6 Elements of an Effective Records Management Program

  As depicted in the image there are six (6) foundational elements:

  • Records Inventory & Classification
  • Retention scheduling
  • Records Storage & Conversion
  • Vital Records Program
  • Disaster Prevention & Recovery Planning
  • Disposition

to an effective records management program that are enveloped in an articulated set of Policies and Procedures that are reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

6 Elements of an Effective Records Management Program

Records Inventory & Classification: The start of any good records management program, whether one is going to develop their own records retention schedule or as the case here at OSU where one is applying existing retention schedules, one has to know what records they have and are responsible for. To this end one conducts a records inventory, that is a complete and accurate listing of their recordswhether paper-based, microform, or electronic, that indicates…

  • how and where they are physically stored
  • volume of storage
  • how they are classified for
    • future use and retrieval
    • sensitivity of information and access
  • what its retention period is, if known OR its legal, fiscal, and/or administrative value, to determine retention

Retention Scheduling: All records have a lifecycle. That life may be as short as a few hours as is the case with some transient records or may be as long as forever as is the case with records of enduring historical value. The record's lifecycle is determined through analysis of:

  • 3 primary needs:
    • legal
    • fiscal
    • administrative
  • 3 secondary needs:
    • evidential
    • historical
    • informational

A records retention schedule is a comprehensive listing of the records an organization maintains that notes at a minimum how long they must be retained along with their ultimate disposition. In addition a retention schedule may indicate:

  • a legal or regulatory citation that mandates a specific retention
  • how long the records should be maintained in active on-site files
  • how long it may need to be retained in off-site inactive storage
  • whether it is a vital record

Records retention schedules at OSU are developed in consultation with the University Archives. A listing of common OSU record types can be located via our Records Retention Schedules web pages...

Records Storage & Conversion: Once one has determined what records they have and how long they need to be retained, they need to develop a filing and storage strategy and/or determine if their existing filing and storage strategy is adequate. Questions one needs to address include:

  • How do you classify your records for ease of retrieval?
  • What are the access procedures for sensitive records?
  • Where and how do you store your active records?
  • Where and how do you store your inactive records?
  • Do you have a "records hold" procedure in event of litigation?
  • What are your procedures for transferring records of enduring historical value to the archives?
  • How are you storing your electronic records?
  • Have you identified your Vital Records?
  • What are the environmental condition of your storage facilities?

At some point in a records life it may be converted to a digital image, to microfilm, or both to enhance access, reduce physical storage, or to provide disaster recovery and preservation tools.

  • Digital Imaging of Paper Records Pros:
    • enhances access
    • enhances efficiencies of the business process and workflow
    • reduces the amount of physical space one needs to store records
    • easier to replicate for disaster recovery purposes
  • Digital Imaging of Paper Records Cons:
    • access to documents is technology dependent
    • may not be cost effective for low-reference records
    • potential for format and/or system incompatibility
    • potential for migration disasters
  • Microfilming of Paper and Electronic Records Pros: Microfilm has entered the digital age and can now be created directly from electronic files, as well as from from the photographing of paper records. If silver halide microfilm is created and stored in accordance with industry standards, one can expect it to last from 300 to 500 years; as such it is the hands down winner in regard to preservation of information in an eye-readable format and provides a useful migration and disaster recovery tool.
  • Microfilming of Paper and Electronic Records Cons:
    • Microfilm is technology dependent, but not to the extent of electronic records(one could argue that all that is needed is a light source and something to magnify the image).
    • It may be more cost effective to just store the paper records that have short or intermediate retention periods.
    • Loss of dynamic function in electronic files such as spreadsheets or databases.

Vital Records: Vital records are those essential organizational records needed to meet operational responsibilities under emergency or disaster conditions. An organizations needs to ask themselves:“What records are absolutely crucial to our business operation that will need to be recreated from backup copies if the originals are lost or inaccessible in a disaster?” Typically these are shorter term records that have legal and fiscal implications and amount to approximately 1% to 7% of an organization’s records. Vital records should be identified as in integral part of a disaster prevention and recovery plan for business continuity.

Disaster Prevention & Recovery: A disaster prevention and recovery plan (DPRP) is a written, approved, and implemented plan for the prevention or mitigation of records loss in an emergency or disaster, as well as a plan for recovering records in such circumstances. A DPRP should include a listing of vital records and should part of an organization's larger business continuity planning process. A DPRP should include at a minimum the following components:

  • a chain of command with contact information
  • a decision tree for appropriate actions
  • a listing of emergency management officials with contact information
  • a listing of records reclamation vendors
  • a listing of vendors (supplies, computer equipment, records storage, etc.)
  • a list of supplies needed to help mitigate loss, including but not limited to:
    • mops & buckets
    • absorbent supplies
    • fans
    • spare hardware and application software
    • fire extinguishers
  • identification of an alternative operational site that is either a:
    • hot site - one which has all necessary computing equipment and software in place, where one can bring their back-up, load it, and put themselves "back in business"
    • cold site - one which is essentially just a facility where one not only has to bring in their back-up, but also all the computing equipment, software, furniture, fixtures, etc.
  • Backup policy & procedures for electronic files, with backup preferably stored offsite at least 5 miles form an operating system.
  • System restoration procedures
  • General "what to do" procedures for a variety of scenarios including but not limited to fire damage, water damage, loss of access to facility, and total loss of facility.

Remember that the biggest threat to records is water weather from flood, leaky pipe, or even the water putting out a fire. Further, a DPRP should be reviewed and tested on a regular basis to make certain it is an appropriate plan.

Disposition: Disposition is the final administrative action taken by an organization with regard to a records; these actions typically fall into two categories:

  • destruction via disposal in trash or recycling, shredding, macerating, incinerating, pulping, and deleting or other electronic obliteration;
  • Transfer to an archives for permanent preservation

When one regularly deals with the disposition of their records, they "lighten the load" of what they need to retain and manage.


Policies & Procedures: Ultimately all the above should be rolled together into a written, adopted, and implemented set of polices and procedures. A policies and procedures manual encourages consistency in how one handles their records. The manual should be vetted on a regular basis to determine whether it is still effective, and if not revise and adapt it. In addition, the manual may address items such as business processes and workflow and the role of records management within them.