High (professional) anxiety? Image and status in records management

High (professional) anxiety? Image and status in records management

Pemberton, J Michael

Most intelligent people recognize that ignoring serious medical, financial, or emotional problems won’t make them “just go away”; action is needed. But judging by the lack of open discussion about image and status in records management, there seem to be otherwise intelligent records managers who must think this problem area will vanish or somehow resolve itself if we just keep quiet about it. Perhaps no one has noticed: silence hasn’t helped. The image and status of records management are neither what they should be, what we would want them to be, nor what they could be if we choose to do something about it. This issue’s “Perspectives” column attempts to provoke thought about the matter of status with the hope that we might begin to address these continuing concerns in positive and constructive ways.

While image and status are occasionally–if all too rarely–topics at ARMA’s annual conference, the records management literature is virtually silent on the subject. Judging by the literature of other information-management fields, image and status concerns provoke considerable discussion, reflection, and calls for action.(1) It is perfectly reasonable for records management to consider–as do many non-information fields(2)–a variety of issues related to status and to examine specific initiatives to enhance their status in society. Some initiatives in that direction are noted here.


What is the difference between “status” and “image”? The term “image” is likely to be more familiar in everyday speech than “status.” In our daily lives, we may be concerned with some frequency about our personal image without necessarily relating the concept to our occupational endeavors. Image concerns then can easily be separated from our profession if we personalize it into areas over which we have some individual control (e.g., dress, appearance, manners). While important at a personal level, of course, these image concerns have little or nothing to do with the status of our field. No single person can be responsible for the image of a field or for its status in society.

One of the great movements in contemporary American life is that of self-improvement. Books, noncredit college courses, and itinerant seminars extol their ability to help us become smarter, fitter, happier, wealthier people. The popular press and the less scholarly occupational media intone a steady litany of suggestions:

* Take an image improvement course,

* Lose excess weight and get into shape physically,

* Learn how to listen effectively and become a good conversationalist,

* Take time for others,

* Improve your mind, take some academic courses,

* Learn how to relax and let your intuitive faculty help you,

* Develop new interests and skills, and

* Set personal goals and be self-motivating.(3)

Then, there are those useful, if somewhat trite or cosmetic, suggestions:

* Keep your shoes shined,

* Always give a firm and warm handshake,

* Keep your clothes well pressed and cleaned,

* Dress for the job you want, not the one you have,

* Always be on time for an appointment, and

*Always look people in the eye while speaking to them.

Advice about image can come with a gender spin. Special concerns suggested for the working woman include:

* Don’t cry at the office,

* Don’t wear mini-skirts,

* No flirting,

* Don’t lose your temper,

* No chewing gum, and

* Don’t go stockingless in summer or wear sleeveless dresses.(4)

Compared to the issue of status for occupations or professions, discussions of image tend to be: 1) more personalized, 2) reflect current tastes and manner, and 3) are matters about which only individuals can take action. There is less of a serious or scholarly attempt to study “image” than “status.”

Occupational fields, however, can project an image. An “image” is, as the term suggests, a type of mental picture of someone who conveys and embodies the primary characteristics of that field to the person who holds the image. The content of the image–positive or negative–will vary from person to person depending on an individual’s experience with people from the profession. The nature of the image may be deep or superficial; it may be little more than a stereotype. For there to be an image of a field held by a sizable number of persons or significant percentage of the population, there must be sufficient contact between those who possess the image and those practitioners who project elements of the image.

While there is no research into the image of records managers, we have some knowledge of the image of other information fields. One study of the image of librarians, for example, surveyed 448 non-librarians. Those with a negative image of librarians saw the typical librarian as: “passive,” “apathetic,” “dull,” “boring,” “aloof,” and “obsessively tidy or methodical.” On the other hand, persons with a positive view of librarians saw the typical librarian as: “helpful,” “service-motivated,” “efficient,” “professional,” “knowledgeable,” “intelligent,” “cheerful,” and “polite.”(5) While we may talk about what we think–or fear–the image of the “typical” records manager to be, we lack credible evidence that individual members of the public know enough about the work of records managers to have formed an image, except one which is confused with records clerks. And we have no research-based studies to support any theories we may have about the public’s overall image of records managers or records management.


