How long has it been since since you attended records management training?
Registration is now open for our classes for local governments. Classes are being held in March and May. To register for any of the classes listed below, visit our local government class registration page.
Classes are being held at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building at 1201 Brazos Street (to the east of the Capitol).
- Tuesday, March 18, 8:30 – noon: Introduction to Records Management - Learn why records management is important and required, what constitutes a record, how to ensure you are in compliance and how that benefits your organization, ways to ensure you have an active and continuing program, tips on outsourcing and valuable resources for you and your records management program.
- Tuesday, March 18, 1:30 – 4:30: Managing Electronic Records – Learn how to apply records management principles to electronic records. This course looks at the definition of electronic records (e-records), applicable laws and rules with corresponding best practices and recommended standards and procedures. It also discusses email, digital imaging, and social media, and how to address the various challenges of these types of e-records and how to best manage them.
- Wednesday, March 19, 8:30 – 11:30: Emergency Preparedness – Learn how to identify, protect, and ensure access to your vital records, the records necessary to continue operations in the event of an emergency. The course will also cover how to prepare, respond to, and recover from a records emergency.
- Wednesday, March 19, 1:00 – 4:00: Improving Shared Drives & Filing Systems - This class provides an overview of files management, characteristics of good filing systems, common filing problems, and a six-step program to improving your paper filing system. The course offers strategies and best practices for managing shared drives and developing e-mail file plans.
See class descriptions above.
- Tuesday, May 6, 8:30 – noon: Introduction to Records Management
- Tuesday, May 6, 1:30 – 4:30: Managing Electronic Records
- Wednesday, May 7, 8:30 - 11:30: Emergency Preparedness
- Wednesday, May 7, 1:00 – 4:00: Improving Shared Drives & Filing Systems
Click here to register: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/training/facetoface/index.html.
State Employee#1: “I’m sending these records to the Archives.”
State Employee#2: “The Records Center or the Archives?”
State Employee#1: “Yes.”
State Employee#2: “Well, which one – are you sending the records to the Records Center or the Archives?”
State Employee#1: “Right…them, those people at the Archives in the Records Center.”
State Employee#2: “Is it Friday yet?”
I’m pretty sure this conversation has happened more than once…today. At the Records Center, we have accepted “Archives” as a synonym for “Records Center” most of the time. As in “We’re sending these records over to you at the Archives.” However, there is an actual distinction. The Archives and Information Services (ARIS) Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) is a unit of the same agency but they do some different work than we do at the Records Center. According to their landing page on the TSLAC website: “The Texas State Archives preserves and documents the heritage and culture of Texas by identifying, collecting, and making available for research the permanently valuable official records of Texas government, as well as other significant historical resources.” https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/index.html
However, we do have work that intersects with the State Archives. When you send your records to the State Records Center, we make sure they are classified as a record series on an approved retention schedule on file with our division at TSLAC (SLRM). That document tells us when the records are eligible for disposal. Now, to the average Joe on the street “disposal” means “throw away” but in Records land disposal is not necessarily the final resting place of your records. Undead Zombie records? Angel in heaven records? No, they are records that have been deemed to have archival value, and therefore collected, maintained and preserved by the State Archives. Basically records that are coded for either Archival Holdings (AH) or Archival Review (AR) as their method of disposal may have life at the Archives after “death” at your agency (note: on a state agency retention schedule those codes would be Archival Transfer (A) or Archival Review (R), respectively). So, yes – undead zombie records do exist (sort of). Your accounts payable ledger will likely not fit under this designation and will die a gruesome and tragic death by shredder teeth and pulping “things” (Whatever it is that pulps paper – I know I can look these things up). Those ledgers will be pulled aside, pointed at, chided, kicked, verified, palletized, vulcanized, pulverized, shredded, terminated with extreme prejudice and certified d.o.a. (Some of these are true).
So, when disposition time arrives, your records may have a chance to survive. However, the catch is, that those records will no longer be yours. The records are actually transferred to the possession of the State Archives (NOT SLRM!). The Archives staff then organizes, describes and presents those records forever. If someone decided they wanted to see those records, they would contact the State Archives. If a record series is categorized as “Archival Review” the Archives usually requests a few files or boxes from a records set to see (i.e. do research) if that particular batch of records has archival value. While the Archives assess a records series the records are still the property of the owning agency until the Archives makes an official decision on the fate of the records.
So now there should be no issues understanding the difference between the State Records Center and the State Archives… right? TSLAC oversees the State Records Center AND the State Archives. SLRM gets to destroy things and ARIS keeps things. That’s one of the reasons why I like working at the Records Center. I guess it goes back to fond memories of when I was a toddler who destroyed random sand castles at the beach. Don’t tell anyone, but I still destroy sand castles when nobody’s looking.
Planning a successful imaging project requires careful decision-making. A planning misstep could lead to high costs, wasted time and effort, poor quality, or even trouble in court. This two-part webinar series will cover the “5 W’s” of digital imaging*. In Part 1, we will discuss the “what, when, and why” of imaging – what digital imaging entails, when you’d want to image records (and when you wouldn’t), and why imaging is often instrumental to improving an office’s efficiency. In Part 2, we will delve into the “who and how” of imaging – should you Do It Yourself or outsource? If you do it yourself, how should you set up the project?
*Okay, there’s actually 4 W’s and an H. But this was already a pretty long webinar title for us.
Part 1: What, When, and Why
Description: What does digital imaging involve? When (and why) is digital imaging beneficial, and when is it a waste of money and time? In the first webinar of this series, we will introduce the benefits of a digital imaging project – quick access, efficient searching – and also discuss cost considerations. We will also discuss the issue of source document destruction – should you destroy the original document after scanning, and if you do, how can you ensure that the scanned image meets Bulletin 1/Bulletin B requirements for authenticity?
Part 2: Who and How
Description: After examining the what, when, and why of an imaging project, you’ve decided that digital imaging is right for your records, and you want to make sure that your project will be successful. In the second webinar of the series, we will explore the “who” of imaging – do it yourself or hire a vendor? We will discuss components of an in-house project (the “how” of the project), such as selecting software and equipment, handling fragile or oversize material, staffing and training, metadata, file formats, ensuring quality control, and more. Then, we’ll delve into special considerations for using a vendor before concluding with some imaging project case studies.
Reserve your seat today!
Title: The 5 W’s of Planning an Imaging Project, Part 1: What, When, and Why
Instructor: Angela Ossar, Government Information Analyst
Date: Thursday, March 20, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CST
Part 1 Registration: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/602065658
Title: The 5 W’s of Planning an Imaging Project, Part 2: Who and How
Instructor: Marianna Symeonides, Government Information Analyst
Date: Thursday, March 27, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CST
Part 2 Registration: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/760455674
This is a guest post by Ryan Ellis, CIP, PMP, Records Management Officer for Galveston County. We wrote here about Ryan’s presentation on Galveston County’s ECM system implementation at our e-Records 2012 conference. Ryan attended our recent webinar “Automating Records Management with EDRMS” and emailed us his thoughts on the importance of choosing a DoD 5015.2 compliant vendor when selecting an EDRMS system. He graciously agreed to let us repost his thoughts here on the The Texas Record. Thanks, Ryan!
DoD 5015.02-STD RMA Design Criteria Standard: http://jitc.fhu.disa.mil/cgi/rma/downloads/p50152stdapr07.pdf
It’s common to look for all “best of breed” qualifications and list them out when putting together requirements for a new software system, but “DoD 5015.2 Compliant” might not really be one of them. In fact, depending on your situation, it may eat up a chunk of your project budget when you don’t even need it. It may even prevent you from accomplishing what you’re actually setting out to do.
