance," and instead of discussing what a record can tell us about the people who created it, records managers speak of its "evidentiary value."

MANAGING WHAT?

The penchant for pretentious verbiage continues in current records management terminology. Consider the tendency to explain that one is "deeply involved in litigation support," rather than simply "busy finding records for lawyers." Think about how a query's "lack of specificity" is criticized, rather than simply stating it is "too broad." However, the best example of the records manager's linguistic quest to disassociate himself from his clerical origins involves his title. The "manager" part of the title was appropriate as long as one was thinking of "manage" in the sense of "handling" and "taking care of" records. It was in this sense that the term was used in most writings on records management, even as late as 1969 in William Benedon's classic text, Records Management. However, it was easy to intimate gradually - without explicitly stating - that the "manager" one was speaking about was the one that the books on "management" were describing as someone who "gets work done through others" - i.e., a manager of people, budgets, and resources. Consequently, a review of the next classic text on records management, Maedke, Robek and Brown's Records and Information Management, in 1974, shows that it contains a long discussion on "managerial" theory. The term records manager has come to denote one who "manages" (in the business-school sense) other people who "manage" (in the "take care of" sense) records.

When the records manager became a manger of people, not just paper, it was not possible to refer to those he supervised as records managers-even though they did manage records in the same sense that had originally earned him the title. Therefore, some of them became "records analysts." While this is a very appropriate description of much of what records managers had been doing all along, a problem arises in that the analytical aspects of records management are still usually reserved for the supervisor (manager) while those with the analyst title usually assume the filing, micro filming, and photocopying duties.

Another favorite title is "records coordinator." While somewhat nebulous, it is appropriate for the person who interfaces with other departments, designing, negotiating, and enforcing the interdepartmental records retention schedule. Once again, however, it is more usual that the records managers, rather than the records coordinators who work for them, are responsible for these duties. …