Getting the Most Out of Your State Records Retention Schedule Part II: AINs

ABBA Album Cover - AINs - the Name of the Game
ABBA asked the question: What is the name of the game?

The unique string of characters assigned to each records series on a Texas state agency retention schedule are known as Agency Identification Numbers – AINs. These initials that can also be pronounced (eyns), are the lifeblood of your retention schedule. There is a reason why it is the first value entered on any line containing a record series on the SLR 105. They truly are the name of the game. Texas state agencies, the AIN is yours. Do what you want with it. The AIN can be letters and/or numbers. It can indicate the department where the record copy of the series is maintained (e.g., AIN HR101 for Personnel Files) or rely on a preassigned code (like “budget”) to distinguish itself. Some agencies have even put their own spin on the Records Series Item Numbers (RSIN) that we assign on the state Records Retention Schedule (RRS) to create an AIN. For instance, Texas Big State Agency might make the AIN for their general correspondence series “TBSA 1.1.008.”

This post will go over what is required of an AIN and then end with some general advice on assigning AINs.

As long as every series has an AIN, AINs aren’t repeated, AINs aren’t reassigned, and they are 50 characters or less – they work.

Let’s take a look at each of these requirements and explore the implications for your retention schedule.

Each series needs an AIN.

This requirement is easy enough to satisfy. Just give the series a number! It can be as simple as running down your schedule adding 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. until you hit your last series. In Excel you can even drag the number formatting all the way to the bottom. This specific AIN structure can work just fine if you organize your schedule by function or model it on the state RRS structure. If it’s organized departmentally or as a hybrid, more descriptive AINs are appropriate. And speaking for myself alone, I always appreciate a descriptive AIN that tells me a story. What story will your schedule tell with its Agency Identification Numbers?

AINs can’t be repeated.

Each series needs a unique identifier and the AIN serves this purpose. You can have a dozen General Correspondence series strewn about your schedule, but each one needs its own AIN. Why? Well, if these records are filed, stored at a records center, logged in a database, or used in conjunction with an enterprise content management software, this unique identifier will distinguish them immediately. You won’t need to parse the description, remarks and even record series title fields to determine which type of general correspondence this series is referring to.

AINs can’t be reassigned.

This rule can be the biggest headache when recertifying, but the implications of re-using an AIN can have drastic consequences for your records management program.

Lonely box labeled HR0001. Will this AIN stay true?
Lonely Box HR0001

Picture this, back in 1990 your agency assigned former employee verification files the AIN, HR0001. This is a series that carries a 75-year retention period. Let’s say your records management team at the time boxed up the HR0001s and sent them off to a record center for long term storage. The record center entered HR0001 into their storage tracking database that calculated the eligibility for destruction date for a given box to be January 2065. It’s a good records center that notifies your agency when boxes are eligible for destruction! And other than fulfilling the odd PIA request for the records therein, the records in the box are in their final resting place and waiting patiently for 2065 when they can be disposed of. Little thought is paid to the records in the box assigned to AIN HR0001.

Well, in 2021 your agency is up for recertification and you plan on giving your Records Retention Schedule a makeover. You want to use a similar structure to what has been used before, but order it based on priority. HR0001 is sitting right at the top of the Human Resources section of your schedule and taking up valuable real estate. Wouldn’t it be more convenient if a more common HR record series were in that spot? Say Applications for Employment? So, on your recert you reassign HR0001 to Applications for Employment and stick former employee verifications files somewhere lower on the totem pole. Applications carry the maximum retention period of five years, so AIN HR0001 had 70 years shaved off its retention period. As your record center updates their database to reflect your new schedule, the reassignment of HR0001 raises a big red flag. You could have destroyed this box you’re paying to store 20 years ago! In reality and in the eyes of state agency records management laws, this would entail premature destruction of government record and is illegal.

Fortunately, most record centers are clever and will catch this kind of mistake. But it can happen.

The classic reassignment of AINs occurs when agencies use a pretty basic AIN structure like sequential numbering. 1 – Audits | 2 – LARs | 3 – Complaint Records |4 – Admin Correspondence etc. Well, a new Records Management Officer (RMO) takes over and would like to bucket Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) with State Publications, so AIN 2 is removed. Instead of leaving AIN 2 unassigned, everything else is bumped up. Complaint Records becomes 2, Admin Correspondence becomes 3 and on and on. This creates chaos. It may not be the prettiest, but many agencies who opt for the sequential AIN numbering have schedules that look like swiss cheese. AIN 1 | AIN 4 | AIN 5 | AIN 10 etc. It’s rough, but it’s right and avoids the pitfalls of the alternative. See graphics below for an illustration of this.

Original AIN distribution.
The original assignment of AINs in an imaginary records retention schedule.
Drake Rejects the bumping up of AINs. He approves of the space left by the missing AIN.
After combining the LARs with the State Pubs, we see two different ways of updating the retention schedule. The first being the “bump up” approach that features a mess of Reassigned AINs. The second leaves a hole where the LARs once were. That is correct (and Drake – approved.)

New AINs are fine. If you’re sick of your schedule looking incomplete because you’re skipping numbers, go ahead and create a new AIN scheme. Just know about the possible implications sketched out above for boxes or microforms assigned to certain AINs. You’ll likely need to create a crosswalk so all storage can be accounted for.

AINs need to be less than 50 characters

This is probably the easiest requirement to satisfy. There are a lot of clever agencies out there, but I’ve yet to come across a single agency that has come close to the character limits.

Final thoughts

So, you know what not to do, but what can you do to make your AINs work for you? Well, that will be based upon your agency structure and how you put together your records retention schedule. A few general words of advice:

1. Leave room for growth. If you start a new program that entails the creation of a new record series, how would you like that to fit within your schedule? Some agencies just tack new series on at the end. Others nestle it into a logical place within their existing structure. It’s up to you and the way you use AINs can dictate your choices.

2. Consider what came before, but do not feel hemmed in by a previous paradigm. As RMO, it’s your schedule and it should work for you and your agency. Be bold. But also be respectful to precedents and past practice.

3. Think about a layman reading your schedule. Your schedule will be made publicly available on TSLAC’s website. You are certainly not required to, but would you like your AINs to communicate to a curious internet surfer what your priorities are? Descriptive AINs with a cheat sheet tacked on to the top can accomplish this.

More information on the recertification process can be found on our Recertification Portal and in Part 1 of Getting the Most Out of Your State Agency Retention Schedule: Structure.

Thoughts on AINs? Let us know if the comments section below!

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