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Happy MayDay!

May 1, 2012 Comments off

Historically, MayDay has two traditions; first, as a spring festival celebrated around the world. Many MayDay traditions are rooted in folklore and some celebrate by filling small baskets with goodies to leave on someone’s doorstep. Modern MayDay observances often recognize International Worker’s Day.

For professionals who deal with records and historic documents, a third tradition has sprung up as part of the MayDay celebrations—a grassroots effort to save our archives. Government records managers and professionals, as the custodians of permanent and historic records, have a duty to participate as well. The goal behind the archival MayDay celebration is for each individual and office to do something simple to protect the records in their custody.

This year, the Society of American Archivists is emphasizing our ability to protect our records in response to an emergency or disaster. On April 17, 2012, Utah governmental entities participated in the Great Utah Shakeout, an initiative to test our emergency preparedness plans in response to a devastating earthquake. I encourage all state and local government records professionals to evaluate your Great Utah Shakeout response and commit to doing one simple thing in your office today that will preserve the records in your custody in the event of an emergency or disaster.

MayDay ideas:

  1. Move boxes off of the ground to shelving at least four inches above the ground.
  2. Look for loose and unboxed materials – and make a plan to get the boxing done.
  3. Identify the most critical, essential, and/or important records.
  4. Read your Emergency/Disaster plan—does it have provisions for how to preserve your records?
  5. Complete a short survey expressing your interest in attending a two day workshop on disaster response planning.

The most important thing is to do something. Our information assets are a large part of our cultural heritage and are necessary to preserve a functioning government.

How do you plan to celebrate MayDay? Let us know in the comments!

Why Effective Records Management Matters in a Democracy

Typically, the justification for a records management (RM) program is tied to cost cutting, efficiency, and managing risk. While certainly important pieces of records management, for government records managers there is an additional and significant reason for a RM program. 

Government archivists and records managers typically are guided by mission statements that focus on preserving and documenting government institutions. One of three elements of the Utah State Archives and Records Service mission is to preserve records of enduring value. The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) mission statement states that one of its goals is “safeguarding and preserving the records of our Government” so that citizens have access to the records that document their rights. These missions are partly outward facing and concerned with providing sufficient evidence of government actions so that citizens can access and understand the decisions of government officials. Records document actions taken by the government. Keeping records in democratic governments matters because the government must be accountable to its citizens. Records are neutral; they can be used in a variety of ways — Some positive, and some negative. For example, the records collected in Paraguay’s Archives of Terror demonstrate that the same set of records might be used to oppress or, ultimately, to seek justice and reconciliation.   

According to NARA 1-3 percent of the records created by federal agencies have long-term legal or historical value. The Utah State Archives estimates that approximately 5 percent of the records created by state, county, and municipal agencies are retained permanently as part of the state’s historical record. It is the responsibility of government records managers to create and follow retention schedules that will determine how long records are kept. As retention schedules are applied records managers sift through and reduce a government’s records, leaving behind the materials that will become the entity’s documentary heritage. Records managers are actively involved in ensuring that records that need to be kept are kept, while those that need to be destroyed are destroyed. By reducing the records static – those records that have temporary value – records managers help clarify and focus the historic record that remains. This is not a task to be taken lightly, and it is one that cannot be avoided as each decision to keep or destroy a record represents a privileging of the stories that can be told from that record.  

Verne Harris argues that all records are essentially tied up in storytelling. He writes, “Telling stories of our past is a quintessentially human activity. Story is crucial to our construction of meaning and is carried by our dream of the impossible. Without story we are without soul.”[1] As records managers we are a part of the records making process. We have a role to play in shaping the story that will be told about the institutions we serve and, in the end, about ourselves.


[1] Verne Harris, “Postmodernism and Archival Appraisal: Seven Theses,” in Archives and Justice: A South African Perspective (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2007), 102.

