Digital Records Management 101: Remote Edition

We had planned to host a Digital Records Management 101 training session this month, but we had to cancel the training due to COVID-19. However, we still wanted to provide the university community with some tips for managing digital records. If you are working from home, this might be a good time to work independently to organize your work records or remotely collaborate with colleagues in your department to tackle organization of a shared drive.

This post provides suggestions for reviewing and organizing digital records based on the requirements found in the UNC at Chapel Hill General Records Retention Schedule (Retention Schedule). University Archives staff are working from home and we are available to answer records management questions. You can reach us at archives@unc.edu.

What is Records Management and what is the Records Retention Schedule?

Essentially, records management provides a systematic way to manage records. The Retention Schedule outlines the rules for how different types of records should be managed at our institution. For example, the Schedule (available as a PDF here), provides retention rules for a variety of Personnel Records. So, if you are wondering how long to keep SHRA personnel records, you can find that information on page 128 of the Schedule.
Many of the most common questions about records management are answered on this guide.

How can I used the Retention Schedule to determine what digital records can be deleted and what we need to keep?

The following prompts can help you determine how to manage a record.

  1. What type of record is it?
    • Based on the information communicated in the record, what type of record is it? Personnel? A policy? Curriculum? Student information? Financial?
  2. Who created the record? Who is responsible for it?
    • An important concept in records management is the Office of Record and Reference Copy. You may have copies of digital records that weren’t created by your department and so aren’t your responsibility. This can get tricky when it comes to cross-departmental collaboration. If you are uncertain, feel free to send us an email.
  3. What is the retention and disposition?
    • Check the Retention Schedule for the retention and disposition rules based on your assessments in question one and two above.
  4. Does it go to the Archives?
    • Some records are scheduled to be transferred to the University Archives. If you have records that need to be archived, please contact us.

I would like a way to better organize and manage digital records. What advice is there for individuals or departments on managing shared storage like shared drives or SharePoint sites?

  • One of the best things you can do to keep records organized is to discard files as soon as the retention period allows.
  • Creating a plan for how to organize active records and instructions for when to review records for retention can go a long way!
    • The plan should accounts for the variety of record types and storage locations that you use. Once you’ve outlined a plan — implement and use your plan consistently.
  • If you are developing a plan for a team or department, ensure that members of the team are involved in planning and communicate the plan clearly to everyone who will manage records.

What are some records organization plan components that I should consider?

  • One of the most important parts of a records management plan is to determine who (be specific!) will review records and how often that review should occur. This role might fall to one person or to a small team. In our experience, offices who designated a records management point person or small team have the most success at keeping things organized. We suggest that records are reviewed for retention yearly, but you can review more frequently.
  • List all the digital storage options available and create guidance on how to use that storage and what records should be stored there.
  • Create short, descriptive notes in digital folders.
    • Use a text file (.txt) in a program like Notepad (PC) or Text Edit (Mac) to describe a folder of digital files. Remind your future self or future staff what the contents of the folder are. Title the file README.txt
  • Use file and folder names wisely & go for consistency
    • Create a standard date formatting in file and folder names to make finding things easier: YYYY-MM-DD_AnnualReport.pdf
    • Think of other people – what would help them understand what this file is or what this folder contains?
  • Use folders strategically, but don’t go overboard with too many nested folders. That can end up making it harder to navigate to files later.
  • Centralize storage (digital or analog) for final copies of records. Avoid relying on individual staff computers/OneDrives for storing important departmental records.
  • Create a process to ensure any staff who leave employment in your department add important documents to shared storage, so that records are not left behind in personal OneDrive accounts or other cloud storage accounts (e.g. Google Drive).
  • Ensure digital files are secure and backed-up as needed. Discuss this with ITS as needed.

Do I really need to look at every file? There is so much content and much of it was added to our shared drive by other people or before I worked in the department.

Records management assessment relies on understanding the information contained in a file, so in many cases it is necessary to look at files individually. But there are some higher level strategies that might help to make the task easier.

