Records Management for Everyone: Redefining and Revolutionizing the Field

By Pemberton, J. Michael | Records Management Quarterly, October 1991 | Go to article overview

Records Management for Everyone: Redefining and Revolutionizing the Field


Pemberton, J. Michael, Records Management Quarterly


It would come as no surprise to any records managers to hear that the field has a recognition problem. "Records management" is not a household word, and the subject is not one most manager begin their day thinking about. In fact, there are several familiar practitioner complaints about the general perception of records management:

When I say I'm a records manager, people think I'm a glorified disc jockey or something; you know, 45 rpm's, 33's ...

My upper management just doesn't understand what records management is; their eyes just sort of glaze over when I bring it up.

Why do people "understand" doctors, lawyers, plumbers, and electricians, but not have the faintest idea about the nature and value of records management? The answer is remarkably simple.

The problem - and its solution - lies within one of our most basic impulses: WIIFM - What's In It For Me? As it currently defines itself, records management can do little to meet personal information management needs in the organization, nor can it serve "real people." Realistically, it is far easier for a person to understand a field or discipline when that field contributes something to them personally and directly. Astrophysics - whatever that is - is probably an important field, but what has it done for me personally? Nothing! So its meaning and value are remote.

ORIGINS OF A LIMITED

DOMAIN

From its developmental years in the U.S. federal government, records management has defined itself principally as a function of administrative management focusing on organization-wide controls, including saving space, equipment, supplies, and labor. Records management is a pervasive infrastructure service rather that a highly visible and personally enabling one. It serves macro-clients (i.e., organization) rather that micro-clients (i.e., individuals). Telecommunications, on the other hand, provides infrastructural service to individual "client" at many specific and visible points (i.e., telephones)throughout an organization.

The emphasis on organization-as-clients has substantially slowed the professionalization of records management. Society accords full professional status only to those occupations which have distinct relevance to its needs and interest. Society, not organizations, elevates occupations to professional status.(1) An occupational field, without apparent relevance to specific individual's needs or interest and without visible utility to society at large, is of little consequence as a profession no matter how important or useful the field may be too large organizations. If physicians had not hospitals as clients and no patients, how widely known would the medical profession be? Which are there more of: people or hospitals?

THE INDIVIDUAL OR FAMILY

AS MICRO-ORGANIZATION

Though service to individuals has been outside the traditional domain of records management, we might well consider how an organization and an individual (or family) are functionally similar. As a consequence, we would discover compelling opportunities for a dramatic broadening of the perspective of records management and, as a result, achieve wider recognition and understanding by the larger public. Consider the following brief passages from what one might assume are textbooks in general management:

Budgeting has an allocating role in planning, and recordkeeping provides information for controlling current plans and developing later ones.(2)

From a managerial perspective, records are a tool for the exercise of control. Records provide tangible evidence for checking the allocation of expenditures according to [a]plan.(3)

These are not quotations from the general-management literature. They are typical comments on the relationship of management and recordkeeping from one of many books on home and family management.

The management activities common to business and individuals or families are numerous. …

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