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Opinions of Saturday, 2 February 2008

Columnist: Dzandu, Sammy

Born, Lives and Dies: A mythical concept?

My first year in secondary school was indeed a memorable one. Apart from the homesickness that I suffered basically as a result of the change in the quantity and quality of meals that I used to enjoy whilst at home, I will also never forget the ordeals that I went through as a ?green horn?.

I remember a senior once told us that our parents sent us to school purposely to serve them (the seniors) hence on hearing the shout ?form one-e-e!?, we should all run like mad cows towards the direction of the voice to run errands for them. As for ?kneel down!? (Decrease your height) ?Mount your form!?, and ?go under your table!? the least said about them, the better. Like dogs that were vaccinated against rabies and identified with tags, our tiny necks were never free from big placards hanging on them. The personal data that we provided on the cards were sometimes deliberately distorted and manipulated by the seniors to have funny meanings. Although other seniors knew very well that the alterations were made by their colleagues, they went ahead and punished us for giving false and deceptive information about ourselves to seniors.

The saying ?no condition is permanent? was so real to us when we finally had our liberation after the infamous ?ninos? night? (a night dedicated to all first year students to officially welcome and recognize us as members of the school community).

Thinking that was the end of all sufferings, I was disappointed when I had to swallow another bitter pill at the University for being a fresher. We (the freshers) were considered as fishes and made to ?swim? in ponds; even during ungodly hours. Woe unto any fresher who resisted ?ponding?. With the shout ?hooo-ha?, hooo-ha?, a ?reinforcement? was called in to combat the person. For committing the offence of ?resisting arrest?, you could not escape the punishment of being ?shaborrowed? (a severe method of ponding). Those of us who happened to be in a particular all-male hall (name withheld) always had the back of our trousers soaked with water before going for lectures. The purpose was to distinguish us from other freshers on campus as students belonging to the ?best? hall in the university.

But is that all we should remember about our school days? In any case, were those things even necessary? After all, the main aim of going to school is neither to bully junior students nor have unnecessary fun but to acquire knowledge and apply that knowledge to solve problems in life. It is therefore important to reflect on the things that we were taught in school to see how applicable they are to our everyday life situations.

I still remember some principles and concepts that we were taught in school. (I must admit that some of those concepts have exceptions whilst others are being reviewed, modified, and subjected to thorough academic scrutiny). In Accounting, ?To every debit entry, there should be a corresponding credit entry?. In Economics, ?Man has unlimited wants and since his resources are limited, a scale of preference should be drawn to make a choice?. In the same Economics, we were told ?Human beings are naturally never satisfied in life?. In Physics, ?To every action, there is equal and opposite reaction?. In Logic, ?Conclusions are drawn based on premises?.

Initially I did not like General Science but in view of the fact that it was a compulsory subject, I had no option but to take it serious. In fact, I literally struggled to balance chemical equations. However, I took consolation in Biology, which I found more interesting. It was during a Biology class that we learnt about biological organisms that ?they are born, they live and they die?. Later in life, I got to know that a non-living thing, which is indispensable in transacting business also has characteristics that are similar to that of a biological organism. I mean RECORDS.

Born

As we put pen on paper or strike the keyboards of our personal computers to either write minutes, a letter, fill a form or make a copy of a document, we are ?giving birth? to records.

Mothers could best give a detailed account of the trauma, stress and the challenges that they go through before and after delivery. It is therefore not surprising that they take extra care of their babies, making sure that they are always safe. It would be very wonderful if we could treat our newly created records in a similar manner. For instance, considering the amount of money, time and energy that go into acquiring a land, a property or winning a contract, it is just wise to take good care of the documents that support the assets or the transactions.