In contrast with “image,” status is the level of respect, esteem, or admiration that the public holds for a given field, normally over a long period of time. For example, the public, or larger society, holds physicians in higher regard than they do janitors or garbage collectors. We know, even intuitively, that used car salespeople have a low status. Ministers often have a higher status ranking than attorneys, and college professors often have more status than airline pilots. One can correctly conclude a from these two examples that status and compensation do not always go hand in hand. There are those studies which examine the status of fields on a comparative basis and offer reasonably solid evidence of comparative status.(6)

Why is status important; why do we crave it? Status is a measure of value assigned by society to most vocational fields. It is a recognition of a field’s contribution and value to the public welfare. An elevated status in society also means respect, deference to the authority of thos in the profession, a willingness to let that profession be self-policing and to keep out those they feel may not live up to the profession’s standards of both performance and ethics. An elevated status means that those in society recognize those in the field as having special skills and knowledge, typically beyond the understanding of the average person. Simply put, fields with a high level of status feel that they have earned society’s seal of approval for what they do and how they do it.

Obviously, any field would want to achieve a high level of status in society. History suggests that “as competitors in market economies, occupational incumbents


sought to professionalize to improve their status…and


wanted to better their economic positions by securing occupational niches for their services.”(7) Such an interest in professionalization and status undeniably includes the records management field, whose practitioners are, understandably, concerned that the status of their field is lower than they want it to be or than they think it reasonably should be. Once upon a time, however, the status of what we could call “records managers” was very high. It might be very useful to examine that era in history and try to understand what happened to the status of work with records, how that status got “lost,” and, more importantly, how might it be regained.


Records management as a valued function not only has a history–and an ancient one at that–but it also had a status in society which, in the beginning, was quite lofty. Evidence of systems for the creation, maintenance, access, and use of records as critical management tools and resources in both public and private affairs is well over 7,000 years old. The evidence also suggests that those responsible for these systems were highly respected during much of that time. While Ernst Posner has correctly suggested that records practices in “the ancient world seem to have much in common with those of our own times,”(8) two important factors about the work have definitely changed: the media/technology of recordkeeping (mostly for the better) and the status (mostly for the worse) of those who work with records. Let us consider the nature of the work of early records managers, then their social status, some recent history, and, finally, the question of how status, once lost, might be regained.

In early civilizations, when records became numerous enough, relatively complex in content, and sufficiently important, the need arose for their management–a function beyond that of creation. The evolution of records management as a systematic practice can first be documented in those societies which materialized in the Mesopotamian lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers of the Near East in about 3500 BCE. The Sumerians and later the Akkadians and the Amorites–other Semitic peoples–developed a civilization with many centers of culture and commerce. While Babylon was its best-known capital, other flourishing urban areas arose, with exotic names such as Ur, Uruk, Kish, Nippur, and Tell Ahmar. Among the physical remains of these cities are clay tablet repositories, bodies of records which suggest a sophisticated approach to recordkeeping.(9)

The writing system of these people was cuneiform. A three-cornered stylus was used to impress many different sizes and combinations of small wedges into moist clay, which could be baked to create permanent records, kept damp for short-term records, or obliterated and re-used if errors were caught in time.(10) As the complexity of records systems rose, a variety of shapes and tablet sizes emerged for application in a wide range of purposes. Because this system, somewhat like Egyptian hieroglyphics, did not use an easily learned alphabet, access to and use of cuneiform was limited to a literate scribal elite.

The types of records created, stored, and consulted in the claytablet empires were many. There were literary records (e.g., epic poems, proverbs), religious texts (e.g., prayers, omens, hymns), medical, mathematical, astronomic, and school texts. Clearly, however, most of them selyed business or managerial purposesll not unlike our own. Among these applications were records for:

Income and expenses

Land transfers/deeds


Tax accounts

Salary lists



Law books

Loan documents



Purchase records.(12)

These and other types of records were created in the public sector (e.g., monarchy, military, and police), but wealthy and entrepreneurial families also had large private collections of records for similar needs. As the volume and importance of records grew, so did the pressing need for information management.

Many of the techniques used for managing these information resources should sound familiar to today’s records managers. There were, for example, the functional equivalents of mail rooms and file rooms used to receive, sort, and then store records from external sources. In larger collections, there might be a cluster of adjacent records rooms used for various purposes. Some rooms had small annexes, and in these restricted areas were kept those records which today’s records manager would classify as “vital” as well as those closely guarded ‘for the purposes of controlling information dissemination and technology.”(13) Surprising as it may seem, there were “information security” problems in the clay-tablet eras, with instances of information theft, forgery, and other information manipulation. There is also evidence of”appraisal offices” in some repositories where the contents of incoming records were reviewed, their origins noted, and the tablets sorted and labelled prior to filing. For permanent records, many of these ancient “records centers” had an oven which could harden about one hundred tablets at a time.(14)

