record management myths

Records managerii americani au avut un subiect interesant de discutie, legat de miturile din profesia lor. Am facut o sinteza, cu cele mai interesante. Cel mai suprinzator e cate chestii comune avem😀

Records….

“Isn’t archives and records the same thing?”

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These are MY records

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I don’t have any records

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We reduced the retention period from 20 years to 1 because we didn’t have room for all the paper records; now that we’ve got room (or because we scanned them), we need to keep 20 years worth again …

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ALL of my records are copies!”

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All records must be kept for 7 years [n.m., BFP: la noi ar fi 10 ani, obsesia actelor justifiative; cei 7 ani au o justificare în traditia legislativa de drept comun/consuetudinar britanic.]

One day, during discussion, I asked where does it come from. People were confused, because nobody could tell, and were confused more when I mentioned that it comes from Bible.

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We did not destroy or discard any records last year.  We sent EVERYTHING to you, for storage.

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Rec. Mgr: Hi, I’m here to do the scheduled records inventory for your divison and wanted to visit with you before I begin.

Division leader: Oh, you don’t need to conduct one of those here because here in the Marketing Division, we don’t have records. All we have are convenience copies.

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They’re not records, it’s just my work.

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The records manager is going to make me destroy everything!

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The records manager is going to tell me to keep everything!

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A Public Record (as defined by the state public records act) has to be kept forever so anyone can look at it!

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“Legal” says we have to keep these records for xx years.

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Human Resouces people believe in the 3 year retention of records.

Except for those HR people who believe that all HR records should be retained forever!

Because I am not going to/need to send these records to the Records Center, I don’t have to/need to follow the retention schedule.

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While I work here these records are permanent, but after I retire you can do whatever you want with them.

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Employee: Well, here are all the records we have!

Records Manager: but at the third floor I have seen more records!

Employee: at the third floor …? But they are only invoices!

(This conversation took place at the fourth floor)

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“We don’t have any records because we don’t create any.” (This is particularly common in IT units).

“It isn’t a record because it gets destroyed.  We don’t keep this permanently.

e-records

SharePoint doesn’t contain records

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I only need to keep email (not calendars or tasks) I use backup tapes for my records repository

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An electronic record is GONE when someone hits the delete button

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This isn’t a record…I printed off the electronic copy for MY files

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Just scan it, that will fix the problem…

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It’s an electronic record, just keep it.  Server space is cheap…

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Electronic records last forever.

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The electronic records are less valuable than paper records.

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e-records don’t need retention periods assigned….they can be kept forever.

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content management = records management

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All email is a record

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Email is not a record

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[X] is not a record – e.g. IM, website, etc.

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(Some/most/all/My) records have to be kept forever (or “just in case”)

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Electronic files can’t be records

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The best way to “archive” (for preservation) is to burn a CD

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Scanning paper = a paperless system.

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Electronic files can’t be records

Employee:  How long do I need to keep my email?

Records Manager:  (holding up a paper so the employee can’t see the content)  How long do we have to keep this paper?

Employee:  Well it depends what’s on the paper!

Records Manager:  Exactly!

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Records management is a subset of content management, just like COLD, workflow, character recognition, forms processing, barcodes, distributed capture, federated repositories…” etc. etc. etc.

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Because these records are in electronic form, I don’t have to/need to follow the retention schedule.

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IT are de facto records managers for electronic records:

“But IT said I didn’t need to keep the records.” This one pops up when staff receive the IT notice that server storage reaches maximum and IT states that the office needs to get rid of records to open up more storage space.

Scanned records are just as legal and valid as the paper originals:

“We’ve scanned so now we can destroy the originals.”  I get this one when dealing with official records that are required by law to be kept in a paper format (signatures, academic degrees, etc.)

“PERMANENT” records

Here’s my contribution: PERMANENT Records…

In Oregon, “permanent” means 100+ years. I think this is a good approach, as it implies a potential reappraisal in the future. In fact, given the number of records I have seen reduce from permanent to less than 10 years over the past 3 decades, I think the most accurate statement is “permanent – until re-appraised”. Its also notable that records often become artifacts because of age, regardless of their content.

