Division of Archives and Records Service

Records Management Zombies: Or, the Challenges of a Mindless RM Program

Joseph Sharp
October 31, 2011

Records managers can learn from zombies.

A general observation about zombie behavior: Zombies wander aimlessly. They lack direction or the ability to plan ahead. Zombies do not exhibit signs of motivation until they see one of the living. If a zombie meets a person they then stumble and charge to get to their next meal, often hurting themselves in the process. Similarly, records management programs need to avoid wandering without purpose and avoid reactionary records management. Careful planning before the creation of records goes a long way in helping avoid zombie-like behavior. By planning ahead and establishing good records management practices records managers can avoid the confusing stampede that occurs when an issue arises.

Poor records management practices are infectious. While zombies pass their disease to soon-to-be zombies by biting, poor records management habits are spread through attitudes and example. Creating a culture that respects and manages its records is not an easy task, especially if it is a new concept for staff or management. However, it is up to records managers to lead the way in establishing a program that even a zombie can appreciate.

There is nothing like a shovel for handling the undead. The tools at our disposal are often simple but highly effective. Overly complicated solutions rarely get the job done, while easy-to-follow ones can be grasped and employed by all. General retention schedules, indices, policies and procedures, training, technology, and a few file folders/cabinets/boxes can go a long way in helping solve records management problems. It is up to records managers to show others how to pick up and implement these tools.   

Finally, there is no cure for a bad records management program except for a few hardy survivors to work hard and pull together as a team to turn things around: killing bad habits and instituting new policies and procedures will lead to the the dawn of a new day in records management practice. Any good anti-zombie squad will include individuals with a variety of talents. Today’s records managers will also need to form teams with a wide range of expertise including IT professionals, members of the legal community, and managment. Survivors never go it alone.    

In the dead of night it is not always clear that things will get better, however tomorrow always comes and hope carries the day. The signs of change can be seen in the corpses of legacy records and in the efforts to clean up the bodies from the past. The real goal is to do more than just survive. It is to improve the records environment for the living that surround us.