Filing systems were also much more diverse than we might assume. Equipment included baskets and trays in which the tablets were organized and marked with clay tags which indexed their contents. There were also pigeon-hole arrangements where square niches were carved into the file room walls. In cases where the volume of records was great, multi-level openshelf arrangements were used. A prototype of color coding employed strips in several colors laid on the tablets’ edges. In some cases, optically distinct scribal marks (early barcodes?) were applied to the edges of tablets. In larger central filing rooms, there were tablets which served the purpose of our auxiliary, or external, indexes. The purposes of these prototypical filing systems were surely the same as now: fast identification and easy retrieval as well as error-free re-filing. In some instances, there appear to have been sophisticated classification systems, reflecting a rather advanced administrative organization as well as the application of advanced intellectual approaches to the collocation of records.(15) Of course, anyone who did records classification work had to be able to read the records; thus, not just anyone then could be what today we might, with a superior air, call a “records clerk.”

A variety of records formats served diverse needs. For example, an early type of forms management is evident in some repositories where quadrangular tablets were used when the record was a loan transaction; circular tablets signified land-yield records. Many contracts, once the makers’ ornate seals had been applied, were encased in clay “envelopes” which duplicated the basic contract information on the enclosed tablet. The hardened envelope was never opened unless a contract dispute was litigated; then the envelope was broken open in court, revealing the protected original and, thus, authenticating the contract. In a similar way, receipts were often encased in clay envelopes to ensure confidentiality and safety. Reflecting an early specialization in business communication, cuneiform patterns used for managerial documents differed from those for literary texts.


Records have always been important in the affairs of government, and because of the volume and complexity of the records needed to carry out its functions, governments–ancient and modern–have always played a major role in the advancement of records management. In Egyptian thought, “administering and preparing records are one and the same thing; scribe stands for government official; and the terms for record depository and government agency are identical.”(16) Some of the records innovations associated with the clay-tablet empires were continued by later kings, chamberlains, grand viziers, and court secretaries as well as by the governments of the cities that emerged around the courts.

Even so fierce a soldier-king as Alexander the Great (356-332 BCE) appreciated the value of records. He took on his lengthy expeditions copies of all the records of his reign and had extensive daily journals kept. Alexander may have dealt with the earliest known records-related “disaster recovery” when a tent containing his files on papyrus burned, Alexander’s first secretary (archigrammateus) and “records manager,” Eumenes of Kardia, reconstructed the files from copies which were distributed throughout the kingdom.(17) Some of what Alexander, his administrative staff, and their successors knew about records systems, archives, and libraries they learned from the lands they invaded, including the older clay-tablet empires of the Near and Middle East.

Following Alexander’s death, Egypt’s government under the Ptolemies and later the Romans supported massive bureaucracies, representing what was then perhaps the “largest business organization in the world.”(18) If the remains of the records found to date are an accurate indication, there were hundreds of thousands of papyrus records created by various governmental bodies in this region during that era.

Like us, the Egyptians had their share of obsolete records, but they were able to “re-cycle” many of them. In some cases, records were sold to morticians, who used the papyrus records to stuff and to wrap mummies.(19) In other cases, obsolete records were used to stuff the carcasses of sacred crocodiles, which, believe it or not, had their own cemetery near the Nile.

While this is not the place for a detailed history of records management,(20) the preceding sketch of it in antiquity clearly suggests that recordkeeping and records systems for business purposes, broadly defined, had ancient origins, used relatively complex techniques, and were important in the lives of all kinds of organizations–public and private.

A puzzling and sometimes frustrating phenomenon is that many of the early advancements in records systems and technologies were lost or abandoned as one civilization gave way to another.(21) Many contributions to records work, then, failed to accrue and had to be re-discovered–and sometimes lost once again–after the passage of many centuries. We do know that no distinct occupation of records management arose until the mid-twentieth century. It is only there and then that we fully re-discover the vital role of records as factors of production.(22)


A lingering lack of a clear definition and differentiation is partly responsible for a delay in the emergence of a meaningful and appropriate status for records management. Present-day differentiations among “records managers,” “archivists,” and “librarians” were virtually meaningless in ancient times. In Ptolemaic Egypt (320 BCE-80 BCE), for example, there were dozens of today’s white collar government workers in each nome, or district, usually in the employ of the dioketes (“the man in charge of business”). Many of these workers handled duties related to the creation, storage, retrieval, duplication, and transmission of records. The chief scribe for the nome might bear the distinct title basilikosgrammateus, but in the earlier stages of its use the term bibliotheke could apply to a library as well as a records office or an archive, and bibliophylax: could encompass our terms “records manager,” “archivist,” or “librarian.” Today, in much of Europe (e.g., France, Spain, Italy) archival and records management functions are largely undifferentiated.(23) Until the late nineteenth century in the U.S., it would have been difficult to differentiate the roles of the records manager from those of the archivist, office manager, or file clerk.