Sometimes “permanent” means respect for a sacrifice, a fallen comrade, a person of considerable bravery. Tread lightly when dealing with first responders, or those whose jobs require that they put their lives on the line. Perhaps there is a better way to preserve their sacrifice for posterity than, for example, keeping all time sheets permanently.

One way to control the rate of “permanent” retentions is to tie a cost to them. Retaining records permanently requires an investment in systems/media/environments that can ensure long term preservation. If one is not willing to make the investment, one is not serious about the permanent retention. Pointing this out can often lead to negotiations on more realistic operational needs.

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All is impermanence.

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For the longest time, I tried to define Permanent – perhaps, the end of civilization or the destruction of the planet.  Many years ago I came across a research finding in the Wall Street Journal that indicated that the life of the planet earth was 400 million years.  I was ecstatic because I could now change Permanent to 400 million years.🙂

…my experience with senior management in working on retention policies was to have to deal with their initial response of: Make it Permanent – get out of my office.  From this I came up with the meaning of Permanent – we don’t know what we are doing and we don’t care.

At Rockwell International, we were able to remove Permanent from the retention schedule.  The longest retention period you can have is Life of Legal Entity.

As has been pointed out, there are costs involved in keeping records for long periods of time, including Life of Legal Entity.  If you understand the preservation issues with electronic records, you appreciate that these costs will only increase.  In regards to the use of Permanent, I have never seen organizations setting aside funds, or increasing the mill rate for tax payers, for a perpetual retention program after the organization no longer exists.

I would like to see Permanent, as a retention period, removed from our vocabulary.

The reason I ended up… was to cover records with retention that exceeds “Life of the Organization”. These are records associated with possible CERCLA/Superfund/hazardous waste issues and successor organization liability. … If your organization doesn’t have these types of records, discussions about permanent retention has a much different tone than it does for organizations with these records.

Its important in retention schedules to make them as simple as possible, as in many environments they are not going to be implemented by rocket scientists (admittedly, Rockwell International may be an exception to that rule!). “Permanent” is clear cut – keep it and preserve it a long time. “Life of entity” is not as clear cut – I could see elected officials interpreting this as “time in office”, for example. I could also see a temporary worker somewhere asking the question “what’s an entity?” Trust me, the concept of department, office, bureau, etc…

flummoxes some enough. That’s why we get so many calls from some of our customers – 5000+ of them spread over multiple locations – who can only tell us that they “work for the county” when we ask them where they are located.

Perhaps it would be clearer if we said “Retain until end of civilization as we know it”.

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«One other point that has been raised – “vital” does not equal permanent.  Very, very, very few “vital” records have permanent value.  Records such as contracts or payroll or accounts receivable, necessary for business continuity following a disastrous event, have finite retention periods.  Yes, permanent records like deeds and charters are essential to continuity. However, many records necessary for expedited business recovery and continuity are of shorter retention values – less than 10 years.  Vital records protection is one area where the business and operational needs require consideration».

keep in mind all permanent records are vital records.

Vital records are those that are necessary for business continuity in the event of a disaster.  These would include records such as accounts receivable/payable, payroll, insurance and many HR records.  Many permanent (and I use the word permanent loosely) records carry historical value.  If lost in a disaster, the business could continue to function but certain historical artifacts or data would be lost.

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I believe that Writing has been preserved through conversion and migration for more than 4,000 years…

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Nothing is forever and what we do manage to retain are just pieces of a whole. We’ll never know what it was like to live in Florence or Siena or Ravenna…

When the World Trade Towers crashed down, millions of dollars of art went with it, including a massive Picasso tapestry that was in the lobby… How would the world of research and history be different. I concluded that while it would be devastating, in the long term (100+ years), the loss of that knowledge from civilization would be marginal at best.

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“Permanent” retention seems to be a tried and true method to avoid records management entirely especially when it comes to electronic records.

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However, people have always wanted to keep their “important” records of business, life, and history so where are those records? Why aren’t all of us in possession of our own collection of records/information artifacts instead of them being locked in exhibit cases in archives, libraries, and museums? With all of the history of the past 5000 years, why isn’t there more than enough to go around? Surely not all of it was day to day mundane material.

I often wonder how big The Great Library of Alexandria’s collection had become and the records of history and literature it contained that we will never know. The saga of the lost digital images of the first moon landing are a testament and warning about lack of practical consideration about “permanent” retention in our own time. If a civilization can’t preserve the records of such a monumental event, what are the odds of preserving anything else for 300 years let alone “permanently”?

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” I just could not think a record that an organization would retain for 300 years then destroy because it was no longer useful/needed – I just could not think of anything that we would keep this long and it not have any historic value that would not merit it’s continued retention as an “artifact” or historic record – even though the business or legal need had ended.”

To X’s response below of destroying records after 300 years that had fulfilled their business and legal needs and don’t possess an historical value, I can think of one instance where this is true: Certain records maintained at nuclear power plants have centuries long retention periods

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The US Constitution is still an active legal document. While the Supreme Court, Congress and everyone else utilize reference copies, the original is nonetheless a vital document as it’s the primary source. The same is true for the articles of incorporation and charters establishing schools like Harvard, Yale, UCLA and all the rest as well as businesses, regardless of how old they are, or aren’t.

An attorney at work recently relayed a story to me from a few years ago:

he had to get a copy of MetLife’s title of ownership for its original location downtown on Broadway from 1888. He asked the city employee for a copy of the original record. The clerk replied that there’s no such record from 1968. The attorney reiterated his request emphasizing the “18” at which the clerk seemed doubtful that such an old record would exist and be of value. To which the attorney replied, MetLife is over 140 years old and still owns the land where it was first established and without a record of its ownership, or for that matter ownership of any city properties, NYC would be in complete disarray.( I’m guessing that it was the clerk’s first week on the job, or so I hope.)  Like the charters, these records, whatever their age, still possess a legal value, but may also possess an historical and/or artifactual value. It’s not one or the other all the time, they can have multiple and overlapping values.

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Few years ago, after Titanic was discovered, some people said that it gone because “nails” was not strong enough – the company, which supplied metal for “nails” invited all these people to look on original chemical and other production reports related to the metal and “nails” that used for Titanic

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This issue has come up in Kansas City, MO. A site was found to be contaminated with all sorts of horrible things in downtown Kansas City. Who was responsible? The current owners? No, the site was used as a early coal fired power around 1900 and now time has come to clean up the mess. Who can be held responsible? To my knowledge the current owners never had any business actives that had anything to do with the contamination. A century later and this issue is only now starting to be addressed.

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Dwight said:  “In Oregon, “permanent” means 100+ years. I think this is a good approach, as it implies a potential reappraisal in the future.”

Dwight makes an excellent point, and something I’ve tried to do whenever I’ve had to give into a longer than anticipated retention period for “just in case” or other somewhat sketchy arguments – to build in a deliberate review schedule.

Some lengthy retention periods are based on measurable need – take the EPA for example.  Waaaayyyy back in the olden days when I worked in Superfund, most of the records I dealt with had a 25 or 30 year retention period.  That period of time was based on many things, but a large portion was the length of time they needed to prove successful remediation of contaminated sites. There is science behind that retention period.

On the other hand, I see plenty of lengthy retention periods being constructed not to address known issues/facts, but rather to address future *possible* need.  I don’t have a crystal ball (if you do, can I borrow it sometime?!), but concede that some records may well have a long useful life.  So why not adopt a regular review schedule that will take into account the following things:

1. Has it been used?  If so, by who and for what?

2. Does it still have value?

3. Does that value outweigh the direct costs of maintaining it for another 5/10/20 years?

4. If the value has changed (from say Operational to Historical), does it make sense to re-classify it under a different series?

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If there’s no event in the future to which a trigger can be applied, these are essentially retained indefinitely.

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Some time ago (2001), the National Archives of Australia removed references to “Retain Permanently” in their disposal authorisations and introduced the concept of a disposal action of “Retain as National archives

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