Integrating Archives, Records, and Research: Consumers Union/Consumer Reports Has Successfully Integrated Its Records, Archives, and Research Operations into the Everyday Business of the Organization

Article excerpt

Effective management of resources is a challenge for all information professionals. A common thread shared by all organizations, at least among those that successfully manage their resources, is the ability to directly affect the business of the organization. Successfully integrating different functions such as records, archives, and research, and understanding how these areas relate to each other and to the organization as a whole, not only helps create and build a department's place within an organization but also helps that department understand the business of the organization and all the moving parts.

Rather than being perceived as functions that serve the organization--a traditional client-service relationship--research and information management activities need to be positioned as integral to organization-wide business operations. It is the responsibility of information professionals to make that case and to actively demonstrate the benefits of such an approach.

Information Services at Consumers Union

At Consumers Union/Consumer Reports, the records, archives, and research operations have been and continue to be successfully integrated into the everyday business of the organization. Founded in 1936, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and other publications, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving consumers by providing unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health and nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Consumers Union's advocates tackle tough consumer issues from offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Austin, Texas, and Yonkers, New York. They testify before federal and state legislative and regulatory bodies, petition government agencies, and file lawsuits on behalf of the consumer interest. The organization's ultimate goal is to help keep consumers informed so they can make wise purchasing decisions and to create a safer, fairer marketplace.

Consumers Union's Strategic Planning and Information Services Department (SP&IS) was created in November 2003 as a result of a merger between the Information Center and the Market Information Department. In an organization where testing and reporting are based on solid facts and deep investigation and research, the selection of the Information Center as the entity to develop a strategic plan made complete sense. As a result, the department was renamed to underscore the importance of the undertaking. In addition, the senior director of the unit was promoted and joined a team of 13 senior executives who, with the president, lead the organization, ensuring that it keeps on track with its mission and goals. The senior director leads this activity and is supported by a senior researcher and ad-hoc staff from across the department.

The new department combines the strengths of a corporate library and information service--traditionally responsible for answering questions related to the organization's business and testing program and for research related to consumer behavior--with a market-focused research department responsible for understanding products, sales, and markets. A new activity for the department, strategic planning, was also formally recognized at that time and allocated specific resources.

The department, now comprised of some 20 information professionals, manages the organization's records and archives and is at the nexus of providing the research and analysis that contributes to the testing, advocacy, and publishing programs of the organization.

The SP&IS team works to ensure that the research it contributes to fulfilling the mission of the organization is timely, representative, and appropriate in content and scope. The staff works in various areas of research and information management, bringing together internal and external resources that contribute to the vast research and knowledge base of the organization. …