Alliance for Response: Safeguarding Utah’s Cultural Heritage

November 15, 2011 Comments off
       Some of Utah’s cultural heritage custodians met with first responders and disaster planners at the Utah Alliance for Response forum on November 2, to discuss actions that can be taken to protect  records and other cultural heritage artifacts in the event of a disaster. Planners hope that the outcome of this forum will be the creation of partnerships and strengthened communication between these groups. Education, preparation, and advanced planning will go a long way toward helping the state protect its records and cultural heritage in the event of a disaster.

     At the forum, Randy Silverman, preservation librarian at the University of Utah Library, described the tragic loss of records and cultural heritage in a disaster at Minot, North Dakota. Flooding of the Mouse River last June damaged thousands of  homes, and the community lost many irreplaceable records and artifacts. Utahans must consider ways to prevent a similar loss in the event of a major earthquake or other disaster. Forum speakers discussed first responders’ role in protecting cultural property. Then discussion groups came up with ideas about things that can be implemented to mitigate the loss of records and cultural heritage in the event of a disaster. Ideas expressed include the following: (see discussion notes)

  1. Cultural heritage custodians can become acquainted with emergency responders and provide them with information in advance. A diagram of the building – maybe even a tour – will be useful as well as contact information for people who understand the building and the collections housed in it. Emergency responders will need to know the location of important items, and also the location of any hazardous materials.
  2. Records custodians should be prepared with emergency supplies and disaster recovery plans. These plans might include such things as an inventory of the records holdings along with established priorities, preauthorized authority to make decisions, and mutual aid agreements.
  3. Records custodians should back up essential and vital records at off site locations and and have Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) in place.
  4. Emergency responders can be involved in planning and training that will enable cultural heritage custodians to take actions in advance. For example, an assessment of how a building is likely to perform in an earthquake will help cultural heritage custodians with mitigation plans.

      The effectiveness of our ability to protect Utah’s cultural heritage depends on our ability to plan and work together. Perhaps the process of making plans is more important than the plan itself because in thinking and doing, we build alliances and get to know one another. Ongoing planning will keep our plans fresh and enable a more effective response in the event of a disaster.  Participants of the forum went away with specific action assignments. Continuing the discussion begun at this forum will make a big difference in cultural heritage custodians’ ability to respond to a disaster. Those who were unable to attend can still join this discussion. Participation ideas include:

1. Participate in The Great Utah Shake Out, the largest earthquake drill in Utah history. This statewide drill is planned for April 17, 2012, and anyone can register to participate.

2. Participate in the Essential Records Protection and Disaster Recovery workshop to be held at Utah State Archives on April 11, 2012. Register for workshop.

3. Get to know first responders in your area and begin your own conversation with them. Invite them to your building, ask them what you can do to help them to help you in the event of a disaster. Give them a tour and possibly even some treats. To learn more, click here.

4. Sign up for the Alliance for Response Listserv to receive email updates.

Everyone’s participation will make a difference.

Volunteer Program Development Training

November 10, 2011 Comments off

     Have you ever wondered how in the world you would reduce your backlog?  Or how you would complete a project that you never find time for?

     Maybe what you need are volunteers to assist you.

     If you have ever thought about how to find volunteers and how to keep them coming back, we have a training session for you!

     On December 2, 2011, the Utah State Archives and the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) are sponsoring a training session on creating and maintaining a volunteer program.  This will be the kickoff training session and we will take this training throughout the state over the next year.

     Susan Mumford and Alan Barnett from the Utah State Archives will present the training.  Last year Susan created a volunteer program at the State Archives.  The Archives now has numerous volunteers that provide several hundred hours of work each month.  She will explain how to recruit and maintain volunteers as well as give examples of successful volunteer programs.  Alan will speak about the importance of training and mentoring volunteers.

     This half-day workshop will be held at the Utah State Archives building located at 346 S. Rio Grande Street and begins at 9 a.m.  To register please contact Janell Tuttle at jtuttle@utah.gov before November 30.

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