The problem with nomenclature, however, did not vanish with the emergence of records management as a field in the 1940s and 1950s. In a 1968 survey, Wilmer Maedke discovered that the variety of titles for those working as records managers was remarkable: in addition to those with “records” in their title, there were those performing records management functions who were called “administrative services manager,” “office manager,” “systems analyst,” “systems engineer,” “management analyst,” and “procedures specialist.”(24) Seven years later, in 1975, when Maedke performed a similar survey, 44 percent of 867 survey respondents still did not have a variation on “records” in their job titles.(25) Perhaps this issue has improved since 1975, but the problem of occupational identity continues. The lack of a clear occupational identity is of no help in a search for improved status.

While information usable to make decisions and take action has always been valued, the status of those who have managed information throughout history is usually unclear, or our knowledge is, at best, uneven. We know, however, that for good reasons scribes in clay-tablet societies had a high status. Sons of governors, ambassadors, temple administrators, priests, managers and the like, scribes were the intellectuals oftheir day, and “to be an ‘egghead’ was considered respectable…

since scribes

played an overwhelmingly important role in the creation and transmission of Mesopotamian culture.”(26)

There was a practical reason for the scribes’ lofty place in society. Only those with the proper training, normally from well-to-do families, could write or read the clay tablets. After the monarch, some of the most prestigious positions were held by scribes and those government officials or wealthy businessmen who employed scribes and their apprentices to create, store, organize, duplicate, transmit, and dispose of records created in the normal course of business–an information life cycle as important then as today.(27) Some Mesopotamian salary records from 2300-2200 BCE suggest that the keeper of the records was paid as much as the superintendent of public works and five times as much as the chief of police. Similar positions in Egyptian culture were also highly esteemed.(28) In the golden age of Greek culture (5th and 4th centuries BCE), the Athenian with “supreme power over public records” was elected by citizens of the polis and was consistently one of the “most illustrious and trustworthy of all the citizens” of Athens.(29)

Fundamental to high status for any field, however, is the difficulty and complexity of its work. That is, the more complex and demanding the knowledge and work of the discipline and, as a consequence, the smaller the number of capable–or certified—practitioners, the more status will be accorded it by the larger society. For example, when only a relatively small number of highly skilled scribes existed, their roles in society were quite significant. Writing was a complex and tedious skill performed only by those who had a lengthy period of training from professional scribes at “tablet houses,” educational institutions which arose by about 1800 BCE. Like powerful priesthoods, the scribal profession was often passed down the generations from father to son.

Adoption of easily-learned alphabets, however, by advancing civilizations made writing accessible to almost anyone. Thus writing, records making, and records management lost much of their status. The rising tide of literacy and easy access to an alphabet and widely available writing material, such as papyrus, made record making a much more common skill, one often turned over to literate slaves. The once-dominant roles and status of the makers and keepers of records, then, began to decline quite precipitously.

There are many things we would like to know, of course, about the roles and importance of the scribes and those records professionals who followed them. It is not clear, for example, what percentage of their efforts were devoted to managing information resources as opposed to time spent creating them in clay or other media. It is not always clear as to the relationship of those who created records-slaves, scribes, monks, clerks–with those over them–magistrates, archbishops, princes. Who caused the records to be made, who supervised the making of records, and who managed the information resources and how? We lack good data as well on the numbers, over time, of records workers, their compensation, education, and so forth. This would tell us a great deal about the vagaries of status in the sphere of records work. Yet between the Dark Ages (ca. 475-1000 CE) and the rise of modern Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we have little reliable information about records systems and what would become records managers. Sadly, this is essentially the case today as records managers seem to be the least introspective souls among those in the information management tribe; our knowledge of ourselves is pitifully scarce.

It has been harmful to establishing the status and image of records management that its origins as a discipline have, for several reasons, been obscured. No serious history of the field has ever been undertaken, one that would show the evolution or emergence of records management from a larger, older and highly respected field, one with long-term status. By comparison, it has benefitted the field of computer science, a recently emergent applied field, as is records management, to be associated with the respected and high status scientific field of mathematics. Medicine, an ancient practice oriented field like computer science, is naturally related to the mainstream and well-regarded life sciences (e.g., biology, anatomy, organic chemistry). By comparison with these two fields, however, records management appears to lack a well-documented affiliation with a well-established and respected theory-based field. This lack of clear history and definition as a field, the lack of prominence in its intellectual footing, its fuzzy relationships with other fields–all these and its failure to date to undertake a public education effort–fosters an unclear image and constrains our attainment of an appropriate status for the field.


