U K, Hun? Me, myself and I.

My name is Emily Overton and, in the UK, (and a little bit outside), I’m more known as RM Girl than my own name.  That is Records Management Girl. I class myself as an extremely sad person because I have poured blood, sweat and tears into records management awareness both in my career and in my own time in order to be who I am today. I do want to say though that I wouldn’t be who I am without the help of a few in the UK and more importantly, my professional organisation, The Information and Records Management Society. 

I´m a records management, GDPR and privacy consultant and have been for the last 6 years. I got into the Records Management role (officially) in 2007 and have never really looked back.

I didn’t dream about becoming a records manager or an archivist or being in the information management world. My plans were to be a translator and to work in airports since I loved languages. I left school having studied (among other things) English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Latin, but the political landscape and my own personal circumstances changed which made me change my plans, so I went to work for my local council where I started learning about Business Administration.  Little did I realise that this would really set me on the path to records management and that 3 years later would be in a RM job!

I know some people who, when they were asked as a child what they wanted to be, said an Archivist or a Curator. Although I’m aware of that since you are reading this you are probably an Archivist, I class myself as a Records Manager with parts of an Archivist (I have a massive collection of cardigans!), but on the whole both roles are interested in maintaining business records within an organisation in order to preserve the future, the past and the present. Me as a child? I wanted to be a hairdresser, an air hostess or a policewoman on horseback! I believe that without records management, archives would not receive the full benefit of all the records out there, so we need more people in the world of records management in order to have better archives.   Whenever I’m training people about managing the lifecycle, advising how they need to understand their records and whether it will include a transfer to archive at some point, I explain that the difference between a Records Manager and an Archivist is that a Records Manager likes to keep things while an Archivist likes to throw it away! 

Getting in the sector

In the UK, most people have ended up within the sector and aspire to this kind of career through a major interest in history followed by an interest in archives management, museum, heritage or digital preservation. Me?  I was drawn to this sector when I saw it advertised and I asked my mum “Do you think I have to do any filing in this job?” Little did I know that I’d been doing records management in all of my jobs including archival storage, designing filing systems, sorting out records retention, looking for historically important documents, finding much required documentation for court. My first job when I arrived as a Records Management Officer was cataloguing land deeds. This was where I found out just how allergic to dust, I actually was.  Needless to say, I spent the entire time sneezing and itching and now I’ve turned it into an infamous fact and claim to fame, and the reason for wearing the boiler suit in the photo. 

“I explain the difference between a Records Manager and an Archivist as this:  A Records Manager likes to keep things, an Archivist likes to throw it away!”

Distant Family Member

Records Management feels quite often like the poor cousin in the information management world despite the fact I feel it is the underpin of all of the topics and more that I´ve mentioned. In the UK we have varying types of information management law, but in England and specifically in Wales it´s extremely lacking.  We have the likes of the Public Record Act 1958, the Local Government (Records) Act 1962 and the Local Government Act 1972. 

These acts only go as far as to basically say the Civil Service (Central Government).  National Health Service must transfer their records to the National Archives after 20 years and the Local Government authorities must arrange a place for deposit but not give any further guidance and it’s okay to have other archives created.  There’s a bleak nod toward Freedom of Information 2000, but on the whole, we are left to our own devices. Naturally, as a part of the Data Protection Act 2018 (and all acts before), there was a requirement not to keep personal data for too long -I’m always selling myself on the basis that you cannot do Data Protection if you don’t know what you have, why you have it and for how long you need to keep it!  That said, England and Wales are long overdue an updated and more specific records management legislation as what we have is just not enough.

Scotland on the other hand has a much better structure around Records Management since they´ve introduced the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 which requires public authorities to submit a records management plan (RMP) to be agreed by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland that adheres to 15 points.

But I feel it’s key to say that Records Management is so important in the whole Archives process. Even down to the contribution that the UK National Archives put records management on the front foot:

The information principles enable organisations across the public sector to become increasingly aligned in their use and management of information (both structured and unstructured), drawing on their own local strategy and practices from a common set of principles and best practices.

  • Information is a valued asset
  • Information is managed
  • Information is fit for purpose
  • Information is standardised and linkable
  • Information is reused
  • Information is published
  • Citizens and businesses can access information about themselves

If you aren’t managing your records, then you aren’t managing the asset to transfer it to an archive, so it’s key to learn about what you as an archivist can add to the world of records management and instead of being a distant family member, treat it like it is your long-lost brother and transfer your skills.

Education and Transferrable Skills

My education has been only a smidge of my career. I’m proud to boast that I became a Records Manager before going to university. That isn’t to say that university isn’t important, it was just more an aspiration for me to achieve my dreams despite lacking academic skill. I think it needs to be recognised by the industry that a lot more of the information industry roles have transferrable skills, and that even someone who trains as an Archivist can expand into Records Management and move on from the idea of “Just because it’s dusty and old doesn’t necessarily mean the archives want it.” 

In all seriousness, I think one of the main differences between the Archivists and Records Manager role is based on the UK situation of lack of legislation for records management in England and Wales, which means that you are consistently having to sell the benefits of why you should be managing your records and archives.  The legislation is rather dire, and it doesn’t address anything to the digital world, even for archives.  Thus, we aren’t setting people up to what it means to manage digital archives because there isn’t enough out there. An example is this picture of me training people how to manage their records in Share Point. 

In terms of transferrable skills though, the fact we’re going through a global pandemic; having to sell records management to people who are juggling the children, the dog, the terrible wi-fi and awkward no office issues, you will have learnt a whole new set of skills where you haven’t been able to go into the office, so now is your opportunity to relook at your skill set. 

I should say though, that in everything you do, whether it be archives or records management, you need to evolve as an individual and change to the ways that are working.  I find that we as a collective need to remember that information isn’t going anywhere and whilst we may slide up and down the political agenda it will always be something that needs to be managed.

I can imagine myself here in 50 years still trying to make Records Management sexy and you’ll have the chance to turn around to me and say, “U K, Hun?”