  • Try to use folder title and filename cues. If you trust a folder name like “Annual Reports 2012-2016” then you probably don’t need to open every single file in that folder to determine the contents.
  • Instead of trying to organize everything in one project, you might start by tackling one year’s worth of records at a time. Maybe start with the newest or oldest year. Similarly, you could focus on one specific record type at a time. For example, maybe the first project is to find and organize all annual reports and strategic planning documents.

How can I manage my email more effectively?

As of April 2019, we implemented a new policy on email retention (see Appendix A of the Retention Schedule document). Under this policy, email records created and received by employees in selected administrative positions will automatically be retained as permanent records in the University Archives. All other email accounts will be retained for a period of five years after the employee leaves the University and then discarded. All employees still have a responsibility to evaluate emails, like other record formats, based on the Retention Schedule.

To manage email more effectively, we suggest:

  • Delete “transitory” or reference copy emails as soon as possible. This refers to things like messages about meeting room changes, calendar invitations, messages about breakroom food or staff parties, or messages sent to the entire campus.
  • Use folders to organize emails that are related to your department and your substantial work projects.
  • We suggest that records are reviewed for retention yearly, but you can review more frequently.

How do I access work records from home?

If you are working with records in OneDrive, Outlook, Sharepoint, or a work computer you brought home with you, you can log in to those sites or devices as you normally would when on campus. If you want to work with files that are on a shared drive or access a work computer that is still on campus, you can likely do this from your home with a few extra steps. Follow the guidance below to set up access at home:

  • If you were able to bring home a work computer:
    • Install and log in to the VPN following this guidance from ITS.
    • Once logged in with the VPN, you can access shared drives as you normally would.
      You do not need to be logged in with the VPN to access Outlook, SharePoint, or OneDrive.
  • If you were unable to bring a work computer home:
    • You may be able to access your work computer desktop (and all your files) from home using VPN and the Remote Desktop application.
    • See this guide for more information on connecting to Remote Desktop.
      • Note: Step 1 of this guide won’t be possible remotely. If you don’t know your office computer IP address, contact the ITS Help Desk or your departmental IT to get IP address information for your work computer.
  • If you run into any issues with VPN or remote desktop, contact ITS Help Desk or your departmental IT staff for further assistance.

How should I collaborate remotely on reviewing digital records from my department?

This will depend on your team and the type of records you have, but you could consider:

  • A series of virtual meetings to discuss the current state of your department’s digital storage options and goals for reviewing and organizing that storage.
  • A discussion of records management and the Records Management guide as it applies to records in your office.
  • Create a plan for assessing older digital records. Discuss the plan over virtual meetings and divvy up tasks based on who can access files from home.
  • Create a plan for organizing new digital records going forward and determine the best way to get buy-in from your department.

Records Retention Schedule Updated

The UNC-Chapel Hill Records Retention and Disposition Schedule underwent a routine revision process in 2018 and the newly updated Schedule is now available (effective April 8, 2019).  The new Schedule document is available on our Records Management Guide. If you have any questions, please contact us. Below we’ve outlined some of the major changes you’ll see in this newest edition of the Schedule.

Appendix policy on managing email

This policy reflects a new approach to selecting and retaining email at the University. It was developed in consultation with the State Archives, University Counsel’s office, and UNC Information and Technology Services.

This approach is based on the Capstone Approach developed by the National Archives and Records Administration. It enables us to collect email of permanent historical value based on an employee’s position and function rather than the content of individual email messages. Under this approach, email records created and received by employees in selected administrative positions will automatically be retained as permanent records in the University Archives. All other email accounts will be retained for a period of five years after the employee leaves the University and then discarded. All employees still have a responsibility to evaluate emails, like other record formats, based on the Records Retention Schedule and individuals not in “Capstone positions” can still work with us to transfer permanent records if needed.  

Document structure changes

Due to some changes to terminology and series headings the Schedule was re-alphabetized and reordered. You may find that a series you were used to using has changed location in the document. This does not necessarily mean the content of the series has changed.

New navigation has been introduced to the PDF document. The table of contents are now links and can lead directly to the desired section. Every page includes a “back to top” link at the bottom of the page that leads back to the table of contents. We hope this helps to make the document easier to use.