The rise of modern management out of changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century brought with it a new focus on management specialization. This increasing differentiation of work via division of labor had an effect on records management in that before then there were those who “worked with records” in a general sense in offices and government bureaus, but there was still little sense of the distinctions we understand today among archivists, records managers, data administrators, and management information systems (MIS) specialists.

The importance of records in the management of large enterprises became much clearer at the turn of the century when the “office,” as we know it, emerged. The appearance of the modern office was the result of several factors: rapid urbanization, the flow of immigrants into the larger cities, an accelerating industrialization seeking new labor supplies, business mergers and acquisitions on a scale never before encountered, and the emergence of new technologies which supported expansion of railroads, telephone systems and utilities.

An important factor was the application of “scientific management” to office work, including areas related to more precise recordkeeping and “new systems of paperwork.”(30) The uses of scientific management were explored by Frederick Winslow Taylor and his acolytes through time-motion studies, breaking jobs down into component parts for analysis, redesigning tools, re-organizing workspace, and other efforts. While the applications of scientific management were originally applied to the factory and mill yard, some of Taylor’s followers, including William Henry Leffingwell, applied “Taylorism” to the office environment. Needed improvements in systems, procedures, and technologies, however, were also paralleled by an irrational “genderfication” of office work.

It is no mere feminist interpretation to suggest that the status of recordskeepers and records managers has been tarnished by an association with what some disparagingly called “women’s work.” It has been well documented by Sharon Strom and others that there was a striking shift between 1900 and 1930 in the balance between men and women as office workers and information processors. With no particular axe to grind, Robert J. Samuelson has recently noted that “in 1870, men constituted 98 percent of all clerical workers

in the U.S

. Most took dictation, copied documents or ran errands. By 1920, half the clerical workers were women.”(31) By 1928, 90 percent of office workers in a survey of 152 firms were women, and 95 percent of them were under the age of twenty-five.(32) During this period, as organizations grew in size as well as number, men were finding places in the increasing number of middle- and executive-level management positions.

At the same time, women were coming from homes into the U.S. work force in larger numbers and, sometimes promoted from the factory floor, were taking over many of the white-collar clerical roles (e.g., filing, secretarial, bookkeeping, time keeping) formerly held by those men who were now their supervisors. It was these male managers who dictated who held what types of positions.(33) Like the all-male scribal elite of the clay-tablet empires, the management club policy in the early twentieth century was “boys only.” Upward mobility or even continued employment was jeopardized by the “marriage bar” through which most organizations fired women if they married–lest they become pregnant.

These changes and problematic attitudes in the workplace have had profound and lasting effects on the image and status of all those who work with information. While we know that records and information work is gender neutral, the idea prevailed in the early decades of the twentieth century that such work was for lower-order “operatives.” All women in the business environment were, in fact, defined as lower-order operatives–not suited for work in management. This became a fixed idea in the U.S. workplace until recently. It is clearly more than mildly symbolic that the Harvard Business School did not admit women as students until 1963](34)

Today, there are opportunities to shake off the gender stigma that holds down the status of records work. The male/female ratio among those at the genuine management levels in records management is roughly equal, and any of the management-level work in the field can be done without reference to gender. Still, the perception of managers outside the field is that “records management” is somehow a pinkcollar filing gulag. This image continues because records management as a field has failed to make the point that gender is irrelevant and that it is about the management of information as a resource, not merely filing. But the field is only one of several in the information sector which have as yet not managed to wholly overcome the similar stereotyping that also taints other information workers (e.g., librarians).


To elevate the status of any field requires a commitment on the part of its practitioners to undertake a monumental effort, one that looks much like a war. And since no one person can handle such an effort, it must be a communal attempt undertaken by the professional association. An opening to such an initiative would include identifying and addressing in an effective way those aspects of status over which some control can be exerted.

