A Case for Active Management of Public Records

Circulating on listservs for records managers and archivists is this story from the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Mississippi. A curious reporter photographed neglected records on the fourth floor of the Hinds County Courthouse. Water damage, dirt, poor shelving, and general disorganization are visible. This is certainly embarrassing to the Hinds County Courthouse staff. These undoubtedly dedicated employees, whether due to lack of time and/or resources, stopped actively managing some of their public records.

Have we seen public records in this shape during our visits to North Carolina’s local governments? Well, the condition of the Hinds County records is extreme. Still, we have examined records stored in inappropriate locations; records exposed to water, dirt, mold, and vermin; and records fallen into states of disorganization. When records are forgotten, inevitably entropy takes over.

Active Records Management includes:The solution, which we advocate in our local records workshops, is active management of public records by local governments. Active management means daily thought about records management and regular audits of records management processes such as filing, records request fulfillment, and destruction. Active management has positive benefits:

  • Adequate protection of records in any format that are vital, archival, or confidential.
  • Control of records growth that leads to economical and cost-effective storage of active and inactive records.
  • Reduced time searching and faster retrieval for filling records requests.
  • Compliance with the legal requirements of N.C.G.S. 132-8.1, which states “It shall be the duty of the head of each State agency and the governing body of each county, municipality and other subdivision of government to cooperate with the Department of Cultural Resources in conducting surveys and to establish and maintain an active, continuing program for the economical and efficient management of the records of said agency, county, municipality, or other subdivision of government.”

We provide resources to assist local governments with active management of public records. On this blog, we have discussed core components of active management: an approved records retention schedule; a file plan; a records emergency action planregular destruction of records at the end of their retention period; and an electronic records and imaging policy. Training is another important component. If your team needs records management training, invite us for an on-site workshop. We can work together to create a customized workshop on the active records management needs specific to your team.