“What are the most important skills for a records manager or archivist?”
Recently at Arkivum we have been discussing and debating what the most important skills are for records managers. There are obvious ones which of course spring to mind, such as being highly organised or having a high attention to detail, but we wanted to find out what are truly the most important skills that make a great records manager.
Our aim was to spark discussion amongst the community, whilst also hopefully providing some guidance to archivists on where to focus personal development efforts, and prospective employers on what to look for when hiring.
To help answer this question, we collated 10 skills (listed below) and asked you, our community, to rank them in order of importance.
Before we look at the top three, it’s worth noting that we’re not saying that the other seven skills aren’t important. Ultimately, they’re all important. Yet these top three are what make the best records managers stand out, what makes them truly great.
So without further ado, let’s look at the top three…
1 – Ability to prioritise
The role of a records manager can often vary day-to-day but fundamentally, they are responsible for the long-term safeguarding of their organisation’s digital and/or non-digital assets from creation through to preservation and eventual disposal. This role may be a person’s full-time job, or they may have to manage these responsibilities alongside a different full-time role. Whichever the case, I think it’s clear to understand why the ability to prioritise has taken the number one spot.
The diversity of tasks and responsibilities necessary to protect the longevity of valuable and/or historical assets require a meticulous eye for detail. And alas, so too an ability to anticipate and adapt to changing demands. This may range from a variety of information requests from stakeholders or arranging the transportation of various collections to a place of exhibition. They may even be digitising 1000s of photos and assets into a digital archive when they have spare capacity from their normal day-to-day or even, arranging someone to have access to the archive.
It’s not just the ability to prioritise workloads but assigning and making time for short and long-term projects. They may even be juggling their internal role whilst also fulfilling public facing duties, such as providing information on a collection relating to a particular time period of historical importance.
2 – Organisational skills
There are various reasons as to why we think this skill came in at number two, predominantly being the fact that they are responsible for the lifecycle of the records and are ultimately available to help people locate and access information. Assets may comprise of delicate historical records, highly sensitive clinical research and even, patient/stakeholder data. Organisational skills are a necessity to ensure objects are accurately described, filed and stored, as well as being constantly accessible for inspections (if applicable to your organisation).
Depending on the industry, they may have to stay atop of relevant legislation, regulations, data best practices (such as FAIR and ALCOA), as well as training additional personnel to also achieve these standards and abide by the associated processes. In fact, somebody who took part in the survey fedback that they think awareness of, and respect for legal frameworks in which operate is a very important area for a records manager to have within their skillset.
Without an organised approach, fulfilling the role as a curator of information will be far more cumbersome and difficult (with potentially long-term repercussions!).
3 – Analytical capability
This skill needn’t be resigned to dealing with numbers and spreadsheets. Analytical prowess can be reflected through an archivist’s ability to solve a problem in relation to a collection, analysing a situation and/or organisational goals to prescribe and build an appropriate plan for managing and preserving assets for the long-term.
This attribute may be called upon when choosing or building a cataloguing system, selecting an external vendor or even, when periodically reviewing how records are being catalogued and stored to identify if any improvements can be made.
It’s crucial that they are confident and comfortable in using bespoke and standard databases, software and operating systems. Many industries and processes are being digitised to keep pace in an increasingly technology reliant world, especially in the post-Covid era. As such, it could possibly become the case that this skill increases in importance and makes its way up our list of desired skills.
The role of the records manager has undoubtedly changed over the years, particularly with the exponential growth of digital assets. Yet arguably the core skills of the role remain (and have perhaps become even more important), with a focus on balancing multiple priorities, being highly organised and demonstrating a strong analytical approach to their work.
It was also interesting to see that some of the skills listed such as being a strong communicator or good at problem solving really divided opinion, with respondents just as likely to place them at the top of the rankings, as at the bottom.
As part of the survey, we also asked our community about the important of industry experience and while just over 40% said it depended on the industry, over 45% said it was either fairly or really important. I think it’s fair to say as the organisations generate more data, with more complex (and potentially bespoke) data sets, the role is becoming increasingly specialised.
Regardless, I will be interested and keenly watching to see how the role evolves in the coming years.
Let us know your thoughts over on our LinkedIn page.
Or if you’d like to understand more about how our solution can equip your team, please get in touch.
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