This is a guest post by Reference Librarian Mackenzie Ryan from TSLAC’s ARIS division.
As part of a wider effort to reorganize and manage the Archives and Information Services (ARIS) division’s shared drive, a committee was formed, and department representatives were assigned to create and implement plans to reorganize and clean up their department’s shared folder within the ARIS drive. I served as the department representative for Information Services (IS) and tasked with developing and implementing a plan that would accomplish these goals for the department.
Departmental folders function similarly to shared drives in that they are used by multiple staff and contain multiple folders with various levels of subfolders.
Prior to the recent efforts to reorganize and manage the division’s shared drive, the organization and structure of the IS departmental folder was inconsistent. Over the years, staff had tried to maintain order by naming folders by the record type listed on the retention schedule, using idiosyncratic naming conventions, and attempting to create high level folders for staff to save their files in. However, these practices were not consistently applied by all staff using the shared folder. This resulted in a shared folder that had many top-level folders and orphan files (i.e. single files that are not stored in a folder).
Our department took the following steps to reorganize our folders and revise our naming and filing practices. By sharing our experience, we hope others can learn from it to help improve organizing their own workplace’s shared drive and/or folders.
We conducted an inventory of the types of files in the IS folder. While the inventory process was straightforward, it was a timely process due to the large number of files and folders we had in our department’s folder. We created a listing of the top and sublevel folders and described the types and purposes of the records within each folder.
The inventory process allowed us to understand the amount and types of records we had in our department’s folder. When creating our new folder structure, we needed to take several factors into account. We wanted to make sure that the structure was logical and easy for staff to use. We also wanted to create a structure that mimicked our retention schedule, which would make it easier for staff to determine if the files were transitory or if the files needed to be retained. It was important that both needs were considered when designing our new folder structure.
For example, we created a project files folder. This is easy for staff to remember because all projects regardless of purpose are saved here instead of creating high-level folders for each one. This folder also corresponds to the “Special Project Files” records series on our retention schedule.
Because we were making major changes to the folder’s organizational structure, we divided implementation into three phases and set timelines for when the project would be completed. We held staff meetings before beginning the project and after each phase to discuss the progress we made as well as any challenges or questions staff had about the new folder structure.
We implemented standards for naming files and folders. The standards were influenced by recommendations from the committee that is leading our division’s shared drive cleanup as well as other best practices for naming electronic records.
In addition, we encouraged the practice of creating README files, which have a description of their respective folder with information regarding its retention and other information (e.g. defining abbreviations used in the folder or file names).
We have completed our initial reorganization and implemented our new folder structure; however, records management is never finished. Our department now must work to maintain the structure and rules that we have implemented in order to keep our files organized and avoid the pitfalls of poor records management habits. I am very proud to say that our staff has responded well to this challenge and have made good records management practices part of their daily work. It has been a little over a year since we completed the last phase of this project and we have been able to maintain our structure with little or no issues.
There were many lessons learned over the course of this project. The following is my advice to those who are thinking about similar records management projects for their own workplaces:
1) Staff buy-in is important
All staff members are key to ensuring that good records management practices are followed, especially when you are revising the organizational structure of your records and file naming practices. Even the best solutions will fail if your staff does not buy into them. We were able to get staff to buy in by keeping everyone informed and by creating opportunities for staff to provide feedback on the process. We were able to accomplish this through our staff meetings and handouts with information about the project. Staff involved in the project also made themselves available to other staff for questions.
2) The retention schedule is your friend
One of the goals of our project was to make managing our electronic records easier. We used our retention schedule to help name folders using the record series titles for our README files which have notes about the retention periods and disposition of the records once they have met retention. If you use the retention schedule as your guide, it will save you time when you begin reviewing records for retention and disposition.
3) There is no “one size fits all” solution to records management
While this approach worked for our staff, it may not be a good solution for every work environment. Assessing your current records management practices, getting feedback from your staff, and learning from others’ successes and mistakes can help you develop a solution that works for your staff. If you have questions or concerns, speak with your Records Management Officer or supervisor.
There are links to some of the handouts and planning materials we used during our project. Please feel free to reuse and adapt them for your own records management projects:
Information Services Folder and File Naming Conventions (PDF)
Information Services Folder Reorganization – Phase 2 (PDF)
Creation of README Files (PDF)
Mackenzie Ryan is a reference librarian with TSLAC’s ARIS division. She can be reached at email@example.com