Samara Carter is the Records Officer for George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Connect with Samara here! Name
George Mason University
What does your work entail? Do you have company support? How are you helping drive the goals of your office through your work?
I am the university Records Officer for George Mason University that's out here in Fairfax, Virginia on the outskirts of D.C. My job at the moment is primarily records management, but it's growing into more of an information management type of role. As I'm discovering the gaps in where we have our data and our information and our records on campus, our biggest struggle is that nobody actually knows how much data we have on campus, how there is no central hub. Universities, in particular, are very different organizations than businesses or other types of government agencies. We are a state agency, we're a state college, and in being so we have more records of so many varieties than other agencies have and our biggest struggle is that none of these records are particularly siloed into one department or one school. All of the different schools, all of the different offices are making the exact same records, but they're being made in different areas and being collected and processed and policies are being made for them all different from one another.
What’s your current biggest work challenge?
The need for organizations to understand that we need to marry the traditional aspects with the new technological aspect. A lot of the time when I am succeeding in my outreach and I'm getting to people for the first time, they always think, "I thought it was just paper." People really view records and data as two separate things. There plays a lot into your title. I recently updated my title from Records Manager to Records Officer. It gives an air of compliance as it were and it definitely means a lot more people have been contacting me and bringing me to the table and taking me more seriously.
What has been the biggest success in your career in information management?
So far, I have not been able to get onto our information governance council. It is fairly new. I did make a memo when I first started at Mason back in 2016 that we needed such an organization. My memo never made it to the top, but luckily IT's a memo a couple of years later did make it to the eyes of the provost who thought, "Oh hey, we do need this." And it's important to know that for me success is the fact that we got there. We got it. Yeah, it didn't come from me, but the fact that the university is starting to understand and see that there is a need for better information management. It's not just data. It's not just records. They're not two separate things is a success. It means Mason has headed in the right direction.
How has being an AIIM member benefited you?
AIIM gives me an opportunity to meet with peers online, have discussions, get mentorship where I wouldn't normally be able to easily get that sort of thing on a day to day basis. I recently went to the AIIM conference in Dallas this year and I have to get a shout out to WIIM, which is Women in Information Management. It's very empowering to be able to talk with other women professionals, people who aren't just in the university aspect, but are out there in more high pressure, more demanding careers, possibly where it's even harder to get heard as a woman in the field. And it certainly bolstered me up and made me ready to go back and tackle some of the issues I had set on the buy-side.
Also, it's allowed me to find what I would call a community in isolation. My department is very small, even though my university is the largest state university in Virginia and I don't have any mentors. There aren't a lot of other people that do my type of work on campus. There are two other departments that have full-time records managers for their collections. The other universities are hours away from me.
What's your recommendation for other folks in the university setting? How can universities be more intelligent in the way that they manage information?
Well, one thing that every university needs, which would have somebody in my position hopefully serving on such a thing would be an information governance council. Many universities have information governance councils or potentially a different name, information management, committee, task force, what have you, but it can't just be a counselor committee in name, which is a lot of the time what these committees end up doing. They have all these bigwigs at the university, but they only meet two or three times a year. What needs to happen is there needs to be not only the permanent stakeholders from HR, IT, legal, compliance on these organizations, but we also need to have rotating people from the larger universities and larger programs coming through and understanding just why we have an information governance council. What information we're looking for, the way the university all ties together because of the data and the records that are being collected and maintained and why the way one school does it is so important to a way that another school does it, for example.