Significant content changes

1.24: Insurance Records

Changed retention from permanent to destroy in office after 6 years. Changes will bring this schedule in line with the statewide college and university schedule and the State Archives.

11.13: Disciplinary Records

Longer retention period as proposed by University Counsel’s office.

11.34: Immigration Filings

Revision as proposed by UNC Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

11.46: Search Records

Removing requirement to retain records of administrative searches permanently after consultation with State Archives.

Required retention period for applications from unsuccessful student candidates (11.46b) changed from 1 year to 2 years to match statewide requirements.

12: Public Safety Records

Several changes made in this section in order to ensure compliance with Clery Act record-keeping requirements.

13: Sponsored Projects and Research Records

There are many changes in this section, all suggested by the UNC-CH Vice Chancellor for Research and University Counsel. Specific changes include:

    • 13.2: Animal Research Records: Retention period reduced from 7 years to 3 years to match NIH and other federal guidelines.
    • 13.11 and 13.12: Research Misconduct Reviews and Scientific Review Committee Records: New sections.

14.17: International Student Records

Changes as proposed by UNC Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

18.1: Disciplinary Records

Changes as proposed by UNC Equal Opportunity/Compliance office.

New Edition of the Records Schedule Released

sched_coverWe’re excited to announce the release of a new, improved edition of the University’s General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. The Schedule is a guide to the records produced by UNC Chapel Hill and UNC General Administration and their disposition – whether and when records should be discarded or transferred to University Archives.

The new edition, which can be found on our website, supersedes the previous schedule released in 2012.  so I encourage you all to review the sections of the new schedule that are most relevant to your records and update any of your unit’s internal documentation and policies that refer to the old schedule.

Many thanks to everyone on campus, at the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and at UNC General Administration who provided vital feedback and support during the revision process.

Please direct any questions you have about the new schedule and other records management inquiries to recman@unc.edu.

Lawrence Giffin Appointed Electronic Records Archivist

giffin_lawrence_11_001We are excited to announce that Lawrence Giffin has returned to University Archives and Records Management Services as our new Electronic Records Archivist! His first day was April 1, 2015.

In this position, Lawrence will work to ensure that the University’s electronic records are properly managed and preserved, and will assist other units in Wilson Library with the management and preservation of the born-digital materials in their collections.

Lawrence earned a Masters in Library Science from Queens College, where he specialized in archives, records management, and preservation. He has worked as a processing archivist both at NYU’s Fales Library and at Duke’s Rubenstein Library. From 2011 to 2014 he served as Records Services Archivist here in UARMS, and he most recently served as Electronic Records Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina.

Lawrence can be reached by email at lgiffin@email.unc.edu and by phone at (919) 962-6402.

Welcome back, Lawrence!

New resource for archiving email

From the News Services Multimedia Library
From the News Services Multimedia Library

University Archives has added a new resource to our Records Management Guidelines page, specifically to help you archive your email. Whether you are preparing to transfer your office’s email correspondence to University Archives or just want to back up your personal messages for posterity, our new guide to exporting email will help you along the way.

For more information on managing and archiving email, see the “Email Retention” section of our Guidelines page or contact us at recman@unc.edu.

 

Farewell to Records Services Archivist, Lawrence Giffin

Today are hearts are heavy as we bid adieu to Records Services Archivist extraordinaire, the one-and-only, Lawrence Giffin.

Lawrence joined UARMS staff in 2011 and for the past two and a half years has led the records management services program at UNC. He has offered countless consultations and trainings to staff across campus, prepared updates for our general records retention and disposition schedule, and managed the records transfer process– not to mention all of the countless other projects in UARMS and the Wilson Special Collections Library that he has contributed to.

Thank you, Lawrence for all of your hard work here at UARMS. You’ll be a tough act to follow, and we’re really going to miss you.

Please continue to send records transfer forms, administrative reference requests, and general records management inquiries and questions to our UARMS email address– recman@unc.edu

You can also call us at (919) 962-6402 for immediate assistance.

