From System of Engagement to System of Record: Just Add Time

By Cheryl McKinnon posted 07-06-2011 09:20


Right now I'm working on a conference presentation submission with my friend Arlene. You see, she's an archivist at a state university, and I'm an information management consultant. We often share links to interesting articles, white papers, blog posts, and we have similar interests in the challenges of digital preservation.

In 2009, she wrote a piece for her university archives community blog. It described the manuscripts from an explorer named Fred Wildon Fickett. In 1885, Fred embarked on an expedition to explore central Alaska. His letters and journals provide insights into the trials and tribulations of an adventurer in 19th century Alaska. Important records that provide depth to a state's and a country's history.

Fred liked to talk about his pants. In letters to his girlfriend, Nellie, he enthused about the "splendid buckskin pants" lent to him by an officer stationed in Vancouver. Mundane? Silly? Perhaps. But Fred, when sharing the little details of his life with loved ones, thought it important to provide a complete picture of his daily experience. It was a way to stay connected to Nellie across the miles.

Today we share such inanities with our friends, family and colleagues through our own Systems of Engagement. Are we assuming these random thoughts, observations, notes or photos will end up in the state archives one day? Unlikely. But these are the types of written records that provide the rich texture to our social histories. 

As I re-read the Geoffrey Moore/AIIM paper on "Systems of Engagement and the Future of Enterprise IT" it struck me that one thing was missing: the importance of time. Time is what can transform the ephemeral, transitory content in our systems of engagement to something of value in a system of record.

Content intended for short term engagement and communication is typically not structured or stored in a way that makes it easy to capture and preserve. Much of it is simply not worth preserving. 

But the rare pieces that do survive take on an importance often far beyond the information's intended scope. Fred's pants. My vacation photos. My sister's recipes. Community group minutes once done on paper now done in a wiki or Google group.

Where's the preservation effort? Perhaps I should ask Arlene.

Oh, and by the way... I haven't seen Arlene since 1985. That's the year we graduated from high school and went our separate ways. So this conference talk we're planning for next year? We're doing it all on Facebook. That's our System of Engagement for figuring out the future of the archives as a System of Record.


#DigitalPreservation #socialnetworks #systemsofrecord #ElectronicRecordsManagement #systemsofengagement #Archives