Meet the Staff Feature: Sophie Howard

For the Record’s “Meet the Staff” feature is an opportunity for our archivists to connect directly with the community which we serve.

2019SophieHowardADAH

Name: Sophie Howard
Title: Records Management & Appraisal Archivist
Specialties: Records Disposition Authority (RDA) revision, local government records retention / destruction

How did you end up working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

I originally pursued an undergraduate degree in foreign language with the intention of becoming a teacher abroad. A close family member became seriously ill midway through my program, so by the time I graduated I was in the process of reframing my goals in life. I enrolled in a master’s program in Information Science (which is kind of like an updated version of “library school”) around the time that I had the opportunity to interview for this position. I feel very fortunate to be where I am now.

What is something you enjoy about working in records management?

The Department engages in many different types of activities; we have schoolchildren visiting the Museum of Alabama on our premises regularly, and we likewise have a reference room where members of the public can conduct genealogical research. Records management is more “under the radar” than the work of either of those sections, but the work lays the foundation for records stewardship throughout state and local government, which ensures that the Department’s efforts to provide access to Alabama history can continue. The work feels very purposeful, both immediately and for the benefit of future Alabamians as well.

What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the profession today?

Well, certainly the biggest challenge is the increasing volume of electronic records being produced by state and local governments and the accompanying influx of such records to archives like ours. The profession as a whole is working to build capacity and to develop standards for dealing with this new digital age, but the issue is multifaceted and extremely complex. Even seemingly fundamental concepts like “what is a record” have to be reconsidered in light of emails, databases, and blockchain.

What are your hobbies when you are not at work?

I enjoy reading fiction and nonfiction, scrapbooking, embroidering, and spending time with my fiancé and my dog.

You Don’t Need to Keep It All: Start Decluttering Your Email

To the phrase “You don’t need to keep it all,” I often receive this common response: “I would need to hire an assistant full-time just to manage my email.” While storage may be relatively cheap, think about how long it takes your search engine to find an email among twenty thousand messages. The value of information lies in its accessibility.

How do you begin to declutter your email account? Start by deleting transient emails defined by records that are not essential in documenting agency activities. We previously discussed deleting unsolicited SPAM, distributed messages such as reminders about getting your flu shot, and reference copies in “First Steps to Better Email Management.”

Another example of types of emails that require no documentation for destruction include listserv messages. Set up rules to automatically sort these messages into a separate folder. Also, unsubscribe from groups or even promotional emails that you do not need.

Other types of email easily identified for deletion without documentation include transient records such as accepted/declined meeting requests and read receipts. Even items such as meeting arrangements can be placed in the calendar with the back and forth coordination emails being deleted.

To start finding these types of messages, arrange your emails by “from” which will allow you to select groups of emails and delete them with one click of a button. By arranging your account by sender, you can identify those individuals who do not send email related to the day-to-day operation of government. Some users only send you messages such as “Are you ready for lunch?” Delete emails from these senders in batches.

Email management is not saving all email forever. Spend as little as fifteen minutes every day before or after lunch. Deleting transient emails will help you identify those messages that document your important work in government and will build your confidence as you take additional steps to declutter your account.