Among those problems which can, I believe, be positively addressed and modified are the following:

1. The relative status of profession, as the public sees it, is partly tied to the belief that professions have dominion–or fail to have it–over a specific body of knowledge. This knowledge is: a) advanced or sophisticated, b) it underlies the authority of the profession, and c) it is not easily attained. Regardless of any sub-specialization within a profession, there is a core knowledge held in common by all practitioners. The clay-tablet scribes had such a knowledge. Well, then, what is the core knowledge of records management? of information management? of information systems? Who determines it? Where is it listed and described? How is it transmitted? Only some arm of the professional association can develop, promulgate, and make credible a statement as to core knowledge. This is a role, then, which only ARMA International can perform.

2. Linked to the matter of an advanced core of knowledge is the issue of professional education. Just as there were specific schools and courses of study for Mesopotamian scribes, there are curricula specified for the most revered of today’s professions. Normally, professional education is provided in a university setting (e.g., medicine, law, theology, dentistry, engineering), and the curriculum for each field is defined by one or more standing committees of its professional association. Are there one or more preferred educational credentials for records/information managers? Who sets them? What authority do these standards or expectations have? Do those who hire records managers know–or care–what the standards might be?(35)

3. A lack of understanding about what these professional-level records management practitioners actually know and do leads to an inaccurate or false image. This lack of understanding comes about quite naturally since few members of the general public come in contact with records managers. They do, however, come into contact with clerical workers who handle records, and these workers–as it often seems to John/Jane Q. Public–misplace those records on a frequent basis or seem incapable of answering basic questions about the records. As unfair as it may seem, records managers are often tarred with the same brush that ordinary citizens use on records clerks they see as inept. Clearly, a strong, effective, and long-term effort at public education is needed. Just as clearly, professional records managers must learn to differentiate and distance themselves from their clerical counterparts.(36)

4. In a similar way, the term “records” conjures up images associated with workers in dreary central-files environments. The image, or stereotype, arising from this experience is unflattering but true in the limited experience of ordinary citizens with those who may be indifferent, poorly paid, barely educated records handlers in files-intensive areas. Comparatively, a records manager may have an unflattering image of a “librarian” if the records manager thinks that everyone who works in a library is a “librarian,” which is far from the case. In both situations, a lack of visibility of the professional-level person to the public leads to inaccurate conclusions.

5. Unlike physicians, attorneys, and some of the other professional fields, records managers have no legal status or authority or statutorily based qualifications, such as licensing by state boards or agencies or by powerful professional associations. That lack of authority inhibits a positive image of the records manager as an authority figure in matters of information policies or procedures. The Certified Records Manager (CRM) is a step in the right direction in a this area. The public, however, knows little or nothing as yet about this process or its meaning or value. Too, while valuable in some ways, the certification is less powerful in image building than licensing based on statute or regulation. A useful initiative would include work toward a regulatory requirement for certification of records managers in certain sensitive environments such as environmental information systems or similar positions in the nuclear industry.

6. The work of any field can achieve only a lower level of status if most of its workers are associated with some group, class, or caste whose work is seen in negative or adulterated terms. While information itself is highly valued around the world, it is also clear that the status of information workers around the world is low, in part because so many of them are female. Times and workplaces have changed; it is time to take gender out of records management.

7. Those fields which have achieved lofty status in society typically have definable standards of excellence in their services. While these standards may vary a bit from one community to another, from urban to rural areas, and so forth, any practitioner in the field should be able to define what the standards are in any area of practice. Records management has not as yet attempted to develop profession-wide standards of service or performance. What level of excellence, then, should the public expect from records managers in the same way that they expect excellence from physicians? This lack of performance standards will tend to slow emergence of a valid status ranking. That ARMA International has adopted a Code of Professional Responsibility is clearly a step in the right direction.(37)


We can see from this overview that the status of those who work with records has been uneven over time. While individuals can do much to improve their own image, the central force for the improvement of the status of a field is the professional association. While work with records is, as we have noted, quite ancient, it is only in the recent past that there has been a primary professional association–ARMA International–to represent and better the status of records managers. But what are the roles of a professional association? Of ARMA International? What can a professional association in general or ARMA International specifically do to improve the lot of those in the field it represents? Of concern here are the enduring professional issues that must be addressed by the field through its professional association.

Status is certainly among the enduring professional issues facing records management. Consequently, image and status will be among those concerns to be addressed by ARMA International through its standing Committee on Professional Issues. Areas of activity for this new Committee are the following:

* Defining the field’s knowledge base,

* Educational requirements,

* Certification issues,

* Developing research agenda,

* Public education about the profession,

* Practitioner compensation,

* Recruitment to the profession,

* Developing standards of excellence for the field,

* Ethics and professional responsibility,

* Defining boundaries with other fields, and

* Career development/alternate career paths.(39)

Collectively, these matters represent the most important ingredients in the pursuit of an appropriate professional status for records management. Frankly, what the field of records management in partnership with its professional association chooses to do in these areas will have a direct, if not immediate, impact on improvement of the field’s status over a long period of time. Let us hope, then, that those ofvision step forward to lead us in this pursuit.


