Announcement of the 2014 Emmett Leahy Award to Julie McLeod
by Dr. Anne Thurston
Each year the Emmett Leahy Award recognizes an individual whose contributions and accomplishments have had a major impact on the records and information management profession. The award was established in 1967 to honour the spirit of innovation, dedication, and excellence in records and information management demonstrated by Emmett Leahy, who pioneered the development of the lifecycle approach to managing records and information in the US Government. The Committee looks for evidence of high quality original concepts, approaches or methodologies and their impact on programme development and management, innovation, education, and professional and organisational leadership.
The 2014 Emmett Leahy Award winner is Julie McLeod, Professor in Records Management at the iSchool, at Northumbria University, in the United Kingdom. The Committee believes that Julie’s sustained professional leadership in records and information management has, and will continue to have, a major impact on how private and public sector organizations around the world manage their information assets.
Julie began her career as an information manager for research scientists. She joined Northumbria University in 1994, at a time when records management was viewed as an administrative process for paper records; universities only offered optional records management modules on archives courses, and there was no research or theoretical base for records management.
Over the last 20 years, Julie’s innovative contributions to education, research and professional leadership have helped change the face of the discipline in the UK and internationally. Her work has been characterised by her consistent commitment to linking good practice principles to real practical challenges.
To be nominated for the Emmett Leahy Award is special enough but to be the recipient is completely different. It is a huge privilege, an honour and very humbling, and I’d like to thank the members of the Award Committee for selecting me. Past winners are some of our most distinguished leaders – practitioners and scholars - so I feel extremely fortunate to join them, especially when there are many other worthy winners.
We rarely achieve something significant on our own. I would not be standing here if it weren’t for many others who have helped or inspired me – my employer Northumbria University, my colleagues there, graduates and current students, peers in the field across the world, and not least my family. Part of this is for them.
The field of records and information management has radically changed since I began my career, in a positive way and on an international scale. Through the development of innovative educational programmes, publications, professional platforms and research, records and information management has moved from professional practice to scholarly discipline. I am proud that my career has spanned both practice and academia and that I have been able to contribute in these areas and have an impact in our community.
The 6 June this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings - D Day - the largest seaborne invasion in history. An invasion that began the end of the Second World War. Across the world the records of the past, our archives of today, were used to recount the history, tell the stories and create the many commemorations to mark that historic occasion. From the weather reports to the details of the battles, the people involved and the number of losses - records in text, audio, visual and artefact forms. Countless organisations and individuals drew on the records preserved for future generations, such as ourselves, as well as the memories of those involved or affected, and previously uncaptured. Around the world people learned from the use of those records in our archives.
However, as records and information management professionals we are not just, if at all, focused on capturing and preserving records for future generations. We are focused on ensuring the records of today serve their creators and today’s consumers - wherever they are, whatever ‘technology’ they use, and for whatever legitimate purposes. A simple statement but a significant challenge in today’s digital era.
The digital paradigm has, and is, fundamentally changing the way in which we create, capture and consume information, and has presented us with some ‘wicked’ problems. It has broken down and blurred boundaries. It is radically reconfiguring relationships between creators, providers and consumers - changing behaviours and expectations. It is transforming processes and service delivery.
What's past is prologue; what to come,
In yours and my discharge.
The words of Antonio, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and perhaps more familiar to this audience as the title of one of the late Dr Terry Cook’s articles - forever part of the legacy he has left us.
Dealing with the digital demands a different combination and range of knowledge and skills. Since we are not all polymaths (although perhaps I speak only for myself there) we need partnerships with practitioners and theoreticians in other disciplines. We know this, we’re doing it, but we need to do far more. We urgently need to extend our partnerships and create communities of practice that are much stronger, broader, more innovative and multi-disciplinary including disciplines such as computer science, statistics, psychology. Without these it will be difficult to address the wicked problems that the digital presents. Past will not be prologue, it will simply be ‘past’.
I am very privileged to receive this Award, particularly in the beautiful city of Girona and this exceptional place. This evening will be a memorable experience of the kind that Joan Roca spoke of yesterday, not only for me but for all of us.