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Polly Tucker

Records Management Implementation at the Natural History Museum

Over the past 2 years the NHM has undertaken an ambitious project to improve records management procedures and practice across the Museum. This short paper will review the project, discussing the methodology, progress and issues that have arisen, and consider what happens next.


·         Museum has just completed a significant phase of a project which aims to get comprehensive records management (RM) implemented across the whole organisation

·         Going to talk you through the process and what we’ve done

·         Not aware of similar projects on this scale in other organisations – though if anyone can tell me of one I’ll be very interested to make contact with them


·         c850 staff, perhaps 75% are record creators; c350 scientists, rest is ‘museum’ and support

·         5 main directorates (Science Group, Public Engagement Group (PEG), HR, Finance & Admin, Estates) of varying size plus Risk & Assurance and Policy & Planning

·         Science Group has 5 science departments plus Library & Information Services (including Archives)

·         PEG has 8 sections, all subdivided (Commerce, Communications, Development, Museum Manager (ie Visitor Services), Interpretation & Design, Interactive Media, Special Projects and Learning)

·         2 full time Archives/RM staff

·         Museum subject to Public Records Acts (1958 & 1967) and Freedom of Information Act (2000).

Background of RM

·         Modern Records Service set up in early 1990s

o        Small attempt at retention schedules

o        Following the National Archives (TNA) 30 year rule ie first and second reviews at 5 and 25 years

o        Latterly reviewing and getting rid of material earlier but little formal framework

o        Mainly material sent down to MRS when offices needed space, rather than any managed process

·         2003 - attempt at proactive RM

o        creating retention schedules and file plans for departments

o        petered out through lack of archives staff time and inevitable resistance

o        archivist left 2004

Steps forward

·         New archivist April 2005, reviewed situation

·         Successfully argued for a consultancy project to get RM improvements started

·         The Archive-Skills Consultancy (TASC) selected

·         2006 Information Survey Project – scoping study to prepare for records manager

·         Decided intensive follow-up with consultants more likely to produce quick wins

·         2007-2008 Records Management Implementation Project (RMIP)


·         Survey process of 2006 using c120 individuals identified by Archives as key staff or ‘typical’ record creators

o        produced situation reports, retention schedules, business classification scheme

·         Decided classification scheme too complex to implement in organisation at present so RMIP focused on individuals/teams/dept level

·         RMIP

o        TASC set up meetings with designated staff

o        Went through the retention schedules and provide guidance on their implementation, to clear out backlogs of paper and electronic records

o        Plus how to create file plans and document filing systems so that new staff know what to do


·         TASC finished contract at end of March

·         25-30% completed, 25-30% inroads, 25% foundations, some left, a few done nothing, some left

·         ie lots of progress in some areas, not in others – depends a lot on line management support though some people have managed it despite it so it’s also dependant on the individual

·         Main problem is lack of staff time for something that just seems like extra work, despite our explanations about how it’s ultimately going to be beneficial

·         Feedback from staff has largely been positive – people can generally see the advantage of getting their records sorted out – the problem is having the time to do it

·         Genuinely have been beginnings of culture change compared to 2 years ago

o        Voluntary arrangement of ‘RM’ days

o        RM training needs mentioned on Learning Development Plans

·         However, also true to say reality and scale of what needs to be done sinking in, and causing concern in some areas.

Phase 2 (or 3) / issues

·         Still need to finish working with project people – always was going to be a huge risk that not everyone on the project list would have completed everything asked of them, given constraints on time/interest

·         Aim to roll out to rest of Museum over 18-24 months – issue about keeping momentum going, because of…

·         Issues re resourcing and prioritising – new Assistant Records Manager starting in May but staffing issues within Archives with hugely expanded remit

·         Need to bring retention schedules together to create more generic ones for functions – working with individuals was fine for initial phase to get things started, though perhaps would start generic schedules earlier if did this over again – issues because of individuals’ differing opinions

·         Need to find ways of embedding:

o        need more active senior management support (very important) and acknowledgement of what is required – probably would have helped to do even more awareness-raising earlier on

o        using Museum committees and decision-making bodies to endorse retention schedules and procedures

o        training for staff to enable them to do RM on their own

o        full time Archives team member able to follow up with staff, unlike consultants who were only in the Museum periodically

o        assessing progress – gap analysis in about 18-24 months; want to get internal audits to review records management compliance as matter of course (not yet established)

·         Electronic records

o        still no conclusive answer on how we’re going to manage them properly – currently reliant on people applying retention schedules to Windows/Office folders

o        looking at using a digital images repository for pdfs of material to be archived – not sure yet whether the one the Museum is getting will provide required functionality

o        obtaining an EDRMS or finding another, cheaper, solution will be a major challenge of the next few years


·         Overall in a much better position than 2 years ago

·         Still issues to resolve eg researchers’ papers, getting overall staff commitment

·         Realistically, perhaps will never get everyone to comply fully, but will give it a try – it will take time and ongoing commitment from all levels

·         Challenge is to get the project work embedded as normal working practice – watch this space.