I spent the afternoon yesterday asking for some public documents in person. I’ve never done that before. It gave me a new perspective on what it must feel like if you’re a government employee and some stranger shows up in your office and says, “I’d like you to give me some public documents. What I want is….”
Psychologically, I think it’s only natural for a staff person, whether they work for a private or a public employer, to cocoon into their desk, papers and environment. It’s “their” stuff…don’t most people intuitively feel that way about what’s on their desk, in their file folders and on their hard drive?
It was my perception yesterday that it was experienced by some of the government employees of whom I made records request as disorienting and intrusive. I think this goes to some basic facts about how people (including me) tend to relate to their environment and the stuff they’re in charge of, not to any obstinacy or attitude problems on the part of government employees about just who those records really belong to.
It would really be helpful for all concerned if people who work for the government and might ever be in this position got regular, short briefings on the process and some support for the idea that yes, it is strange when someone you’ve never met, and about whose motivations you know absolutely nothing, appears out of the blue and asks you to hand over some of the documents you possess. Acknowledging that the process does or can feel odd could help.