Educating today’s information professionals to meet tomorrow’s challenges

Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) Celebrates its 10th Anniversary

By Dr. Patricia C. Franks

The Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA) degree was launched in August 2008 in what is now the School of Information at San José State University. The journey of this degree mirrors the transformation of record and information management within the larger environment. 

This program honors the term management by preparing individuals to assume administrative positions related to archives, records management, and information governance. It emphasizes both theory and practice and encourages research that contributes to the profession. 

The MARA curriculum is based on the premise that strong disciplinary knowledge is a necessary precursor to strong interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary professional and scholarly activities, which are needed in a world made increasingly complex due to continuously developing digital technology and growing legal and regulatory implications of such use.

MARA graduates are scholars and professionals capable of governing data, records, and information, in every media at any stage in the records lifecycle, from (re)creation through long-term preservation. The curriculum content and structure are constantly evolving to reflect the changing environment and expanding roles in which archivists, records managers, and information governance professionals operate.

Meeting the Challenges Introduced by Disruptive Technologies

The most obvious and significant challenge to traditional records management was the shift from paper to electronic records and information management as the volume and velocity of content creation continued to expand and the concept of Big Data was introduced. Although physical records continue to be created and, therefore, managed, digitization projects transformed a large quantity of physical objects into digital objects, which, in turn, created additional requirements for metadata and tools to make the information locatable and retrievable. What was once an emerging trend introduced as a separate topic within the curriculum—electronic records—is now omnipresent.

Technologies that were in their infancy when the program was launched—social media, artificial intelligence, blockchain distributed ledger technology—are now included within the curriculum and the focus of student research. Rather than diminish the need for records and information professionals, these advances brought to the fore the need for strategic governance of all data and information—thus expanding roles and responsibilities. Consider the following examples of the impact of emerging technologies on information governance:

  • President Obama was nicknamed the “first social media President.” This presented the National Archives and Records Administration with a dilemma—how would they preserve and make his social media accounts available to the public? The approach taken was to have all of President Obama’s tweets, as well as his Facebook and Instagram accounts, captured and transferred to NARA for preservation. In addition, accessible archives were created for public viewing, such as the Instagram archive at
  • Machine learning, a sub-category of Artificial Intelligence, is now applied to records management in order to classify content; identify, flag and delete duplicates; use keywords, labels or patterns to identify documents for compliance purposes; and even assist with data quality by automatically correcting many errors caused by humans. For example, RecordPoint—a standards-compliant, rules-based records and federated data management solution—incorporates seven approaches to automation or records management processes using artificial intelligence: automated classification, machine learning, natural language processing, automated rules, black box, neural networks, and deep learning.
  • The potential of blockchain distributed ledger technology to create immutable records of peer-to-peer transactions is attractive to those who wish to eliminate the middleman while enabling secure and transparent transactions. However, the codification of an individual’s “right to erasure” (or right to be forgotten) guaranteed under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) appears to be in direct conflict to the immutability factor. Further complicating this issue of immutability is the fact that California has its own version of this protection and other states are planning similar legislation. Solutions to enable compliance—such as keeping PII (personally identifiable information) off-chain must be investigated.  

With the recognition of the value of data to the organization comes the realization that there is accompanying risk. Privacy and security considerations, which once were considered a domain of the IT department for electronic records is now every information professional’s concern.  Some would argue that good records management is at the heart of cyber, privacy ad data governance.

Adding Value through Professional Certifications

With the growing recognition that information is a valuable business asset and the introduction of tools and technologies to facilitate decision-making by C-level administrators based on an analysis of Big Data, the position of information professionals has moved upward on the career ladder—resulting in an ever-increasing number of positions in information governance. This is especially true for those who combine practical experience with education and professional certifications.

When the MARA program was designed, guidelines provided by ARMA, SAA, ICRM, and ACA for education were considered. In 2016, in recognition of the mastery of key competencies required for the Certified Records Analyst and Certified Records Management designations, the Institute of Certified Managers (ICRM), agreed to grant credit for parts 1-5 of the 6 part examination to MARA graduates, and further recognized the value of practical experience by granting one-year of experience for those students who complete either the an Internship or Organizational Consulting Project.  Students who are already Certified Records Analysts and Certified Records Managers are granted 30 hours of credit toward maintenance of those designations.

In recognition of the value of the curriculum for aspiring or current archivists, the MARA was submitted to the Academy of Certified Archivists for evaluation.  All 10 content courses were pre-approved for students who apply to take the examination, ensuring graduates have mastered the professional competencies identified in all seven knowledge domains for Certified Archivists.

In anticipation of the growing importance of Information Governance, a course, Developing an Information Governance Strategy, was added as a required course in 2013, the very first year the designation of Information Governance Professional (IGP) was awarded. Modeling behavior desired of students, the MARA program coordinator was one among the first group of Information Governance Professionals.  To further emphasize information professional’s role in ensuring an organization’s information resources and assets are protected, an Information Assurance course was added to the curriculum. 

The most recent required course added to the curriculum is Enterprise Content Management and Digital Preservation, providing hands-on experience with Office 365/SharePoint online and Preservica.  The required courses have been supplemented by elective courses in topics such as Digital Forensics, Health Information Management, and Ethics.

Looking to the Future

Some have said we live in the age of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times). As a result, private and public organizations are beginning to recognize the importance of good governance of data, records, and information, not only as a means of mitigating risk but more importantly for its business value.

Information professionals must take a proactive role in helping the organization achieve its goals. This can be done by learning how their organization works and suggesting ways to leverage data, records, and information to aid in decision making (e.g., use of machine learning for classification of data). It also requires continuously monitoring the internal and external environment in order to identify and emerging technologies that either currently are impacting existing or have the potential to impact information governance programs. But it also requires an understanding of existing archival and records theories and principles (e.g., provenance, integrity and chain of custody) that are applicable to those new technologies (e.g., provenance, immutability and chain of custody promised by blockchain distributed ledger technology).  

Programs, like the Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA), respond to VUCA times by continuously evolving to meet the current and future needs of today’s archivists, records managers, and information governance professionals.

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