Here’s another surprising fact: buying a certified DoD 5015.2 compliant software doesn’t automatically make your organization DoD 5015.2 compliant. “Records Management Applications,” as they are referred to in the standard, are not the only participants facing requirements in the standard; the people in it do too. And to be honest, trying to make your employees follow some of these standards would not make any sense in the typical workplace, for instance following labor-intensive guidelines to declare e-mails as records. When I was an Airman managing classified records in our squadron’s tactics unit, it made sense that the processes I followed adhered to included a chapter on “Management of Classified Records.” It also made sense that my agency would spend additional dollars to make sure our software did too. But as a County Records Management Officer, it would not have made sense to spend additional dollars on software that could perform functions we would never use. It would also not make sense to reject time-saving functionality and require users to follow complex steps that have been simplified through advances in technology in the decade since the current version was on the drawing board.
DoD 5015.02-STD includes 6 chapters. The first is an introductory chapter. Three of the following chapters form the “baseline” for certification, focusing on Mandatory Requirements, Transfers, and Non-Mandatory features. The other two chapters set the standards for Classified Records, and FOIA and Privacy Act Records. Because of the complexity and slow pace of modifying the standard, there is even debate on whether DoD 5015.2 is in the best interest for Federal agencies. (Both sides can be viewed here: For, http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/I-Support-DOD-50152-and-Encourage-ALL-Federal-Agencies-to-Adopt-It, and Against, http://www.aiim.org/community/blogs/expert/On-Why-I-No-Longer-Support-the-DoD-50152-Standard.) A good rule of thumb is if your organization regularly transfers records to a Department of Defense agency, or to the National Archives and Records Administration, you should consult with your liaisons in those organizations to see if DoD 5015.2 Compliance is a requirement for you. Otherwise, you should keep your options open, and focus on the business requirements of your organization.
The good news is, many EDRM and ECM software suites offer DoD 5015.2 as an optional component. Alfresco, Laserfiche, OnBase, and SharePoint, just to name a few, all can be implemented as a DoD 5015.2 compliant package, though you don’t to pay the additional dollars to make it so if it’s not needed.
For those considering an EDRM or ECM solution, here’s my recommendation:
- First, talk to similar federal, state, and local entities, and partners with whom you share processes and content. For example, if you have records and information you share with law enforcement agencies, understanding CJIS requirements will lead to a better starting point for technical specifications.
- Talk with each of your prospective vendors about how their products handle security, and learn their strategy for DoD 5015.2 compliant customers.
- Join an industry organization like AIIM or ARMA, and subscribe to the TSLAC SLRM blog. It’s much easier to navigate the maze of complex and evolving standards when you have experts ready to guide you.
To access an archived recording of our “Automating Records Management with EDRMS” webinar, click here.
We’re all familiar with red light cameras – those digital devices at intersections that record drivers running red lights. If you’re a local government with red light cameras, you are probably familiar with the records associated with these systems: photos and videos of potential violations, citations issued, and the information from the Department of Motor Vehicles that helps you match the license plate to the owner for correspondence purposes.
But if you go to Local Schedule PS, you won’t find a series called “Red Light Camera Records.” That is because there just isn’t a series for those records…for now. (We’ll talk more about how we at the State Library can remedy that in just a moment.)
So what should you do with them for now? We know that most local governments do not have the resources to indefinitely store the copious amount of records created by these systems, but can’t destroy the records if they aren’t listed on a TSLAC Local Schedule. So, we searched our local schedules to find the best fit for now. Here’s how we recommend classifying each of the records associated with red light cameras:
- Photos or videos that do not capture a violation: PS4050-06: Surveillance Videos (AV)
- Photos or videos that do capture a violation: PS4125-05b(1): Offense Investigation Records for Class C Misdemeanors and other violations of local ordinances that are punishable by fine only (6 months)
- Information from the DMV used to match the license plate to the owner: PS4175-05c: Dissemination, Inquiry, and Receipt Records of Law Enforcement Information (AV)
- Citations issued by law enforcement: PS4125-05b(1) – see above (6 months)
- Citations that have been cleared by payment, dismissal, or other action of a court: LC2350-05: Parking and Pedestrian Violation Tickets (6 months, unless the tickets are used as vouchers for direct posting to receipt journals or ledgers — then they must be retained for FE + 3 years.)
