The archives and records management fields have increasingly examined the role of emails as records of enduring value.
Information professionals have intensively examined storage and disk space usage, email integration into systems, comprehensive search and retrieval, and how email should be used, processed, and preserved. In addition, email is a helpful tool in managing information requests, especially with collections management systems (CMS) designed to meet the unique requirements of archives and special collections. Email integration within the system can be leveraged to track requests, build a knowledge base for future use, monitor costs, and manage reference activities.
Of particular importance is the merging of these activities within one system. In the past, when I worked at a position as a lone arranger, without an integrated system, I would have to look at multiple sources to answer user questions—often ad-hoc databases, spreadsheets, Word documents, off-site storage systems, and the collections themselves. Not only was this practice labor-intensive, it was also time-consuming. Added up over time, chasing down information in multiple applications consumed many hours of my workday, taking away from processing backlogs, digitizing important materials, and strategizing on priorities. I felt I was always running in place to keep up with my many demands but never making progress. If I had a CMS with email integration, I would have been able to fulfill requests faster and easier and, in turn, be able to be a better steward of the collections and my own professional development.
Email integration for research request management allows archivists to monitor the progress of information requests. The system presents users with an intuitive interface that allows them to request the information they seek easily. The system works from start to finish: from creating the external request to assigning it to an archivist, to collaboration and documentation, and then back to the user. The system maps the archivists’ workflow, delivering shared updated views that can be permission-based and customizable. As the institution receives requests, archivists can record them, assign them to colleagues and collaborate with them, and maintain demographic information on researchers. As a result of receiving and responding to research questions via email, the system will automatically create a request tracking database for reuse and statistics.
Email integration can keep track of all incoming requests for information. By recording and monitoring information requests in one place, archivists will find it easier to manage their resources and meet their users’ needs. As the system logs information requests over time, the system builds the repository’s knowledge base. The best way to make sure knowledge exchange is a part of work is by having a knowledge base integrated within the tool where archivists do their work. Colleagues can then search the knowledge base by keyword to find the answers to commonly asked questions or understand search strategies used to fulfill requests.
Beyond its benefits to the organization, a request management system provides benefits for managerial activities such as strategic planning. If archivists receive several requests on a specific topic, it raises their attention. The information lets them know what people are asking for and who is asking for them so that archivists can provide more granular descriptions, more digitized access, or more outreach and promotion in that area. The insights provide information professionals with valuable intelligence about what areas they should invest more resources in.
Attaining Collection Knowledge
Collections management systems with integrated email capabilities create collections that have increased access, discovery, and visibility. Using one system, archivists can handle research requests and allocate resources to help their users. As a result of this work, the system creates a searchable request and fulfillment database of knowledge based on requests for archivists to mine for efficient reuse. The system’s dashboard provides dynamic views of usage, from both a high-level perspective and a deep dive within the CMS. The system’s reporting and trend analysis capabilities also enable optimal decision-making for collections, repositories, and archivists. By having a system manage these activities, archivists benefit from knowledge management, database creation, analytics, and customer support, all at their fingertips.
Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, “CMS Essentials for Success #4: Email Integration” on April 21, 2021.
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