1. In the area of librarianship, for example, see: Russell Bowden and Donald Wijasuriya, eds., The Status, Reputation, and Image of the Library and Information Professional (Munich:

K. G. Saur for the

International Federation of Library Associations, 1992), Alison Rothwell, “The Image of Librarians,” Library Management, 11, i(1990), 25-56; Margaret Slater, “Careers and the Occupational Image,” Journal of Information Science Principles and Practice, 13, vi (1987), 335-342; Maureen M. Watson, and Susan M. Kroll, “The Association of Visual Science Librarians’ Professional Status and Salary Survey: 1992,” Special Libraries, 85, i (Winter 1992), 26-31; Katherine Vice, “Professional Status: Not the Be All or End All,” Canadian Library Journal, 45, i (February 1988), 23-27; Meg Paul and Jennifer Evans, The Librarians’ Self-Starter. 100s of Questions To Challenge Your Thinking about Your Image, the Profession’s Image, Your Job and Your Future. A Manual for Concerned Librarians (Camberwell


: Freelance Library and Information Services Pty. Ltd., 1988); for archivists, see: Aurelio Tanodi, “The Status of Archivists in Relation to Other Information Professionals in the Public Service in Latin America” (Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, General Information Programme, 1985) ERIC ED272211; for systems, see: James Belohlav, Louis Raho, David Drehmer, “Perceptions of Information System Domains as a Function of Professional Status,” Journal of Information Science Principles & Practice, 16, vi (1990), 359-367 and Michael Welborn, “Small Systems Managers Must Retain Unique Professional Image,” Data Management, 24, xi (November 1986), 26-27.

2. For an admittedly superficial sense of how non-infonnation fields are concerned over time about status and image, see: Michael Bruce, “Destroy a Negative Image Before It Destroys You,” Human Resources Professional, 3, iii (Spring 1991), 48-52; Michael Conlan, “The R.Ph. and His Image,” Drug Topics, “Supplement,” 1991, p. 21; Jean V. Owen, “Images of the Manufacturing Engineer,” Manufacturing Engineerig, 103, v (November 1989), 56-62; Leah Rosch, “The Professional Image Report,” Working Woman, 13, x (October 1988), 109-113, 148-150; John Towler, “Ways to Fine-Tune Your Professional Image,” Industrial Management, 10, iv (May 1, 1986), 16; Donald H. Chapin, “Changing the Image of the CPA,” CPA Journal, 62, xii (December 1992), 16-24; James F. Cawley, “The Physician Assistant Profession: Current Status and Future Trends,” Journal of Public Health Policy, 6, i (March 1985) 78-99; Glen Fisher, “A Need to Recheck the Professional Image”


, Anhropological Quarterly, 50, iv (October 1977), 161-164; Samuel Walker, “Police Professionalism: Another Look at the Issues,” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 3, vi (July 1970), 701-711.

3. Adapted from John Towler, “Ways to Fine-Tune Your Professional Image,” Idustrial Management, 10, iv (May 1986), 16.

4. Leah Rosch, “The Professional Image Report,” Working Woman, 13, x (October 1988), 109-113.

5. Margaret Slater, “Careers and the Occupational Image,” Journal of Information Science, 13, vi (1987), 338.

6. See, for example, Albert J. Reiss, Jr., Occupations and Social Status (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, Inc., 1961); Alden D. Miller, Principal Components and Curvature in Occupational Stratification (Chapel Hill, NC: Institute for Research in Social Science, University of North Carolina, 1967); Walter Muller and Karl U. Mayer, Social Stratification and Career Mobility (Paris: Mouton, 1978); Edward O. Laumann, Prestige and Association in an Urban Community: An Analysis of an Urban Stratification System (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966); and George Ritzer and David Walczak, Working: Conflict and Change, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986).

7. George Ritzer and David Walczak, Working: Conflict and Change, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986).

8. Archives in the Ancient World (Boston, MA: Hanrard University Press, 1972), p. 2.

9. Gerald E. Max, “Ancient Near East,” in Wayne A. Wiegand and Donald G. Davis, Jr., eds., Encyclopedia of Library History (New York: Garland Publishers, 1994), 23-24.

