Working as a records assistant

 25 May 2012

David Johnstone, based in Edinburgh, is one of four records assistants in the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) group records management team.

"A record is a message. It could start on paper, then be photocopied, scanned and turned into a PDF. The message must stay the same.”

Working in a records team

“As records assistants, we put into practice decisions that have been made by the team. We’re the people who work out the details.

"Records management has to be worthwhile. People have to own the process, to understand how it will help them."

“The team is concerned with administering the records management policy for the whole RBS Group. We deal with updates to the policy, linking these to legal and regulatory changes.

"People who are responsible for records in other RBS divisions come to us for guidance on interpreting the policy. 

“We’re also concerned with training and records-related projects.

“Training is part of our guidance. I do some training myself. As a records assistant, I also flesh out the details of training materials. For instance, by updating slides and simplifying their wording.

“I’m involved with various projects. A recent project involved working out detailed processes for preserving records when there is a legal order. This would be issued when certain records must be preserved for use in a court case.”

Working in records management

Records policy, rather than the content of individual records, is David’s main concern. However, he defines all records as having at least:

  • a context
  • a structure
  • a time when they were created
  • an author.

“We stress, time and again, that a record is a message. It could start on paper, then be photocopied, scanned and turned into a PDF. The medium can change, but the message must stay the same.”

David is passionate about the importance of using clear, simple language to describe records-related issues.

“How do you engage people with a subject as dry as records management? It has to be worth their while. People have to own the process, to understand how it will help them. We need to help them to see that it’s just the most obvious way of doing things.

“I think it’s important to get rid of misconceptions and to keep away from jargon. If people want to talk about ‘keeping’ a record instead of ‘retaining’ it, that’s fine. I’m happy to change my language to get a problem fixed.” 

Most of David’s work is computer-based. As well as dealing with a regular flow of email enquiries, he maintains a database of policy-related information which is used throughout the RBS group.

He regularly updates the database and converts the information into a form that can be published on the RBS intranet.

David sees IT as playing a complementary role in relation to records management. “I’d say that the IT side supports records management.  IT provides the framework and the electronic security which records management needs.”

Getting into records management

David came into records management as a mature entrant. He’s highly qualified, having a first degree in production engineering, experience in industry and a Master’s in applied computing.

Soon after taking the Masters, David was offered project work, on contract, at RBS. As the project was coming to an end, RBS asked him to join the group records management team. The offer was conditional on David studying by distance learning for another Masters, this time in records management.

"It’s important to get rid of misconceptions and to keep away from jargon."

It’s taken a long time – nearly seven years – but David will soon complete his dissertation for an MSc at Aberystwyth University.

“It’s been hard work, studying on top of a full time job. I seem to have done much of my work during train journeys!

David's advice would be to, “Use the role of records assistant as a stepping stone to a strategic level job, where you can influence policy and gain greater job satisfaction. That’s what I hope to do after I complete my dissertation.”


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