#Spotlight Series: Eric Bryan

MARA Blog

Published: October 12, 2018 by Katie Kuryla 

This month’s spotlight series is Eric Bryan, CRM. He finished his CRM exam after he finished his degree and he is here to discuss the last leg of the exam and his time in the MARA program. Thank you so much Eric! – Katie

Hello, my name is Eric Bryan and I am a Certified Records Manager (CRM) working for the City of Newport Beach in southern California. I am a MARA graduate, having attended from 2012 – 2016. Prior to that, I completed my MLIS (library science) degree in 2009. My focus during my time in the MARA program was digital records management and photographic preservation. My true passion is photographic preservation, and when I began the program, I was working in that capacity at my then-job. My current job includes working with photographic material, but it encompasses just about all aspects of records management in a government setting.

My choice to go for the CRM was easy because as a MARA graduate, I was automatically passed for exams 1 thru 5, so I only needed to take exam 6. Exam 6 is entirely written, giving RM scenarios in which you write how you would approach the challenges presented. Successful completion of exam 6 requires preparation and a strong understanding of RIM practices, how to implement RIM programs from the ground up, and how to manage RIM teams. Experience working within a records program helps as well, and I recommend, whenever possible, to be working in the field when you take exam 6.

I chose to take the final exam and get my CRM because it is the gold standard within the records world, and easily recognizable. Along with my MARA degree, I wanted to show that I am an experienced and knowledgeable records manager, serious about what I do, and that I am capable of developing records programs and leading teams with the highest level of competence.  I also felt that it would help my career by showing that I am serious about my role in records management. It affords a level of respect for what records managers do, and to be honest, RM is often not taken seriously within organizations, or it is an afterthought (usually after there has been a lawsuit with a financial penalty).  Demonstrating that I take it seriously enough to pass a rigorous certification program and maintain my certification with ongoing education, provides an extra level of legitimacy for what I am doing and trying to accomplish for the organization.

I found exam 6 to be more of an endurance test, but this is probably because I spent a good amount of time studying and preparing for it in advance. Several months out, I requested the study packets which contain old exam questions that are no longer used. I also requested a mentor but was never assigned one, unfortunately. When the study packet arrived, I opened it and immediately felt overwhelmed, but having several months to prepare eased my mind, and I immersed myself slowly in the material. I allowed plenty of time to read and process all of the information so I wouldn’t feel stressed or overwhelmed. I related many of the sample exam questions to my current and past RM work experience, and realized that the questions are practical and part of the challenges that people who work with records face every day.

For me, the most important element of those packets was the section providing advice on how to organize your thoughts during the exam. Organizing your thoughts in the exam is critical; second only to having the actual knowledge to answer the questions. I had a miserable cold while I took the exam, which made the whole experience even more rigorous!  I made it through, however, and having prepared in advance, I did not find it difficult. If you are truly ready to be a Certified Records Manager, you will have the knowledge and experience to complete the exam with relative ease.  The most difficult part was the restrictive exam procedures: only a small erasable board for notes, and a very basic word processing program. I found that it was critical to jot down notes and ideas prior to writing the actual exam response.  After choosing the exam scenario to write about, I wrote a list of problems and solutions on the dry erase board. After putting the framework together, it was simply a matter of writing it out and making it engaging (even using a bit of humor). My overall approach was to write my answers in a professional but conversational manner, as though I were speaking to an audience or presenting in a meeting. It shouldn’t be overly dry or academic, or else the audience will lose interest and you run the risk of failing to convince the organization (in this case the person grading your exam) that a records program is important.

So, more about the MARA program and what lead up to my taking the CRM exam. I had been working as a librarian for over a decade and was transitioning into a more niche role in archives and records within the organization. At the time, there were few RIM graduate degree options (MARA was really the only feasible one), so while my options were limited, I knew that the MARA program would be top quality, having already obtained my MLIS (Library Science) degree from SJSU. I found the program very challenging, but also very rewarding. The biggest challenge was balancing a full-time job and full-time course load during the program. Keeping up with the required online discussions was especially difficult for me. They were a lot of work, and often an extra burden when research papers or other projects were looming, but they did enrich my learning experience. Even with more options today, I would still choose the MARA program over any other. After graduating, I took a much needed mental break, at least for a year until I began working toward the CRM.