10. For some purposes, writing tablets were made of wood or ivory boards. These were usually covered with wax on which impressions could be made with a stylus. Their purpose seems to have been as an intermediate, easily erasable medium for calculation and draft texts. Parchment was also used at the same time clay was popular. Papyrus records from this early period have not been discovered.

11. “More than 90 per cent of the inscribed material

as yet uncovered

consists of economic and administrative documents” (Samuel N. Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963

, 165). p. 12. Max, 29-30.

13. Max, 28.

14. Posner, p. 34.

15. Posner, 32.

16. Posner, p. 76.

17. Luciana Duranti, “The Odyssey of Records Managers,” Part I: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Fall of the Roman Empire, Records Management Quarterly, 23, iii (July 1989), 8.

18. Posner, p. 136.

19. Posner, p. 88.

20. For an interesting and useful historical overview, see Luciana Duranti, “The Odyssey of Records Managers,” Part I: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Fall of the Roman Empire, Records Management Quarterly, 23, iii (July 1989), 3-11 and Part II: From the Middle Ages to Modern Times, Records Management Quarterly, 23, iv (October 1989),3-11. Also excellent is the synthesis of knowledge about records and recordskeepers in the ancient period in Posner, above.

21. See James Peter and Nick Thorpe, Ancient Inventions (New York: Ballantine, to 1994). The use of the mandrake root in Chinese herbal medicine, for example, was “forgotten” for almost 1,000 years (p. 40), and the guality of partials and bridgework created by Etruscan “dentists” (ca. 700 BCE) was not rediscovered until the nineteenth century (pp. 33-34).

22. For a brief account of the rise of records management as a remarkably similar response to the same types of business and government needs as those in the clay-tablet and papyrus ages, see J. Michael Pemberton, “The Information Economy: A Context for Records and Information Management,” Records Management Quarterly, 29, iii (July 1995), 54-58 and “Who Put the ‘Management’ in Records Management?” Records Management Quarterly, 29, iv (October 1995), 68-73.

23. Duranti, “The Odyssey of Records Managers,” Part I, From the Dawn of Civilization to the Fall of the Roman Empire, 5.

24. Wilmer Maedke, “The Records Management Profession: A Profile Survey,” Records Management Quarterly, 2, iii (July 1968), 29-36.

25. Wilmer Maedke, “Records Management Profession: Status and Trends,” Records Management Quarterly, 10, iii (July 1976), 42-57.

26. Posner, pp. 67-68.

27. Duranti, “The Odyssey of Records Managers,” Part I: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Fall ofthe Roman Empire, p. 8.

28. Duranti, “The Odyssey of Records Managers,” Part I: From the Dawn of Civilization to the Fall of the Roman Empire, 5.

29. Posner, p. 111.

30. Sharon H. Strom, Beyond the Typewriter: Gender, Class, and the Origins of Modern American Office Work, 1900-1930 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1992), p. 2.

31. “A Requiem for the Typewriter,” Newsweek, July 17, 1995, 43.

32. John Mitchell, “Measuring Office Output,” American Management Association Office Executive Series, 35 (1929), quoted in Strom, p. 241.

33. See, for example, Sharon Hartman Strom, above, and Margery W. Davies, Women’s Place Is at the Typewriter: Office Work and Ofice Workers, 1870-1930 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1982). A view of the impact of technology on “woman’s work” in offices of a more recent period is Barbara Garson, The Electronic Sweatshop: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future into the Factory of the Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988).

34. Strom, p. 5.

35. See the foundation laid in J. Michael Pemberton, “Records Management Education: In Pursuit of Standards,” RMQ, 28, iii July 1994), 58-61; 62.

36. See J. Michael Pemberton, “Professionals and Clerks: One Happy Family?” Records Management Quarterly, 28, ii (April 1994), 56-59; 60-61.

37. See J. Michael Pemberton, “Looking for ‘Excellence in Records Management’,” Records Management Quarterly, 27, iv (October 1993),62; 64-65; 72-74.

38. In its current “Strategic Initiatives: 1995-2000,” approved by the board of directors in 1995, ARMA’s vision (i.e., mission) is: “A membership with the skills and knowledge to meet the challenges of information management in the 21st century.” Its goals are:

1. To advance records and information management as a discipline and as a profession.

2. To organize and promote programs of research, education, training, and networking in the profession of records and information management.

3. To support the enhancement of professionalism of the members of ARMA International.

4. To promote cooperative endeavors with related professional groups.

39. A standing Committee on Professional Issues was approved by ARMA’s Board of Directors in March, 1995.

Copyright Association of Records Managers and Administrators Inc. Jan 1996

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved