If you’ve attended one of our workshops on Managing Public Records, you’ve probably heard us extol the benefits of Records Management Day. No, it’s not a national holiday (at least, not yet), and we’d honestly prefer it if it weren’t the same day for every government body across the state. But it really is a good idea to set aside time each year where all of your office goes through its records and evaluates them according to the latest retention schedule. And it’s not just to save space…
- Your office will be more efficient.
Going through your records and disposing of the ones that have reached their retention period will cut back on the storage space you’re using. But it’ll also cut back on time. With fewer records, it’ll be easier for you to find and retrieve records for your work. In addition, if you receive a public records request for a record that you could have destroyed, you still have to fulfill it if you have the record. Large public records requests often include records with short retention periods, and clearing these records out will reduce the time you have to spend filling the requests.
- You’ll be creating a standard business practice.
Consistency is one of the hallmarks of professionalism. If you have a pattern of destroying your records that have reached their retention period on a regular basis, it will become easier to continue in that pattern. It will also show people that these destructions are not arbitrary. This becomes especially important in the the discovery phase of a lawsuit. If discoverable records were destroyed before your office was aware of a potential lawsuit, according to the retention schedule, and on records management day, it will be easier to show that there was no ill intent in their destruction.
- Your IT people will love you.
When we’re cleaning out our offices, we often don’t think of what’s in our mailboxes or on the network. Records Management Day forces people to deal with their electronic records at the same time as their physical ones. Records in the same series should be destroyed at the same time, regardless of their format, so this is already a good thing to do. But consider also the amount of space you have on your network, and the amount of space your records take up. If you haven’t gone through your network in a long time, you’ll be amazed at how much space is taken up by records that can be destroyed. The more space you make available, the less often IT has to buy more storage.
- Even records need an annual checkup.
Do you have off-site storage? What about a records room that’s in the back corner? What about an attic or basement? Records Management Day means going through your records in a very physical way, and there are plenty of physical threats to records that you won’t detect unless you look. High humidity can lead to mold, insects can eat paper, and some of the earliest photocopies can fade to black with just the passage of time. Check for evidence of any threats to your records as you go through them. It’s also a good idea to think about your electronic records. Look at your external storage media and see if it’s still usable in the latest computers. If there are any strange file format extensions on the network, see if you can open them and save them in a standard format. Your goals during Records Management Day may be to destroy as many records as you can, but don’t forget about the records you still have to keep!
- It lets you–and us–reevaluate your recordkeeping needs.
We love getting questions about records retention when someone’s clearing out a storage room. Why? Not just because we love answering questions, or we love the fact that you’re clearing up space. We also might hear about a record that we didn’t know your office created. For local records, this gives us important feedback as we create periodic updates to county and municipal schedules. For state records, this can be the first step to updating your office’s program records schedule. Once you’ve held a few Records Management Days, you can start to use them to figure out how your recordkeeping needs are changing. This in turn will allow you to better project storage needs, and can even change records retention periods.
Records Management Days can be tough to implement if you’ve never done it before. Some places will even hold a Records Management Week. But the more years you do it, the easier it gets.