3. Your Organization’s Records: What to Save and How to Organize Print and Digital Files
Records and the Records Lifecycle
What is a record?
Records are materials created or used by your organization that document the daily operations, policies and procedures, major decisions made, and events your organization coordinated or was involved in.
Records can be both paper-based and electronic.
A record is not limited to textual materials. They can also include photographs, audio and video recordings, drawings, memorabilia, and other items created by your organization.
The records lifecycle
Active: Records currently in use for daily operations at your organization that need to be easily accessible.
Inactive: Records not used as frequently but are important to keep for future operations, legal, or administrative reasons.
Disposition: The disposal of records that are no longer needed by your organization and are of little historical value.
Why dispose of records?
Storage limitations (both electronically and physically): Storage costs money, and the more you have, the more you have to manage.
Audiovisual material and electronic records require periodic maintenance over time.
Long-term preservation: These are records that are no longer needed by the organization but are historically significant because they document important people, goals, decisions, policies, and major activities of your organization.
Preserved in-house by your organization OR
Donated to an archives or cultural heritage organization
This is how you make sure important records are kept and easily accessible, and are safely transferred to permanent, archival storage.
Inventory: First things first! It’s important to figure out what records you have, where they are located, and create an inventory.
Records Retention Schedule: A system for documenting the types of records your organization creates and uses and how long they need to be kept.
Guided by your organization’s daily needs for access to this information, legal requirements, and historical value.
Needs to be created into a formal, written policy that is circulated to and followed by all members of your organization who create records.
|Document||Retention Period||Retention Medium|
|Annual Budget||Ten years||Electronic and Paper|
|Correspondence||Five years||Electronic and Paper|
|Articles of Incorporation||Permanent||Paper|
Filing System: A way of consistently naming, arranging, and storing your physical and electronic files.
Ensures consistent recordkeeping, making it easier to know what each box and folder or electronic file contains and how to retrieve them when needed.
Document Management System: A system that maintains an inventory of your organization’s records, how long they will be retained, and where these records are stored.
Can be logged using a simple Excel spreadsheet or using content management software, depending on your needs.
Storing Your Records
Box and Folder supplies:
Environmental Controls: Materials should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark location. Warm, damp conditions can result in mold growth. Sunlight leads to embrittlement and fading of materials.
Humidity: Minimum of 30% and maximum of 50%
Temperature: No higher than 70 degrees
Keep it stable: Temperature and humidity fluctuations are enemies to preservation! Temperature and humidity readers are affordable and can help you monitor your spaces: https://www.amazon.com/AcuRite-00613-Indoor-Humidity-Monitor/dp/B0013BKDO8
Security and Access: Be sure your materials are stored in a secure location or a secure network drive, if electronic. It’s also important to determine who will have access to these storage spaces and how you will provide access to others.
Some potential questions to get us started:
What are your current recordkeeping practices at your organization?
Do you intend on preserving for the long term your organization’s historical records or are you interested in donating these records to an archives or cultural heritage institution?
What concerns or specific questions do you have about your organization's records?
Environmental Controls and Preservation:
See pages 25-29 of Don’t Throw it Away! for more information about different types of archival storage supplies and environmental controls.↩