We’ve received a similar question about school bus passing violation videos – videos that capture vehicles passing school buses as they are loading or unloading students. We recommended that the municipality follow the same guidelines as above.
About those records that don’t have a clear-cut classification on TSLAC’s schedules — or can’t be matched up with any TSLAC series at all. Well, every time that we come across a record that needs to be included on a schedule, we add it to a list of suggested revisions. We keep a list for each local schedule, and we keep any helpful documentation that may help us when we are revising the schedules: applicable bills that changed the retention rules, repealed laws, and emails from you guys who are actually creating and using the records. When we start revising each schedule, we work to incorporate that information into the next edition.
Trouble finding a record on our schedules? Contact your analyst for help!
This is the first in a series of articles that will be written by different members of the team who are involved in the implementation of Infolinx. This article was written by Erica Wilson, Government Information Analyst.
Hey, TSLAC, what’s new with you?
Lots! Last spring, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission released a Request for Proposal (commonly known as an RFP) to acquire a new physical records management software solution for the State and Local Records Management Division. After what felt like eons of evaluating written proposals, assessing live demonstrations, and attending enterprise-wide discussions regarding the responding companies’ products, we are pleased to announce that we will be partnering with Infolinx System Solutions to provide many of SLRM’s services to state agencies and local governments.
A new system? I don’t like new things.
What’s not to like? Infolinx has been providing contemporary, cost-effective, and innovative records management software solutions to a wide range of clients since 1987. Their determination to explore the latest technology platforms, environments, and devices has enabled them to provide browser-based, thin-client solutions and kept them as an industry leader.
That sounds like a sales pitch.
Well, it did come straight from their website. But I assure you, they have many happy clients in many different settings. For us, they are creating a product that is customized to our needs, is user-friendly, and has burnt orange tabs in the interface. As someone who appreciates a system that is intuitive and is also a UT Austin alumni, I can tell you that this product is easy to use and Longhorn fan-friendly. (Note: They didn’t really customize the interface to appease UT fans; that’s just the color they’ve been using for all systems. The system will work for fans of all teams.)
But can their system handle all the records at the State Records Center? After all, everything’s bigger in Texas.
They can handle it. Their clients include hospitals, federal agencies, other state archives and records centers, local governments, financial institutions – shall I go on?
Just a couple more.
Pharmaceutical companies, libraries, insurance companies… In other words, lots of different entities with lots and lots of records.
Okay, so they have some clients with a lot of records. What are they going to do for you guys?
Glad you asked. It’s more about what the system is going to do for you guys, our clients. With Infolinx, you’ll be able to log into their web portal to schedule pickups and deliveries, propose changes to your agency’s retention schedule, and request destruction of stored records.
As a matter of fact, yes! It will allow us to simplify and streamline our billing process. It will allow you to create new boxes and request approval for storage at the State Records Center. You can track your boxes, files (if you want to), and orders. Your agency’s retention schedule will be available at any time in a database for easy searching. It will make you better-looking. (Note: System will not make you better-looking. You are good-looking and perfect the way you are.)
Sounds pricey. What’s it going to cost me?
Nothing, if you have an internet browser. If you don’t have an internet browser, how are you even reading this?!
But you guys will be raising your fees, right?
That’s not the plan. Our fee schedule should stay the same. But if you’d like to tip me…
Nice try. So, you’ll let us know when it’s ready, right?
I’ll do you one better. This will be the first in a series of posts updating you about our progress with the new system. In mid-October, we began building the architecture: what fields need to be included, how the tabs will be organized, what needs to be a simple list and what needs to be a checkbox (Note: I’ve learned more about databases that I ever thought I would need to in the past few months. My degree in English did not prepare me for this project). So right now, it’s really difficult to give you an overall picture of the product – it’s kind of like trying to imagine a color you’ve never seen, like blorange. In the coming months, we’ll have updates about the progress we’re making, how we’re developing training, interim procedures, and other fun and informative stuff. Stay tuned!
