Managing Electronic Records
The following tips for managing electronic records were prepared by Archives staff in 2007. For assistance with managing your electronic records, please contact Pat Webber.
Electronic records should be arranged in a manner that mimics the paper world which preceded them. Just as you would not stick a loose document in a file cabinet, it is best to not have “loose” electronic files at top level of a directory structure. Electronic documents should be stored in folders.
To not jumble the electronic file cabinet, check each folder at the top level to determine if its existence is necessary, merge folders where needed, and always ask yourself if a new folder is really necessary before you create it. Do this for subfolders as well. Try not to have folders with the same name, even if they are at different levels of the directory structure. Temporary folders should not be used unless they truly are for temporary storage. As with paper records, old folders that have documents that are no longer needed, but which contain documents of historic, legal, fiscal, or other enduring value, should be transferred to the Archives for permanent storage.
File and folder names
Use descriptive names that are both clear and concise when naming files and folders. Try to avoid acronyms unless VERY common. For documents, include date and revision info in a file title, as this will assist yourself and others in finding the latest versions of a document. This also resolves the problem of Microsoft Windows updating the file date each time a document is opened and saved, even if no changes are made. For example: AnnualReport2005_Draft_12062005.doc. If your office does a great deal of time sensitive work, consider making the date the first element to a file’s name so that they sort by file date regardless of the system’s date stamp. For example: 2005_04_01_FinancialReport.xls. Regardless of what naming system you use, be consistent. Also, be aware that the total path used to identify a document, including the name of folder and any subfolders it is in, cannot exceed 260 characters.
Do not change the file extension of a document, as many software applications need this application supplied information to be able to process the document correctly. Folder and file names should consist of only the following characters: A-Z, a-z, 0-9, underscore (_), period (.) and hyphen (-).
It is important that all people in a department be able to access all the files that they need to do their jobs regardless of whether or not they created the files themselves. As such, most departments should use a shared network space to store and retrieve electronic files. Each department should set up policies to ensure that people are using the correct version of a file and not creating unnecessary duplication. Generally, there should only be one master or final version of each file once a project or assignment is complete; drafts should be deleted.
Generally, storage of work-related files that have permanent value on your hard drive should be avoided. If it is absolutely necessary to have files on the hard drive, be sure to enable Windows File Synching (see http://abacus.bates.edu/ils/helpsheets/network/filesynch.html for instructions; currently available for PCs only). This process allows files to be simultaneously stored on the server in a secure space that is redundantly backed up. Contact the Help Desk at x8222 for more information about or help with this procedure.
As part of general office maintenance, staff should periodically review their folders and files to determine what really needs to be saved and what can be deleted. Documents that are no longer being used and which have no permanent value (for example, a draft or duplicate copy of a file), should be deleted. If they have enduring value and still need to be consulted, staff should periodically “refresh” the files by opening and saving them; this will also ensure that the files get updated as new versions of software become available. If the documents have enduring value, but are no longer active, they should be transferred to the Archives. The Archives currently recommends storing inactive text files that need long-term preservation as either PDF or RTF. However, files can be sent to the Archives in their native formats, and the Archives will oversee either refreshing or migrating the information as necessary. For assistance with creating PDFs, please contact the Help Desk.
Email should be treated just like “regular” paper records; you should save any work-related emails that have long-term administrative or historical value, e.g. emails concerning substantive issues of college business, etc, NOT short-term administrative or personal emails. You should create a foldering system in your email client as you would for paper or electronic records: do not have your inbox be your filing system. NOTE: Email is often overlooked as a permanent record, but it is critical to understand that email is subject to discovery in legal proceedings, and is subject to the same copyright issues as other records; also consider NOT sending confidential information via email, even with encryption software enabled.