Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What's in a name?

Alan Bell raises some interesting issues in a recent posting about the wisdom (or not) of ‘Records Management2.0’ as term, his main argument being that although the technology and how we need to do things has changed this has not, and should not, change our fundamental goals and objectives and that as such “ all this talk of version 2.0 is perhaps not as helpful as it could be”.

As the person who coined the phrase Records Management2.0 (though hardly original I know) it may be surprising to hear that I don’t necessarily disagree with much of Alan’s argument, as the following extract from my keynote at the RMS conference indicates:

“The archive and records management professions are innately conservative; indeed we rightly pride ourselves on taking the ‘long view’, a position that is entirely appropriate when you consider that we are responsible for record collections often spanning several centuries. But, I would argue that whilst our professional goals and objectives should remain absolutely fixed and solid, this does not mean that our methodology and working practice must do likewise. The two are not inextricably linked and indeed it is not just desirable, but necessary, that we are prepared to constantly and fundamentally challenge the way in which we do things, to ensure that we are fit and able as a profession to continue to strive to achieve our objectives”

Where Alan and I do differ, I think, is in the degree of change required; whether this does or doesn’t justify the moniker ‘2.0’ and the practical usefulness of it as a term. For all the reasons laid out in my book I do believe that the issues raised by the Web2.0 movement – and not just of a technical nature, but reflecting the changing attitudes and behaviour of users, the nature of organisations and how information is viewed in culture and society – do fundamentally challenge enough of the old order of records management to make a clear division with what has gone before both necessary and desirable. Though at the same time we should not lose sight of the fact that for all the apparent difference implied by the 2.0 suffix, it is still attached to the term ‘Records Management’ and as such there is more that unites us than divides us.

In many respects I think Alan’s thoughts and this response demonstrate that the term Records Management2.0 is serving its intended purpose. I believe the most important role it can currently play is in raising awareness of the issues and generating debate (and hopefully solutions) about what this means for the records management profession. My own view remains that the depth and degree of rethinking and change required does legitimise the decision to call it something other than just ‘records management’, and given that such change is a direct result of the impact of Web2.0 it seems to make sense to me to be obvious about that link.

For me, another advantage of keeping a very deliberate and obvious link between Web2.0 and Records Management2.0 is to avoid confusion about its aims. From some of the responses I have received both from some individuals and professional bodies I do sometimes worry that people think I am advocating throwing out all that has gone before and replacing it wholesale with the kinds of methods and techniques outlined in the book. Nothing could be further from the truth. Where records management works, great. We have ISO15489 and a raft of other standards and best practice telling us all how to do it in time-honoured fashion and there is little or no place (for now at least) to be taking the kind of steps that I am advocating. Hopefully the Records Management2.0 title makes it clear that what I am talking about are solutions designed to fit very particular issue – those with their origins very firmly in the technology and movement that we know as Web2.0.

1 comment:

Russell James, CA said...

The term "Records Management 2.0" to me means using tools in the second generation of the internet to perform our functions and better serve our clientele. Some of the tenets of the current version of the manifesto don't make sense to me in light of this. It is not a rethinking of what we are doing, but an addition to what we already do.

And I like it that you call our profession essentially conservative. I'm sure many find that a ghastly characterization, but I find it an honor. Thank you.