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A Word to Records Managers

By working with educators, records managers  advance public interest, understanding, and support of historical records programs.  Although custodians of nongovernmental records are under no statutory requirement to work with educators, they, too, find that working with teachers and students helps to fulfill their institutions’ public service missions.  As public knowledge and appreciation of the value of historical records increases, so does financial support.

Promoting knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for records among adults is a challenge.  They are busy, their imaginations tend to be fired by interests of longer standing, and they are not easy to reach.  School children, on the other hand, are both impressionable and accessible.  Thus, it makes good fiscal, as well as educational sense for institutions holding historical records to collaborate with teachers.

Some teachers seek out records managers to come to their classrooms and make presentations.  Others may arrange to bring groups of students to a records repository if there is adequate space for their visit.  Still other teachers will want to do research in historical records themselves.  The records manager can provide valuable assistance to teachers in all these situations.  Because many teachers are not clear about the duties and responsibilities of a records manager, and because they may assume that the role is comparable to that of a reference librarian, it is important to explain early on how much support you can provide and how much initiative the teacher must take.  This information might be placed on a website or in a computer slide show format, as well, which may prove more time efficient.

In some cases, records managers may take the first step, preparing talks for students or lessons for the classroom.  Just as teachers are advised to talk to records managers before breezing into a research facility, records managers are advised to speak to teachers before investing time and effort into preparing presentations or materials.  It is important to remember that no matter how important, scarce, or attractive a record may be, if it is not teachable it will not be taught.  There are few things that cause greater frustration for both records managers and educators, than a costly document package sitting and collecting dust on a shelf because it doesn’t relate to anything the teacher is required to teach.  By collaborating with a teacher, the records manager gets a better sense of what types of historical records are useful at what ages and in which courses and the types of activities that are most successful. The resulting product, a classroom presentation, a teacher workshop, a teaching packet, or a website, will be a vehicle with which the institution may reach out to a greater audience.

The institution can use its contacts with teachers to gather suggestions for resources educators need, or workshops that would be helpful.  The repository staff may wish to offer teacher workshops in conjunction with a school district or university so that teachers can earn professional development or graduate credit.  One very effective way to maximize the impact of such a program is to encourage teachers, upon returning to their schools, to share what they have learned with other teachers through inservice presentations and/or posting copies of their research results (documents, lessons, etc.) to their school’s intranet, or making this material available in their school’s libraries. Records managers can introduce teachers to their holdings and provide structure and assistance to teachers as they conduct research.  Repository holdings can also be made available to teachers via the internet.  

* The term “records manager” is used here in the generic sense to encompass the many titles given to people who work with historical records including:  librarian, records management officer, historian, curator, and archivist.