In many cultures, naming ceremonies are observed when a child is born. This should be translated to records management. Appropriate files should be opened (in case there is none already in existence) and the right title (name) given to the file. In some cultures, tribal marks are made on the bodies of babies for easy identification. Similarly, we should also give the appropriate reference numbers to files. This would enhance timely and easy access to records. Of late, it is not uncommon to hear about ?baby-theft cases?. Any careless mother could easily lose her child. Newly created records should therefore be filed, given folio numbers and properly stored.

Lives

The youthful stage of man is very important. In fact, some elderly are in terrible situations today which they could have avoided when they were young. Some of them ignored the advice and counsel of their parents and sunk deep into all kinds of immoral behavior. Today, they are paying dearly for their actions. Of course, some parents should also be blamed for the moral degeneration of the youth. They do not care about the welfare of their children. (What they eat and wear; where they sleep and their education). In fact they are simply irresponsible! We should therefore not be surprised to see some of such children becoming social deviants.

Relating it to records, we should not make the mistake to think that once we created (brought forth) records, they could ?grow? on their own. Just like some parents, some of us do not know and even care about where our records ?sleep?. Instead of providing them with comfortable beds and a bedroom (shelves, cabinets and other storage facilities), we dump them haphazardly under staircases, on top of cabinets and on the floor. In situations where we are kind enough to provide them with ?uncompleted buildings? (store rooms), we ask broken-down furniture, used lorry tyres, discarded computers and crates of drinks to ?perch? with them. Interestingly, the doors to such rooms are boldly labeled ?ARCHIVES?.

The saying ?show me your friend, and I will tell you your character? is evident in the lives of such records as they become very dirty, dusty and nasty by virtue of their association with their ?room mates?(the unwanted things).

Just as some parents prefer spending monies on drinks and frivolous things to investing in the lives of their children, some organizations and institutions also do not see the need to spend money on records management. They consider it as a waste of resources. To put it bluntly, it is not their priority. Ironically, when the same ?powers that be? get into hot water and need the relevant records to bail them out, they put all kinds of pressure on their subordinates and force them into the ?dungeon of records? to provide them with the information within a twinkle of an eye.

The kind of training or upbringing one gives to his/her children, especially adolescents is very important. Some parents could not tell where exactly their children are at any given time. In fact, the children are simply not monitored. The child could inform his parents that he had gone to school whereas he may be having fun with his friends elsewhere. Records also need to be monitored. There should be file tracking systems to know the location of files at any given time. There are instances where some action officers lock up files in their drawers for days whilst some even send the files home. Such practices are unacceptable and should be discouraged.

Dies

Only few people, I believe, do not panic when the word ?death? is mentioned. Unfortunately, we are all destined to die. Similarly, records also ?die?. The interesting thing about theirs is that their ?dying? is in stages. Technically, archivists refer to it as disposition. It should be noted that disposition in records management is not synonymous with destruction; although destruction could also be one of the stages. As the level of the record changes from one to another, the record is said to have been disposed. For instance, the records could be transferred from their active stage to the semi-active stage; from the semi-active to permanent preservation stage or to utmost destruction.

Having in mind the inevitability of death, people make different kinds of preparations towards eternity. Do we also make any preparations towards the ?death?, ?burial? and ?funeral? of our records? Does that sound funny?

There are instances where ?corpses? (records) are piled up in the ?morgues? (repositories) for years simply because there are no specific policies and guidelines (retention schedules) by both the relatives (record-creators) of the ?deceased? and the ?pathologists? (archivists) as to when and how to ?bury? (dispose) the ?corpses? (records). We should remember that the longer the bodies are kept at the mortuary, the higher the fees. Similarly, the untimely disposal of records has its operational cost implications.

Under no circumstance should archivists (?pathologists?) bow to the unnecessary pressure of some ?relatives of the dead? (record-creators) to keep ?corpses? beyond the stipulated period that was stated on death certificates. (Retention Schedules).

Indeed, records, like biological organisms are born, they live and they die. But how serious are we in managing all these stages?

Did I hear some people contemplating having a paperless office? Well, watch out for the position of some archivists.



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