Thursday, February 7, 2013
I met a man who loves his job
My office is closing down, after operating for 54 years in the same building. Our building is so big that we've had the luxury of being able to store everything on-site, so for 54 years we were blissfully ignorant of the complicated policy about the retention of records and documents that my employer has put together over the years, in compliance with laws, ordinances and regulations.
Some records must be kept permanently, and cataloged, so that they may be retrieved in case there's a request. Other records, mostly financial, must be kept for a certain period of time pending audits. Yet other records should be destroyed on a regular schedule - to protect my employer from liability.
With our vast space, we simply stored everything. Boxes and boxes of it. About five years ago, we sifted out the things we were required to destroy, and sent them to a shredding company. We also labelled other boxes with a "destroy-by" date, and shred them on schedule. But anything that wasn't required to be shredded just piled up in boxes, yellowing and crumbling.
But now we're closing the office, we have to do something about this stuff. Some of it's valuable for its historical content; some of it's valuable as artifacts of another time. Some of it must be kept because it's required by law. Because my supervisor has retired, it's my responsibility to make sure what needs to be saved is saved and what needs to be shredded is shredded.
So I contacted D. He is in charge of the off-site storage facility, and he knows what's in every single box of paper in there.
He came to a meeting and explained the whole procedure to us. There's a web-based interface to log in the content of your file boxes, and he trained us to use it. He's even written a manual that guides you through every step. While he was training us, he gave examples of the kinds of records he's been required to retrieve, and talked about the records saved in the vaults. Deeds from 1875? Minutes of public meetings from 1984? Purchasing bids from 2004? D. can find them in a minute.
He spoke with a passion that was infectious. Now I'm inspired about organizing our big mess. What was once an almost overwhelming nightmare now seems achievable!
So I asked D. how he got into this job. Had he been trained as a librarian, or an archivist, perhaps?
No, he said. What really got him into the job at the beginning was that he'd joined the army and been assigned as a file clerk. And he really wanted to do a good job with the files. Even now - after having had some more specialized training and knowledge - what's important to D. is that stuff that's supposed to be kept is kept, and that someone can find it when they need it.
Never let anyone tell you that being a file clerk is a dead end. I love meeting someone who cares so deeply and passionately about their job.
Whatever you find a passion for, that's something that can help you succeed.