It seems counter-intuitive for an archivist to say, “I love destroying records.” After all, aren’t all archivists trying to save every single scrap of paper just in case someone sometime might possibly have a hypothetical use for it?
In a word, no.
The staff of the Records Center brought in just under 13,000 boxes last year. We only have room for about 217,000. Even if only 5-8% of our annual intake is archival (and going to be kept permanently), it should be easy to see that the math is not in our favor. At some point, something has to go.
As records managers and archivists, our job here at Government Records begins and ends with analysis and appraisal. During the process of writing a records retention and disposition schedule, each group of records (aka “series“) is evaluated for its value over time. (See Carie Chesarino’s upcoming post on records values.) Not all records will have a high value for very long. Destroying those records will help concentrate everyone’s efforts on records with greater value to the creating agency, to the general public, or to posterity.
We compare the records of departments with each other, with established patterns of use by the office and by researchers, even with the way that other states have appraised similar records. Eventually, we are able to reach an agreement about how long the records are useful. That agreement is codified in the records schedule.
When records arrive at the State Records Center, we read the disposition instructions, and apply a disposition date to the transfer. If the records are still at the SRC when the schedule is updated, we may need to adjust the disposition date.
Finally, the time arrives. For those records that will be destroyed, I create a form called the Notice of Destruction of Records (or “23X”). This form describes the records that are eligible for destruction, based solely on the disposition date. That form is then delivered to the creating agency for their review. The agency either signs that they agree with the destruction, or will explain why it cannot agree.
Once we receive consent to destroy records, we will pull the materials from the shelf and place the boxes on pallets. Those pallets are then loaded onto a trailer. Our destruction vendor then removes the trailer to their facility, where the paper is shredded, and the shreds are then sold to a manufacturer as raw materials.
So, in another way of thinking, destruction is just one point on the circle of recycling.
This is one archivist who loves destruction.