Competency B

Recognize the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of records, recordkeeping, and records use

Interpretation

A recurring theme among many of the courses in the MARA program is that records management today is a pervasive function in any business, government, scientific or social organization. It is even of critical importance at the personal level. With the advent of desktop computing, everyone is potentially engaged in the creation of documents that may become records. And with the rise of social media, any visitor to the official website of an organization can be a contributor to the official record of that organization.

A key component of recognizing the larger importance of records and recordkeeping and understanding its various dimensions and implications in different settings, is to accept that, whether formalized or not, records and recordkeeping is the product of everything that happens in business, in government, in life.  If there is no program for capturing, organizing, using, and archiving or disposition of records and information throughout their lifecycle, recordkeeping is being done badly. An appropriate, rational approach to managing information in all media and formats is the critical foundation upon which the success and effectiveness of any organization is predicated.

Appropriate recordkeeping may look very different depending on the setting. In a highly regulated industry, for example the medical industry, a multinational company may require a comprehensive, in-depth records program that tracks national, state, and local regulations about the use and protection of personally identifiable information. That same company would also need to design records management systems that address business registration for the sale and marketing of products and for the protection of intellectual property assets while in use, in storage, or in transit during the normal course of business. The development of the company’s products and services that involve human research would be subject to professional review boards and government agency oversight with extensive mandatory documentation and reporting. This level of records and information management can only be successfully accomplished through a coherent information governance program that is mandated from the highest level of the company and is reflected in practices and attitudes throughout the organization.

As in the above example, in a smaller organization such as a local credit union information security would also be a primary concern along with the privacy and protection of personal information. However, the opportunity for record use by members via the Web and mobile devices may cause emphasis to be put on different types of security concerns. For example, the provision of services and convenience of members would likely drive decisions about technology investments to provide a high level of confidence for users.

Banking is of course subject to numerous and longstanding governmental regulations. Even a small banking institution would have a substantial amount of paper files and legacy systems that would need to be managed. Paper or hybrid paper-electronic systems might be superseded with new technology, but other systems might be deemed necessary to migrate forward to modern technology, keeping the integrity and audit trail intact, in compliance with the ARMA Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles®.

Whereas the first two examples address government and private sector aspects of recordkeeping, the archival and recordkeeping roles found in museums, archives and other cultural heritage institutions speak directly to the social and cultural dimensions of the profession. These are the most traditionally-defined roles and they serve to cultivate and preserve the truths and memories of different facets of society. These institutions may reflect very different truths about the segment of society that is their focus, depending on their political, economic and social foundation. Though the role of the archivist, the historian, and the records manager is bound to truth in representation, the individuals working in society are often the last point of distillation of a particular shared reality that is larger than any single institution. Records and archival artifacts are the product of culture.

Fortunately, professionally trained and amateur archivists permeate society and may support any culture or point of view that they personally relate to. That freedom of expression is a protected right, complemented by the freedom of information laws and statutes that hold our governments accountable to the public by requiring them to produce records and information on demand.

Supporting Evidence 1

The first item that I am submitting as evidence of my mastery of this competency is taken from MARA285 Research Methods in Records Management and Archival Science. The topic for the final project is a subject that I was deeply motivated to explore. It grew out of a personal experience that has stayed with me to this day; that was the first time that I have actually felt “a calling” to the profession. I had attended a Meetup for people in New York who are interested in digital asset management. The speaker was an entrepreneur who had seen many family members succumb to dementia and subsequent decline and death in a medical and social system that he described as ‘committing crimes against humanity.’

The research I proposed would involve working alongside social scientists and cognitive behavioral therapists to develop a bridge between an individual’s personal medical records and a personalized rich media library that is tailored to their psychological and emotional needs. There is currently a lot of exciting work being done in this field, and certainly within brain science. However, the horizon on this type of therapeutic approach and use of technology is many years beyond helping those who need it today. Research Proposal: Can Rich Media Be Tied to Patient Records to Help Elderly Adults Who Suffer From Cognitive Impairment?

Supporting Evidence 2

The second piece of evidence in support of this competency is an Environmental Scan with SWOT Analysis of The Maryknoll Mission Archive that I produced for MARA204 Management of Records and Archival Institutions. This exercise was intended to be very basic and practical–and it was.  However I felt very honored to be welcomed into the Maryknoll Mission Archive and provided with an authentic experience of the service and professional commitment of the archivist. The impetus for the visit to this archive was for information gathering as part of an initial operational assessment.

The archivist generously shared many more details that gave me a much richer understanding of the connections that the archive has with the spiritual community and with researchers from a wide variety of disciplines from all over the world. The policies and procedures of the archive, mediated as they are by the archivist, cultivate a personal connection between the vast history of the Maryknoll Brothers and Sisters and the users who come to the physical and the virtual archive. The paper that I wrote emphasizes the relationship between mission and duty and the real life challenges that shape the direction and viability of an archive.

Conclusion

This competency is another example of a ‘lifelong learning’ competency. The very definition of an archivist is fluid and changing depending on the environment in which one is engaged. Therefore, to be successful in this role, the common thread must be the ability to recognize the social, cultural, business, legal, financial and many other dimensions as dynamics to be dealt with–some directly and some perhaps indirectly. An archivist or records manager must certainly be comfortable looking at the overarching ‘big picture’ reality and in the next breath be able to pick through the item-level situation and infer next steps.

The ability to recognize the cultural, social and economic dimensions of records and their use entails leadership. The readings and exercises throughout the MARA program have provided in-depth views into many facets of archives and records management as practiced in the world at large. In my current role, I am able to help records stakeholders and users to appreciate the critical importance of adhering to policies and best practices with regard to records and digital assets. I am able to work within the business culture to champion openness to progress in the way records are managed. I am able to leverage senior management authority, build trust and consensus among my peers, and change ingrained behaviors. This is what comes from being sensitive to the culture and social dynamics surrounding records, whatever the context. MARA has given me tools to approach a broad spectrum of challenges in my current role and in professional settings going forward.

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