23 November 2009

Esoteric No More

My whirlwind visit to the Greater Anchorage Chapter of ARMA last week opened my eyes to the widespread thirst and need for understanding our discipline, Records and Information Management. As the Chapter convened under the able leadership of President Toby Allen, I saw that the attending practitioners sense that thirst in their organizations, and they came for tools to quench it.

Generally, I think of RIM as an esoteric pursuit. Merriam-Webster.com defines “esoteric” as, “understood by the specially initiated alone,” and, “limited to a small group”. When people ask me, “What do you do?” I generally answer as quickly and succinctly as possible, aware that my kids call me the master of TMI (too much information -- they give me the referees’ time-out tee with their hands rather than wait for a chance to get the words in edgewise.)

I didn’t expect people in general to be interested in what we do…until now. Today, the craving to effectively deal with a glut of information is widespread. Maybe hermits and isolating survivalists aren’t besieged with TMI, but almost anyone with an email account is. The incessant drumming of headlines about lost records, lost information, and breached security raises our anxiety to the pay-rapt-attention level.

Much of the populace is bewildered by their own records, and torrents of attorneys and other leaders realize their organizations live and die by their records’ potential effect. On the plane to the 49th state, I answered my neighbor’s query, “What do you do?” and he pummeled me with questions about his personal records retention. At the University of Alaska -- Anchorage, students in Brian Saylor’s “Public Administration and Technology” class saw a great, amorphous cloud of info begin to take shape as they internalized the rudiments of RIM.

I know you know that the practice of RIM is rising from the basement to the boardroom. Now it is clear that RIM is also broadening from an esoteric niche to an underpinning of society. The need and demand for help with records runs broad and deep.

This may be unsettling for introvert records managers who entered the field expecting to serve away from the hubbub. Today’s RIMers need to forcefully and authoritatively interpret their discipline to the highest levels of management. What some may not realize is that those leaders are eager to hear the truth as RIM knows it. There is no need to be shy and self-effacing.

RIM is esoteric no more. Our organizations desperately need us, whether they know it or not. In the world I see, more and more organizations recognize that need, and they plead for our help. Let’s give it to them!

[Footnote: The slides from my presentation, “The Synergy of Records and Content Management” are available at www.slideshare.com.]

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