Records Management As a Career for Librarians

This field can be added to the list of Things You Can Do with a Library Science Degree. Laurie Gingrich, MA, CRM and Robin Bourne-Caris are two librarians who became records management consultants in Chicago, Illinois. They describe their profession, its linkages to and distinctions from librarianship, support staff involvement in records management and the impact of professional development opportunities, including certification.


What Is Records Management?

LG: Records management involves overseeing the entire records life cycle: the creation, use, storage, retrieval and ultimate disposition of business records, regardless of format. Business records can be defined as formatted data that is evidence of a business process or decision.

RBC: I’ve always viewed records management as a component of the information management function. Electronic records have changed the landscape for professionals and users in records management. Records management allows you to understand an organization: its purpose, the work it does, how decisions are made, its intellectual capital.

As my career has progressed the various components of information management are coming under one umbrella in many organizations. If these components are not organizationally reporting through one individual then they are at least perceived by senior management as interconnected.

Records Management Policies

LG: Good record keeping reduces risk. An organization faces the operational risk of spending too much money storing records or looking for records that are not properly managed, and the litigation or regulatory risk of not being able to produce records as needed, or having to produce records that should have been destroyed.

Managing Electronic Records

LG: How it’s done depends on the system. There are different technology solutions for emails, for structured data (Accounting or HR data on enterprise wide systems) and for unstructured data (documents created on the individual desktop using word processing, spreadsheet, or other desktop software).

Records Management’s relationship to librarianship, archival science and Knowledge Management

LG: Because Records Managers and other professions deal with information, they could theoretically be grouped together as part of information professions. In practice I have found that there are many differences between dealing with published information and dealing with internally generated information. With published information, there are standard protocols for handling it, which is not always the case with internally generated information. Records Management sometimes requires more creativity in defining your own job and solutions.

Also there is hardly any emphasis on the social responsibility aspects of one’s profession, which you see more in librarianship.

The Path to Librarianship

RBC: I was an English and Philosophy major in college and was certified to teach secondary school English. After college decided I did not want to accept the teaching job I was offered and moved to California, which had no reciprocity with other states certifications. I wanted to return to school but was not sure that I wanted to get my master’s in English because teaching would be the only viable option for me. I had been impressed with the librarian at undergrad school and decided to pursue academic libraries. I was interested in only two places: University of Chicago and Columbia.

While at the University of Chicago I took all the academic library and bibliographic courses offered. I also worked at the biomedical library (graduate) and the law library as a library school student. When I graduated the most interesting academic jobs required a master’s degree in library science plus a subject master’s. So I pursued the area of special libraries, which was not what the University of Chicago’s program was known for. I worked at the American Hospital Association and then at an urban planning library in Chicago.

LG : I had a part time college job in the public library in Goshen, Indiana, and worked as a children’s library clerk there for one year after college and before graduate school, in 1983. The year I worked there was the first year that personal computers (PCs) were purchased and installed for patron use. I first touched a PC at the public library. That was the beginning of my interest in library technology.

The Path to Records Management

LG : During my time in library school, I was planning to go into law firm librarianship and had a paid internship at a law firm. After graduating from Library School at the University of Chicago in 1987, I decided I liked the law firm environment. What I really liked doing was working with technology and database development, rather than doing business research as a reference librarian. When an opportunity came up to manage the records department at the law firm, I decided to take it. It was more of an entrepreneurial situation than a traditional library job. I had to figure out on my own how to run the department and how to handle the first big project, automating the file room—moving from a paper-based to an electronic tracking system.

RBC: I was recruited by a publicly held transportation company to develop corporate information services and was responsible for the library, archives, and records. Professionally I became a corporate secretary, charged with the responsibility for maintaining records of “all activities and decisions of the Board of Directors” and other corporate governance structure materials, and the stockholder records. I developed an expertise in compliance programs involving the Securities and Exchange Commission. Corporate secretaries are usually lawyers, but I am not. I do, however, receive guidance from our lawyers.

How Robin and Laurie Define What They Do

RBC: I function more like a consultant because I am not directly employee by the law firm. I am analyzing their current operation and staffing and working on recommendations to improve the conflicts and records management process. Frequently I perform the actual work when there is a backlog.

LG: My title is Manager, Information and Document Retention Services. I tell everyone I am a consultant, which describes what I do.

Moving from an operational role to a consultant role was a big step. When I was a practicing records manager I worked on projects, such as database conversions, that took place over a period of years, and I worked solely in one industry, the Legal sector. I acquired a very deep knowledge of law firm records management and its specialized technology. I also worked with the same people for years. As a consultant, my projects last anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months, rarely longer. I work with many different people all over the country, in many different industries. I am acquiring a broad knowledge of records management practices in various industries.