We’re all sad to see Lawrence go but wish him all the best in his future endeavors!

gowf-lawrence

NARA’s Capstone Email Initiative: A Virtual Discussion

Last week, Electronic Records Archivist Meg Tuomala participated in a virtual discussion about the National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Capstone Email Initiative, which gives guidance on a new way for federal agencies to manage email records. The discussion was led by Arian Ravanbakhsh and Beth Cron, both records management policy analysts in the Office of the Chief Records Officer at NARA.

The discussion was hosted by the Society of American ArchivistsRecords Management Roundtable, and a video recording is available here. Arian and Beth give a great overview of the Initiative and weigh-in on several questions and considerations surrounding it for not just federal agencies, but state governments, universities, and private organizations too.

If you’re at all interested in the records management side of UARMS’ work, we hope that you can take some time to view the recording.

UARMS is very interested in applying the Capstone method of capturing and archiving email of enduring value generated at UNC. As discussed in the recording and addressed in the Initiative, it’s not a perfect solution, but it could be a practical and real way for us to make strides towards preserving email– a format that has become integral to our work over the past 20 years and thus serves to document the history of the University in the 21st century.

Email and Records Management Training This Wednesday

Are your filing cabinets bursting with old records? Is your email inbox overflowing with emails? Would you like to become better and more efficient at managing your records and emails? Email and Records Management is a basic overview of the records management policies that govern the retention of email as well as electronic and paper records at UNC.
The course will cover the legal ramifications of records management; demonstrate how to use the Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, and present efficient methods for managing paper and electronic records, including emails.

Wednesday, November 69:00am to 10:30am
AOB, 104 Airport Dr., room 1501-C

Sign up by emailing recman@email.unc.edu.

Web archiving fulfills RM needs, too

A few weeks ago, we posted about UARMS’ web archiving program and the work we’re doing to collect and preserve University websites. As archivists, we see websites as important documents that are a fundamental part of today’s culture. Many websites have enduring historical value, and we believe future researchers will be interested in accessing web archives for their unique and rich content.

Another important purpose that our web archives fulfill is much more immediate and relevant to University employees as they do their day-to-day work, especially records management liaisons and web content managers: records management and content recovery. As records managers, we see websites as documents that are being actively created and used in the course of the work done at the University. Many websites are a business record, and as such, previous versions sometimes need to be easily accessed and retrieved for reference.

Untitled drawing

For example, just a few weeks ago we received an inquiry from a department on campus asking if we could retrieve content that “vanished” from their website after migrating to a new content management system.

Luckily, the web documents that went missing had been archived and preserved in our web archives. They were able to use these to patch-up what the migration wasn’t able to transfer, and update their new site.

In today’s technology landscape, everything is changing all the time. Providing a repository where websites are preserved for the long-term, we are not only creating a body of documentation that will be useful to future scholars; we hope that we are also helping UNC employees feel more confident as they change, update, and yes even delete, their office’s web pages and content.

If you manage your office’s website please let us know. We’d love to add it to our archive, and thus help you better manage and preserve the rich content it contains.

Also, if you are looking for documents–analog or digital–that you think may have been transferred to the Archives let us know, we’re happy to help you search.

Cleaning House

Recently UNC Libraries launched a new, redesigned website. As any archivist should, we took this opportunity to look at some of the older, somewhat outdated content of the previous website and flag materials for archiving.

Amongst other items, we decided to save a bunch of photographs, some of which were taken by a library employee during the renovation of the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library (the UL).

Here you can see the evolution of a favorite UL study spot, the new books reading room.

interior8
Before the renovations…
011002_00
…during the renovations…
Feb14-02DSCN0013
…construction continues…
DSCN0039
…almost done…
...The grand re-opening...
…the grand re-opening…
6newbooksreadingroom
…after the renovations!

 

Before you purge your computers’ files, throw away old paper documents, or redesign your own or your organization’s blog or website, take some extra time to look through everything and think about what materials might be historically valuable. Chances are you’ll find something you didn’t know you had, something you want to remember, something worth saving.

And if you find something that you think should come to the Archives please let us know!

 

Special thanks to Kim Vassiliadis, head of User Experience, who alerted us to these cool photographs before they were deleted from our web servers. 

Construction photos taken by Fred Stipe, head of the Library’s Digital Production Center during the UL renovations (1999-2001).