In keeping with the State of Texas’ plan to have state government agencies adopt the texas.gov domain name, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) now has a new website address. Please update your Internet bookmarks to: www.tsl.texas.gov.
This URL is the root of a vast array of agency content on the web, from general information about TSLAC (e.g., About Us) to targeted information for the public (Explore Our Resources), for libraries and educators (Continuing Education and Consulting), for state and local governments (Records Management Services), and more.
Advancing our mission to safeguard significant resources, provide information services that inspire and support research, education and reading, and enhance the capacity for achievement of current and future generations, we invite the public to connect with us online at our new website address. Our online resources are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Important Note for Texas Record readers:
**Webinar rescheduled since original publication of this post. See updated date and time below.**
Your office may have already implemented an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) or maybe you just want to know more about what these enterprise-wide applications can do. This webinar will discuss various EDRMS vendors and software, the pros and cons of adopting a system, and how state agencies and local governments can use these systems while adhering to the rules and standards for electronic records. We’ll also provide some tips for records management officers on being involved in decision-making processes and implementation of these systems.
Title: Automating Records Management with EDRMS
Date: February 6, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CST
By Angela Ossar, Government Information Analyst
Last week, several of us at TSLAC attended the annual Open Government Conference hosted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). As usual, the OAG really packed a room — around 800 registrants convened in Austin, Texas, to learn more about the Texas Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Texas Public Information Act (PIA). TSLAC sent staff from multiple divisions – analysts, archivists, and even our new Executive Director, Mark Smith.
Here in the Records Management Assistance unit, the volume of PIA requests we receive is pretty small, particularly now that the state retention schedules are online. So, more than learning proper procedures for fulfilling PIA requests at my own agency, I was attending “for science” — to have a better understanding of how records retention laws and open records laws support one another.
Rather than recap the whole conference here on the blog, I’ll be recapping the final session — How to Avoid Public Information Act Pitfalls – which did a nice job of tying the rest of the sessions together. The session was led by Amanda Crawford, Chief of the OAG Open Records Division, and featured panelists Alan Bojorquez (an attorney representing several municipalities) and two attorneys from the OAG’s Open Records Division, Neal Falgoust and Tamara Strain.
Pitfall #1: “Who’s in charge here?”
Sometimes it can be difficult for the public to know how to request information from the government. This is especially true when the contact information of the Public Information Officer (or Public Information Coordinator) is buried six clicks away from the agency’s home page. The panel made several recommendations:
- Always have a public information policy or ordinance that designates a Public Information Officer (PIO). When a governmental body (GB) designates a Public Information Officer, only that person can receive emailed or faxed PIA requests.
- Put your PIO’s contact information on your website, and don’t bury it! “Perception is reality,” said the panel. When you make your PIO’s information visible, it makes your GB look open, transparent, and trustworthy.
- Train all employees — even if it’s just a quick 10-minute orientation — on recognizing a PIA request. The panel gave the hypothetical example of a news reporter coming to City Hall after hours and handing a handwritten PIA request to the janitor. It’s a valid PIA request, but would the janitor know what to do with it? All employees should understand what their role is in fulfilling a PIA request.
Pitfall #2: “I want any and all information…”
Sometimes a requestor doesn’t realize just how voluminous a response to the “any and all” request would actually be. “Any and all emails sent or received by the City Manager from 1995-2013″ could produce thousands of messages.
But the burden lies with the GB, not the public, to either track down the responsive information or attempt to try to narrow or clarify the request. It’s not the public’s responsibility to understand how the government works, what kinds of records they create, or which department holds which records. The Public Information Officer (or Coordinator) needs to have a good understanding of how the agency works and who creates what (much like the Records Management Officer or records manager would).
Also, of course, regularly disposing of records in accordance with your records retention schedule will ensure that no one must waste time or effort digging up old emails that have met retention.
Pitfall #3: “I don’t need to see the privileged stuff.”
