Best Practices

Page last updated 02/14/20

Appraisal of records

Records support and enable an organization to achieve its mission. They document its aspirations, accomplishments, and accolades. If they live long enough, they become history.

The age of a record, its uniqueness, and the nature of its content are all factors in determining its appraised value. Another key indicator is the length of time required to retain a record, as outlined in an organization's records retention schedule.

To determine the value of your department's records, begin by asking:

  • Is this an annual summary of programs, activities, decisions, or major developments?
        If so, it's probably of enduring, archival worth.
  • Will my department need this information to prove compliance with policy or procedure?
        If so, it probably needs to be retained for 5 - 10 years.
  • Is the same information readily available in other trustworthy sources, systems, or publications?
        If so, it's probably a duplicate record or convenience copy - dispose of when no longer needed.

For assistance with records appraisal, contact KSU Archives or Office of Records Management at x6289.

Big buckets

Grouping similar items into larger categories (or buckets) is one way to process information more efficiently. For example, various types of documents related to an individual's employment are collected and stored in their personnel file; and all those files are stored in a secure repository for fast search and retrieval. 

Records retention schedules also use big buckets. For example, the USG BOR retention schedule for "Accounting Records" (0472-03-001) lists more than two dozen different record types, from purchase orders to journal entries to operating statements. They share a similar function and have the same retention requirement (5 years).

For the majority of business records, one of three big retention buckets will usually suffice:

  • Short-term, transitory records - retain for useful life, destroy when no longer needed.
  • Mid-term, operational or fiscal records - retain for 5-10 years, destroy retention has been met.
  • Long-term, archival records - preserve in a climate-controlled, metadata-rich environment indefinitely.

The US National Archives and Records Administration estimates that only 3-5% of the volume of federal records are archival. Each organization must how much of its cultural heritage to preserve.

Consistency in filing and file naming

Big buckets work when standard file-naming conventions are followed. A file-naming convention is a recipe for naming files. For example, employee files might begin with the employee's start date, then their last name, then their six-digit employee ID. So the file naming convention would be: yyyy-mm-dd_LASTNAME_###### (i.e., 2020-02-03_SMITH_987654).

This comes in handy when the only metadata is the filename (or pathname), such as on a shared drive. In such an environment, here are some best practices of file and folder naming to follow:

  • Keep the names short but descriptive
  • Remember that files sort by alphanumeric rules (numbers sort before letters)
  • Use folders as big buckets, the bigger the better at the top level
  • Keep subfolder levels as shallow as possible - no more than 5-6 in depth
  • Keep the filename (which includes all the folder and subfolder names) under 200 characters (includes slashes, hyphens, spaces, commas, etc.)

A fun and informative resource on metadata, file naming, and file arranging is "Preserving this Podcast Zine."

Documentation

Organizations benefit from written policies and procedures.

  • A policy states the expectations or intentions of a governing body that will serve to direct and limit actions in pursuit of the organization's long-term goals.
  • A procedure, on the other hand, is a set of steps in a specific order that explains how to correctly complete a task or process.

Defining the types of records, where and how they are stored, and how long to keep them should be part of a department's procedure manual. Written procedures for records disposition should include:

  • Steps for disposing of temporary records that can be audited and reviewed for compliance.
  • Steps for identifying records of historical worth and arranging their transfer to an archive or in-place, long-term preservation.

Eliminate paper

Paper records are all we had to work with before the days of computers. But with readily accessible scanning devices and software, most paper records can and should be eliminated. Why?

  • Space hogs - they take up valuable office space.
  • High-maintenance storage - filing cabinets, rolling carriages, hanging folders, file folders, binders, etc.
  • Easily lost or misfiled - no "paper trail" to track down who was the last to touch the file.
  • Easily damage - coffee stains, rusty paper clips, torn pages, rubber bands that turn to gunk.
  • Costly, time-intensive to share - make copies, distribute copies, mark up copies, return copies, edit original, then make copies, distribute copies, etc., etc.
  • Time-waster - see above.
  • Stress-inducer - watch the relief from employees when they're allowed to get rid of "all that paper."

If a paper form is required for some reason, you can always scan the final copy and store it as a PDF in a shared folder, so everyone that needs to see it, can see it.

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