By Qaddafi Sabree
As librarians and information professionals, many of us can also claim the title of records manager. By serving as the information hub for our respective organizations, we are often charged with storing, gathering, and organizing information in a way that makes it readable and easily accessible. It’s the act of managing and organizing information that gives it context and converts it into knowledge.
However, the responsibility of managing information extends far beyond the walls of the organization. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the public to request information from certain government agencies which are mandated to comply with such requests for information. Because of this, many agencies that are required to fulfill FOIA requests have a system in place for dealing with these requests. But what about the private sector?
Private companies are not required to provide information to the public except when facing a lawsuit. If an organization is being sued, all information relevant to the case is open for discovery. For records managers, the burden begins here. Relevant information can mean anything from email correspondence to social media posts as well as video recordings. Until fairly recently, discovery meant paper documents. Today, with so much electronic information being exchanged, electronic discovery (e-discovery) has become an industry unto itself. Many consulting as well as law firms have dedicated entire practices to e-discovery. The cost of litigation can be very expensive, add an IT component, and the cost soars.
Archivists know all too well that information comes in many formats. Electronically stored information (ESI) is constantly being upgraded in order to house the gigabytes, terabytes, and even petabytes of data that’s being produced daily. It wasn’t that long ago when a floppy disk was adequate storage for personal information. Now, individuals have entire servers that are used to store personal information. Organizations have had to outsource their storage to companies that provide cloud storage. Government agencies, once skeptical of cloud storage, are now forced to use the cloud due to legal requirements to store information for a set period of time. In 2011, the White House released a memorandum informing government agencies to reform their records management practices. The technological advances in recent years has forced agencies to reexamine the way they manage records.
Technology has been both a blessing and a burden for records managers. How does one comply with an e-discovery request when the requested data consists of text, video, social media, email, and other formats that are constantly emerging? Where does one store all of this data? How can it be provided in one uniform format without it being a huge burden for the records manager(s)? What if the judge requests the data in its native format? Do we keep old hardware? For how long? All of these questions will continue to be discussed and examined throughout the records management community. I hope to answer some of these questions in future articles on emerging technologies. We can only hope that the blessings that technology has bestowed upon us outweigh the burdens as our responsibilities expand.