Sunday, February 15, 2009
Review of Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs: Strategies for Success
My review of Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs: Strategies for Success. Edited by Bruce W. Dearstyne. (London: Facet, 2008).
Published in Journal of Documentation, 65(2), 2009.
In Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs: Strategies for Success, editor Bruce Dearstyne, Adjunct Professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, solicited essays from accomplished American and British information professionals in government, commercial, and nonprofit organizations to assist archivists and records administrators to lead effectively. Future leaders in the field need to advocate for increasing the public use and appreciation of archives, as well as understand technology, administration, strategic planning, and fundraising issues. With this book, readers will discover better solutions for creating mission statements, marketing services, weathering institutional change, and overcoming human resources and budgeting challenges.
The difference between managing and leading, which requires “envisioning, changing, inspiring, and transforming,” is vast (293). Dearstyne finds that “Too often, programs are tolerably well managed and deliver acceptable levels of service, but they fall short of their full potential for success and outstanding achievement due to lack of leadership” (293). To remain funded, archivists and records managers should not maintain the status quo but be innovative and adaptable, traits that they are not known for traditionally.
Leadership fosters intentional transformations directed at valued objectives. Therefore, everyone at any career point has the potential to be a change agent. In “The Records Management Leader,” Eugenia K. Brumm, a twenty-year veteran of records administration, notes that becoming a leader is “an ongoing, never-ending process of moving towards a goal, but never quite achieving it. The lessons are cumulative and evolutionary, changing with each new experience and affiliation” (33). Leon Stout of Penn State University Libraries, in “Leading from the Middle: Building a University Archives,” writes about his mid-level leadership experience, taking advantage of opportunities in historical outreach, service, and strategic initiatives.
Mark Greene, President of the Society of American Archivists and director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, adds, “…Leadership can and should exist at all levels of an organization” (137). His essay discusses how he led a team to transform the American Heritage Center from a dysfunctional repository to an archival powerhouse. Skills to achieve this began as a lone arranger at a college archive and developed with each position in his career.
Leaders demonstrate the wider business benefits of a dynamic program by emboldening the professional development of their team. United Kingdom records leader Peter Emmerson writes, “Managers are prepared, often under pressure from the substantial marketing budgets of technology vendors, to invest in equipment and software for managing record-keeping but not the essential professional expertise to ensure the investment is fully realized” (112). Effective leaders understand that human assets are just as important as technological innovations.
In “Stranger in a Strange Land: The Archivist and the Corporation,” Philip F. Mooney, Director of the Archives Department at Coca-Cola, outlines principles for success culled from three decades of experience. He advises that archives should never be linked to a single function, but serve a “broad portfolio of users,” with services marketed to a constantly changing work force (202). Leaders use success stories to build strategic, visible programs that track against larger corporate goals, because “the days of quietly processing collections and hoping someone will recognize the work are gone” (203). Despite mergers, turnovers, and downsizing, archives continue to protect institutional memory and prevent intellectual and financial loss.
Leaders advocate for the usefulness of their programs and personify organizational missions to resource allocators, decision makers, and external constituencies. Relevance is key, remarks James E. Fogerty, Head of Documentary Programs at the Minnesota Historical Society. In his essay, “Competing for Relevance: Archives in a Multiprogram Organization,” he writes that “archival management must be adept in creating relevance through use of the archives’ holdings and its staff expertise, and equally adept in advancing the perception of relevance to both internal and external clients” (133). Relevant programs align with organizational priorities, while following archival and record-keeping principles and practices.
In “Managing Change at the Vermont State Archives: A Continuing Issue,” Gregory Sanford and Tanya Marshall note that archivists and record managers must integrate “special knowledge of record keeping, institutional memory, and of access and preservation into our service to our institutions and the publics they serve” (226). They advise that leaders should understand the organization’s culture before changing it, establish relationships with record creators and users, and create a brand and mission statement to promote their programs.
Archives and records managers face complex communication challenges because their programs involve many aspects of an organization. One of the many ways to alleviate this problem is to adapt records management standards as the baseline for creating or improving programs, which uses best practices from other successful institutions and fosters a collaborate, professional environment. The absence of a standard university degree and a distinct career path for information professionals affects how they are perceived by others with limited knowledge of the field. Brumm cites an instance when a large, international pharmaceutical company promoted an employee without previous records administration experience or a college degree to a director of records management position. This would never happen in a field with a more established path to career advancement, such as finance.
Dearstyne bookends the volume with essays that first provide context and then summarize issues raised by the contributors. He also discusses ways to identify and implement successful leadership strategies, issues for further consideration, and management and leadership sources. His choice to include essays on records management standards and the technical challenges at The National Archives seems disparate because the role of leadership is less articulated than the other essays.
Excellent books abound on the theory and practice of archives and records administration, but few offer the insight on leadership and program development included in Leading and Managing Archives and Records Programs: Strategies for Success. Archivists and records managers interested in developing and leading programs should consult this book for a fair assessment of the challenges and opportunities they will encounter in their new endeavors.