This is another case where the governmental body should start with a request for clarification. Governmental bodies are encouraged to seek clarifications whenever responsive information may contain confidential information — sometimes a requestor may not actually want the privileged information, and it’s a better use of the GB’s resources to see if they can narrow down the request to exclude that information.
Pitfall #4: “Why are you asking for this?”
The panel urged the audience to take a customer service approach. It’s illegal to ask the requestor why they want the information, but it is acceptable to say to the requestor, “By law I can’t ask you why you want this information. But I want to make sure you find what you need. Can you tell me exactly what you are looking for?” And if the requestor can’t or won’t clarify the request, use the OAG’s Public Information Cost Estimate Model to calculate exactly how much money the request is going to cost to fulfill. This may help the requestor understand why narrowing or clarification may be necessary.
Pitfall #5: To charge or not to charge. That is the question.
Each GB has the right to waive charges for fulfilling PIA requests. But keep consistency in mind: you must treat everyone the same. Most GBs won’t charge for requests under 10 pages or under $10 (and in other places, that’s even $20 or $40).
Pitfall #6: Public Information on Private Devices
Back to that request for “any and all emails sent or received by the City Manager.” What if the City Manager is using his personal Gmail account to conduct city business? Or conducting business through text messages on his smartphone? How would the GB actually access those messages to produce copies? And is the City Manager applying records retention guidelines to this public information?
There’s no easy answer to this one, said the attorneys; it’s something that we’re all figuring out. There’s no question that public information on private devices is responsive, though, especially since the 83rd Legislature amended the definition of “public information” to add “any electronic communication created, transmitted, received, or maintained on any device if the communication is in connection with the transaction of official business” and to indicate that the form in which the media containing public information can exist includes “e-mail, Internet posting, text message, instant message, [or] other electronic communication” (S.B. 1368, 83(R)).
As to text messages… “Don’t count on your service provider to have this information.” Some GBs have assumed that companies like Sprint or AT&T keep their text messages, but they don’t. The GB must produce responsive public information, “even if it means using a camera to take a picture of a screen.”
In a perfect world, they said, the GB would adopt a policy to conduct public business only on government-owned phones on government-owned servers. Violations of that policy could be subject to disciplinary action.
Put very plainly, Alan Bojorquez (the attorney who represents municipalities) said that he advises his clients to just “Stop. Stop texting each other regarding public business.” But, he acknowledged, “Stop” isn’t working.
Pitfall #7: The Frequent Flyer
One audience member reported receiving over 800,000 PIA requests in three months. Another GB reported receiving one thousand emails a minute — through a spam program. (In that case, the OAG determined that the PIA protects people – spam generated by a machine is not a valid request.)
Indeed, sometimes “the frequent flyer” can be vexatious to governmental bodies who are already strapped for resources and truly just want to get their jobs done. The cost estimate tool and requests for clarification are meant to help the government cope with voluminous or frequent requests.
But, ultimately, responding to the public’s requests for information is just part of the job. “Frankly,” said Crawford, “we [as public servants] are held to a higher standard. It’s just part of our mandate.” It’s important to remember that serving the public is a noble cause, even if it’s not always easy.
Throughout the two-day conference, the OAG urged the audience to call the Open Government Hotline with any questions about the Open Meetings Act or Public Information Act. The OAG has numerous resources to assist PIOs and Public Information Coordinators on their Open Government Resources web page (including the PIA and OMA handbooks).
And of course, we in the Records Management Assistance unit are here for any questions regarding records retention or other records management questions. Find your analyst!
Let’s say you have records that you keep in both paper and electronic formats. Their disposition date arrives, so you go through the necessary steps to check whether you can dispose of the records. You verify that they’re not archival. You’ve checked with your legal and financial departments, so you know there isn’t any impending litigation or audit concerning the records. And nobody has put in an open records request for the records. So, that means you get to destroy them! After filling out your disposition log, you merrily take the paper records to the shred bin in your office. Boom. Done. Records destroyed.
But what about the electronic versions? Did you remember to destroy them too? Or maybe you think it’s a good idea to keep the electronic copies, just in case of…well, who knows, but your colleagues might need to reference those records sometime, and you could be the one to save the day! And they take up a lot less room than filing cabinets do, so what’s the harm in keeping them?
