A Tip for the Management of Electronic Files

Copies are the bane of good file management. Paper copies clutter file cabinets. Shared network drives are overpopulated with unnecessary duplicate files — sometimes called “ROT” files, for “redundant, outdated, and trivial.” Sifting through copies, records managers struggle to identify the “official copies” of records that require proper retention and disposition.1

If you have attended one of our Files & Filing workshops, you have heard us say in response, “Break the extra copy habit.” With paper files, print and copy the minimum number of copies needed, and, before filing a document, check that a copy of that document is not already filed in the file drawer.

With electronic files, by simply saving your document correctly the first time, you can reduce the number of unnecessary copies on a shared network drive.

Too often, when an electronic file is first saved, it is given a rudimentary name (“2015budget_Davesdraft”); saved in a quick and dirty location (the desktop PC’s “My Documents” folder or the root directory of the shared network drive), and saved in the incorrect format (a word processing file saved in “rich text format” or .rtf). Later, the file is copied and saved in the correct folder on the shared network drive. Still later, the file is “saved as” a new file name in conformance with office standards. Finally, it is “saved as” again in the proper format. Suddenly, 4 copies of this file exist. Which is the official record requiring proper retention and disposition? Which files are copies that can be deleted? It may require hours of research to decide.

To break the extra copy habit with electronic files, save your document correctly the first time:

  • Save to the correct location. First, save to the correct drive. For example, reference copies of electronic files should be saved to a directory for temporary files on the desktop PC, not to a folder on the shared network drive. Second, save to the correct folder. The shared network drive should have a hierarchical folder structure that reflects your office’s subject and case filing systems. Each folder should have a clear, concise name that accurately reflects the contents of the folder. The name should be interpretable by everyone today, and by future users. The test: can you tell what electronic files are within a folder by its name and without opening the folder?
  • Save with the correct name. A similar test applies to file names: do you know what a file is by its name without opening the file? A good file name should be clear to everyone and should distinguish the file from files with similar subjects and different versions of the same file. The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ Best Practices for File-Naming lists 7 rules:

By saving your document correctly the first time, you can reduce unneeded duplicate files on shared network drives and make it easier to find the electronic files that you need when you need them. Pass this practice on to new users, too, during orientation. Lack of knowledge of proper procedures is the main cause of shared drive issues. As part of orientation, train new users on the correct saving of electronic files either in-person or via online training.

1According to N.C.G.S. §121 and §132, every document, paper, letter, map, book, photograph, film, sound recording, magnetic or other tape, electronic data processing record, artifact, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristic, made or received in connection with the transaction of public business by any government agency is considered a public record and may not be destroyed without specific guidance from the State Archives. That said, unless otherwise stated in a relevant records retention and disposition schedule, only one official copy of a record needs to be kept for the full retention period. All other copies are called “reference copies.” The State Archives recognizes that many records, such as reference copies, exist that may have very short-term value to the creating agency. These records may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of when their reference value ends. However, when in doubt about whether a record has short-term value, or whether it has special significance or importance, retain the record in question.
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