Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Global Archives Management Delegation Visit with Renmin University School of Information Resource Management (SIRM)

Beijing, China
October 15, 2008

Representing Renmin University:
Professor Zhang Bin, Vice President of SIRM
Professor Wang Jian, SIRM professor
Professor Feng Huiling, Vice President of the University
Assistant Professor An Xiaomi, SIRM assistant professor
Numerous other SIRM faculty members

We met in a large meeting room with name tags for all of the delegates and the SIRM faculty. Many SIRM students attended the meeting.

Prof. Zhang Bin introduced some of the faculty of the University. He then talked about his interest in discussing differences between China and U.S. archives practices, as well as management of digital records, education, and standardization.

Prof. Wang Jian provided an overview of the school, which was established in 1952. The Archives department was established in 1978, and the Library Science masters degree was initiated in 2000.

They have three departments:
• Archives
• Administrative Information Management Department
• Library Information

They provide bachelors, masters and post-doctoral degrees. They keep track of what is going on globally. The textbooks developed in this school are disseminated across China

There are eight different doctorate curriculums, including History of Chinese Archival Science and E-government. They have a large computer lab for practice, and provide opportunities for students to go elsewhere, for example Shanghai.

SIRM has 400 students, including undergraduates, post graduates, doctorates, and foreign students (mostly from Korea and other Asian countries). They have 32 full-time faculty.

Information on the school can be found on their website: http://www2.irm.cn/english. They host many conferences, including an international a PhD Forum. They are core members of the International Council on Archives' Section on Archival Education. They have a cooperative agreement with two other universities, the University of Michigan and a university in Korea (Pusan?).

In 2006 they arranged for some of their students to participate in an internship in Chicago.

In 2007 some of their students visited Pusan National University in South Korea.

Elizabeth Adkins provided a brief overview of the Society of American Archivists, then asked each delegate to introduce themselves.

Prof. Wang then hosted a Q&A session. In the following exchange, "GAMD" stands for Global Archives Management Delegation, and "SIRM" stands for School of Information Resource Management.

GAMD: What levels of jobs can a student get with a bachelors degree, since the U.S. does not really have bachelors degree programs for archivists?

SIRM: Majority of archives in China also includes records management and computer technology. There is plenty of work in the area of knowledge management in government agencies and corporations. It's easy to find a job, although not necessarily a good job.

SIRM: October is Archives Month in the U.S. How can we (China) get more information about it?

GAMD: American Archives Month was started by SAA two years ago, building on local efforts that had been occurring for many years. Archivists in the U.S. are not generally good at promoting themselves, so SAA tries to provide information that will help archivists in promoting their own archives. We’re beginning to realize that we need to be able to explain to our employers and society in general the need and importance of archives. Two years ago SAA began to issue public relations kits that are sent to all SAA members to help them promote American Archives Month. In the gifts we have brought, we have included the 2008 press kit. Information is also available on SAA’s website: www.archivists.org

GAMD: In the U.S., most students become attracted to archival work because of an interest in history. Is that also true in China? The knowledge and skills of dealing with electronic records is increasingly important.

SIRM: Two students responded by talking about their interest in archives. One is a major in History. The other is interested in preservation and conservation issues, so she acknowledges that she needs to understand history.

GAMD: So students are interested in working with traditional records, as well as electronic records?

SIRM: Faculty member: Master’s and PhD students choose their careers because of their personal interests. We’ve changed our name from Archives to School of Information Resource Management, so we can explore issues of records as an information resource. We wanted to offer a comprehensive curriculum to students. There are currently eight Master’s degree students and ten PhD candidates. Records management is strong point of curriculum. Archival students also need to learn knowledge management. We have a number of research projects under the guidance of faculty. Undergraduate degrees range from Archival Science Specialty, to Information Management, to Information Systems Specialty.

GAMD: In the U.S., most organizations use computers to manage information and records. They’re beginning to consider input from professional records managers because of legal compliance issues. Preservation issues in the future will become a major problem.

In our China visit, we’ve heard a lot of interest in digitization of electronic records, but less about actual digital preservation. Please comment on China’s need to address digital preservation issues.