I have a history and archives background, so I totally understand the urge to keep something “just in case.” Plus, modern technology makes it so easy to hold on to documents. But here are a few reasons why you should be purging electronic records on a regular basis:
When you have several filing cabinets taking up space in your office, it’s easy to see that storing records costs money. On the other hand, electronic records take up much less physical space than those filing cabinets, so it’s hard to actually see those records costing you anything. However, data storage is usually charged by volume. That means that if you have terabytes of records that are past retention, then that’s terabytes of data that you’re needlessly paying to store somewhere.
If the records in question are subject to an open records request, litigation, or an audit, then you MUST produce those electronic records, even if you’ve destroyed the original paper versions. You might think that those electronic records were just convenience copies – and hey, convenience copies aren’t records, right? Well, convenience copies become record copies once the record copies (in this case, paper) are destroyed. Also, destroying electronic records on a regular basis looks a lot better (to a judge and to the public) than suddenly getting rid of a lot of records all at once. The latter might be perfectly innocent – for example, you’re running out of server space so you decide to purge thousands of records that are past their retention period – but it can look suspicious.
You know how a computer works really well when it’s brand new? It runs smoothly and it’s fast. Then, over time, it starts to slow down, and it has some bumps and hiccups every now and then. That’s because the system now has to deal with more software and more data in general. Think of it like a filing cabinet. A filing cabinet is really easy to use when it’s new and not filled with too many folders. The drawers glide open easily and you can take files out or put them back in with no problem. Plus, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for because you can see all the labels clearly and there aren’t a lot of old, useless files in the way. Well, what happens when one of those drawers fills up? Let’s look at the process of trying to retrieve, say, a folder of timesheets from 2011:
- The drawer doesn’t open as easily. Folders are getting caught and you kind of have to shimmy the drawer open back and forth, but finally, it opens. But you were kind of worried for a moment there that you might break the drawer.
- You can’t see the folder labels because all the folders are packed in so tightly.
- You pull (and pull, and tug, hoping you don’t rip anything in the process) a folder out, hoping it’s the right one…and instead, it’s timesheets from 2003. Why are you keeping those? It’s way past retention and is just getting in the way!
- You try to put the folder back, but it’s nearly impossible to cram it in. So then you have to leave the folder out, leaving more of a mess than what you started with.
- You end up having to remove all the folders of timesheets from 2003-2010 just to get to that one 2011 Timesheets folder.
- Overall, you’ve just wasted a few minutes and expended a lot of energy trying to find one measly file. What happens when you need to retrieve 20 files for an open records request?
Now, go back to the computer-as-filing cabinet metaphor. The more “stuff” that’s on it, the harder it is for you and the computer to retrieve what you need. It’ll be slower and fussier, and if you perform a search, you’ll get a lot of irrelevant results. Or, you might have to browse through a really messy shared drive (Purging files is essential to maintaining an organized shared drive, as we discuss in our Shared Drive Management webinar.). Again, you’ll end up frustrated at the time you’ve wasted looking for the records you need while finding a bunch of old records you definitely don’t need. But if you’re getting rid of electronic records on a regular basis, then your computer will work more like it did when it was brand new. Plus, your staff will be able to work more easily with those electronic files if they don’t have to wade through hundreds or thousands of files that are past retention.
Electronic hoarding is an issue for many organizations, but it can be overcome with cooperation and communication between your colleagues. For example, maybe you’ll decide to implement a document management system that would notify you that certain records are ready for disposition. (Side note: If you are interested in such a system, we will be presenting a webinar on the topic in January! Stay tuned to the blog for more details.) That would be a good opportunity to start building a relationship with your IT department so that you choose a system with both RM and IT interests in mind. It’s a win-win situation for your entire organization, because regular disposition of electronic records benefits everybody by making operations less expensive and more efficient. What’s not to love? The only thing you have to lose is records that are past retention!