I very much enjoyed my time at SJSU. As I mentioned, I got my MLIS degree in 2009 which was just when the MARA program was starting up. I liked my time at SJSU so when I was looking for a Records degree program, MARA was my first choice, even if it was my only feasible choice at that time! It wasn’t always easy, however. After my first year, I felt so overwhelmed between a full-time job and full-time education that I decided to quit the MARA program. I had always worked full-time for all of my college years, but this time it just felt more intense, and I had different family obligations than before. I wasn’t sure if the program was for me anymore, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of it. So I took the summer off, not intending to return, but just before the registration for fall semester deadline, I realized how much I was letting myself down, so I decided to persevere. That rock bottom moment was quite important because it gave me the conviction to continue on, and I am so glad that I did.

When I started the MARA program, I was putting time in with the photographic archive at the aerospace company I worked at. My interest in archives, especially photographic archives and preservation, was the impetus for joining the MARA program, as well as a desire to gain a more specialized skillset, to build on my degree in library science.  Not surprisingly, my favorite class was photographic identification & preservation, taught by Gawain Weaver. It was so informative and the most fun I’ve ever had in a class. This is probably due in large part to my interest in photographic materials, but it really was a lot of fun.  I took it as a summer class and have fond memories of our class meetings, as well as using the little handheld microscope and historic/antique photographs that were supplied as course materials.

A funny memory I have from my first semester was creating the “Pirate Archives of Tortuga” as a group project. It was a mock archive and we wanted to do something fun and humorous but still educational. There were lots of pirate jokes and “arrrr” puns (Arrrrchives).  It was a chance to get creative and have fun. That was an important project for me, because I am a visual and creative person, and until then, I felt that records management and archives was dry and uncreative.  How wrong I was! There are plenty of opportunities for creative thinking and problem solving, and building a fun, mock archive was just the beginning.

In a research capacity, I was interested in information assurance (data security) and principles of electronic records management in a government context. Digital conversion as a form of preservation and record keeping was also an area of focus, and whenever possible, I combined all of those elements into my coursework and academic focus. The most surprising lesson I learned out of my MARA coursework was the fact that digitization isn’t always the best option. This always comes as a shock in today’s electronic age. There is a big push for digitizing and going “paper-free”, but this is often pushed by electronic records management companies whose interest (and business) is seeing a paper-free world. But electronic conversion and storage costs are often higher than paper. Paper just sits in a vault or offsite records storage and generally does not require much maintenance. It does not become obsolete or unreadable because of outdated technology, and there is no need to use an electronic device simply to read it. With a proper records inventory, paper records are just as easy to search for and find as electronic records. It pays to do a cost analysis to determine which is the lower cost and higher value option. In my current position, I was able to save the city several thousands of dollars per year by halting unnecessary digital conversion and storage while still maintaining quick, efficient access to records.

A few things I found that helped with my future goals as I worked my way through the MARA program, and after. Be involved in the profession. Don’t expect your degree to be the end of the journey. Get the CRM to show that you are dedicated and proactive in your career. Networking! Get to know others in your profession. Records Managers often face significant support challenges within an organization, and it helps to have others with which you can share ideas and experiences. Being involved in associations is critical. I was very active in the MLIS program as Vice President of the library student organization (LISSTEN), as well as webmaster and student representative on a few committees, but unfortunately during my MARA coursework, I just didn’t have time.  Now that I am finished with the program and not splitting my time between work and school, I have circled back to do more networking and involvement in the profession. With a few years under my belt in my current position, I have begun presenting in webinars and (soon) conferences on how I’ve approached the challenges of RM in a local government setting.  Again…networking and cultivating professional relationships!

My time at SJSU in the MARA program has been a great help in my current job. My coursework at SJSU helped me to meet the challenges from so many angles, from building a new RM program from scratch to changing decades of outdated and often incorrect practices where records are concerned. It was directly responsible for my current position; there were over 250 applicants and my name rose to the top of the list because I was the only one with a degree in this field. In the final round of interviews, I was competing with 3 other candidates, but it was my degree that tipped the scales in my favor (and possibly my purple suit).

On a job search level, I found that there are a reasonable number of records jobs in the Orange County and southern California area. One reason I was attracted to this field is that not many people are doing it, so the job market is not saturated (relative to my other area of experience, the library profession). This seems to be the case nation-wide, although I can only speak anecdotally when it comes to places outside of my area.

To sum up the MARA program and CRM experience in three words, I would say, “tough but rewarding.” I loved the SJSU program, both MLIS and MARA. The MARA program is innovative and has shaped my life in so many important ways. I have lasting friendships and professional connections that go beyond school and work. I am often asked why I enjoy working in the RM and archiving profession, and I like to say that Records are the foundation of every organization. It is the history and culture of a place. Being entrusted with the management of records is a great honor, and I see the work I do as not just benefitting people today, but people even hundreds of years from now. How cool is that?

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