SIRM: Faculty: There is a tendency for e-government to produce a lot of electronic records. In China, there is a need for informationization of government documents. There is currently an important project under way to create a Strategy on Maintenance of Electronic Records. Some regions in China have started to establish their own electronic records centers. Digitization is a way to share our culture. Research has begun on long-term preservation.

Automation is widely used. We have concerns about long-term preservation, and risk management for government electronic records. We have two national projects regarding the accountability of the government for memory and for evidence.

GAMD: You referred to “informationization,” which is a term we've heard during our visit, but it is not clear to us what it means. Can you please explain it?

SIRM: Informationization refers to a national strategy to improve efficiency in governmental processes through computerization.

GAMD: We’re in a global crisis to find ways to preserve digital information. No one knows how long these records will last: five years? Ten years? There is a need to refresh digital information every decade or so. In the future, there will be major challenges in terms of storing and accessing digital information. We need to work together to develop solutions for addressing these issues.

SIRM: Faculty: We agree that we are in a crisis to preserve digital records. Some of you work in universities. Do you think that universities should digitize all archives?

GAMD: No, there is not enough in the budgets to do that, and even if there were, there does not seem to be a need to digitize everything.

SIRM: Faculty: In your universities, are your archives open to the general public?

GAMD: Most are, although it depends on the institution.

SIRM: Faculty: What are the basic procedures for serving students?

GAMD: Most university archives are connected with the university library, so they follow the same procedures as those in the library. Many universities are requiring students to use primary resources in their studies, which encourages the use of archives.

SIRM: Faculty: Do you receive digital records? How you then manage them? How will you provide them to users?

GAMD: Yes, but practices vary widely depending on the institution. Concerns cross all areas of the universities including faculty, staff, IT, registrars, etc.

SIRM: Faculty: Here in China, we do not distinguish between libraries and archives.

GAMD: Librarians do not always understand archivists very well.

SIRM: Faculty: What are the standards to set up libraries and archives? What are the cataloging standards?

GAMD: Standards include DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard), and a new standard currently being developed for individual manuscripts [DCRM(MSS)]. A standard for graphics materials – DCRM(G) – is currently being created by RBMS (Rare Books and Manuscripts Section), a part of ALA (American Library Association), that very loosely follows another archival standard, which is AACR2 (Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules). Archivists use EAD (Encoded Archives Description) and MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloguing Record) to input/record the information based on the above standards.

SIRM: Student: Do archivists classify by function in the U.S.?

GAMD: William & Mary classified by function but it's more import to first classify by origin. Functional classification is used in records management; series classification is used in Archives, although it's usually based on the records management classification. As enterprise content management systems get deployed more widely, the use of functional classification is being considered more often.

SIRM: Student: Who will undertake the responsibilities for digitizing according to regulations in the U.S.? Will any commercial records centers take on this responsibility? What is the relationship between SAA and the commercial records centers?

GAMD: Cannot think of any regulations that require digitization of already existing records (i.e., paper, audiovisual materials, etc.), but rather regulations to preserve those records that were created digitally (i.e., email, registrations, etc.) for use in legal issues.

The relationship between SAA and commercial records centers is relatively simple, in that SAA asks Iron Mountain (the major commercial records center vendor) to financially sponsor SAA activities. In the records management community, ARMA and Iron Mountain have a closer relationship; they participate in strategic plans together to solve issues.

Iron Mountain is the major commercial records center vendor. They have gotten very big by buying out competitors. They can set their own terms because they are usually the only game in town which has its challenges for the archives and records management community.

SIRM: How do you handle privacy issues and access in university archives?

GAMD: Records that are going to be closed forever are not usually kept in archives. Usually there are time limits to any restrictions on access (for example, the life time of the individual plus 50 years, which helps get past the privacy issues). Many of the records given to universities are given by private individuals, and they may ask for their personal records to have periods of inaccessibility as is their right.

The visit concluded with a presentation by the students to the delegates of a poster listing all the delegates, as well as pins from the university and the school. The delegation then presented a number of gifts, along with a certificate of appreciation.

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