A Day in the Life

LG : Now I am a consultant so every day is very different. Maybe 3-4 days a week I am at a client site, working on a project with a client—perhaps conducting interviews, reading client material, meeting to present findings. I check email throughout the day to see what is happening at the home office, or to keep up with other projects. I spend the equivalent of one day a week on marketing activities, preparing presentations for professional organizations or potential clients, self-study and making presentations and calls. I also spend a significant amount of time learning new technologies and skills—my job requires a high level of skill with spreadsheet, project management and presentation software, as well as with in-house developed applications.

Records managers in the past often were a part of the facilities department, because in the paper world a lot of what they did involved the physical management of files in storage space. Now in the electronic environment records management and the proper retention of records are considered to be risk issues, we interact more with departments concerned with risk and policy issues, such as the Legal Department, Compliance Department, or Internal Audit function.


LG: As a consultant, managing your time and accounting for the time you spend are extremely important.

Qualifications and Qualities of a Successful Records Manager

Education and Training

RBC: My background is a strength because it reflects an academic approach from graduate school combined with different organizational contexts. Graduate school emphasized conceptual problem solving and critical thinking. My undergraduate education as an English major has been very useful because of the emphasis on writing and presenting sound arguments and justifications for plans and projects.

LG: Any experience with technology is helpful, but working with databases is probably of the most use.

Many people come to librarianship from the sciences or humanities, and of course in library school everyone has a comparable level of education. People come to the records management profession from many different places; many worked their way into records management from other areas in the business world, so there is a wide range of skills, experience, and educational level among the people you encounter.


RBC: For anyone thinking about Records Management as a career option, critical thinking, problem solving and effective communications skills are all very important. An understanding of how databases function is important. There is no formula for the best combination of education and specific organizational experience.

In the past, records managers had business backgrounds and needed to be logistical in their thinking. Now, technological thinking must complement logistical thinking. I find that having a master’s degree from University of Chicago and considerable professional experience serves me well.

LG: Any graduate level program gives you some skills you will need, such as the ability to analyze a problem or the ability to write clearly, two skills I developed in library school.


LG: Flexibility is an important personal characteristic to have in the rapidly changing business environment. Even if you don’t change companies, your job will change every few years due to technology advancements.

The ability to work hard is an advantageous quality—the most successful people in the records management field, as in any field, sometimes go beyond 9 to 5.

Lessons Learned

RBC : Organizations can hire well-qualified people but if the top management of an organization does not embrace change then the organization will have a difficult time adapting to external change, whether from the marketplace, technological innovations or increased regulation.

The same is true for us as librarians. Jobs are difficult to come by and none of those that are being outsourced are coming back so get creative!

The Role of Support Staff in Records Management

RBC: Support staff who understand the value of the records management function within the organization play a vital role. They are the front line to the organization and play a huge part in whether the records function is well-regarded. Without acceptance of the mission from the organization as a whole, the records function will not be successful.

LG: In the paper world, file clerks will assemble and label file folders, do the filing of documents, and pull paper files to send to offsite storage. In the electronic world they will usually be entering and editing records into a database.

Professional Development and Certification

RBC: I am a member of ARMA International: The Association for Information Management Professionals and am particularly focused on the legal group in the Chicago area. The legal group in Chicago includes members from large and midsize firms and has a solid knowledge base.

LG: I am a member of ARMA, also. I have been Chapter President of the Chicago Chapter, having been very active on the local level, and have presented at the International Conference.


RBC: Certification is available. I am not a certified records manager. If I were graduating now I would probably pursue certification.

LG: I obtained my CRM, Certified Records Manager designation, in 1995, 7 years after I first became a records manager.

Although it was not a deciding factor in my last two jobs, it was a minor factor. The CRM, in combination with my master’s degree and experience, made a great package. It is a sign of dedication to the profession. Typically people that obtain the CRM intend to keep working in records management, and in order to maintain the CRM they have to participate in 20 hours of educational activities per year.

Hot Topics in Records Management

RBC: The hot issues in records have to do with implementation of technologies, electronic records, and the relationship between records management and information technology.

LG: Because of the risk of not managing records properly, highlighted in a number of highly publicized court cases, upper management in corporations has taken a keen interest in records management in the past several years. There is much discussion about how records managers can take advantage of this interest to gain more resources and to further the status of the profession. Also keeping up with technology is a constant concern.

Favorite Professional Memories

RBC : I was the first woman vice president elected by the Board of Directors for the transportation company (a Fortune 500 company).

LG: When I was having a technical problem during a database conversion, I asked two programmers to come to my office to discuss it—Mohammad Ishaq and Ashok Balusu, and we conferenced in Ivan Gilyadev from New York. Among the four of us we represented 4 countries and 4 major religions of the world (Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity.) I remember thinking, “Is this a great country or what? We really do all manage to work together sometimes. “

Robin Bourne-Caris is a director of records for Williams Lea, an international corporate information solutions company that outsources its services. Currently she works as a project manager for conflicts and records at the Chicago law firm of Sachnoff & Weaver. Laurie Gingrich is a manager at PriceWaterhouseCooper.