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RM Home > Tips and Training>

Electronic Records

An electronic record is any record that contains machine-readable rather than human-readable information. Electronic records that are created or received in the course of University business are University records and must be managed in accordance with the University's records retention schedules. Whether created or stored in databases, web space, document management systems, server space, or any other electronic recordkeeping system, University records have to be managed properly.

Every University office is responsible for the storage, maintenance, migration, and destruction or transfer of its electronic records.

The Archives does not currently accept electronic records that are scheduled for eventual destruction. Unless electronic records are scheduled for transfer to the Archives, the office of origin has full responsibility for their maintenance, backup, migration, and destruction. Some tips to remember:

  • Electronic media, such as magnetic tape, optical disc, flash drive, or hard drive, have a much shorter life expectancy than paper or microfilm. To ensure ongoing access to information stored on electronic media, offices should periodically transfer information to new storage media.
  • Similarly, software programs and file formats can become obsolete or unreadable over time. Offices should migrate information as necessary to keep up with technological advances.
  • Removable electronic storage media should be clearly labeled with the name of the office responsible for creating the records, the name of the record series, and inclusive dates of the content. Also note the use of uncommon software programs and any other pertinent information.

When electronic records are transferred to the Archives for appraisal and permanent retention, the Archives assumes responsibility for their ongoing maintenance, migration and preservation. See Transferring Records for more information on transferring paper and electronic records to the University Archives.

Retention periods are not dependent on record media. 

Most University records, particularly those pertaining to routine administrative or financial transactions, have a relatively short life span. If paper records are destroyed after five years, electronic versions of the records should also be destroyed after five years. Prompt destruction of electronic records, in accordance with records retention schedules, helps protect the University from unnecessary risks and expenses pertaining to information security, storage and maintenance needs, and legal discovery.

Some electronic records, especially those of legal or historical importance, need to be accessible 20, 50, or 100 years from now. For those records, we have to anticipate future technological changes. Long-term preservation involves eventually moving the records and corresponding metadata out of their current recordkeeping systems and converting or migrating the records over time, while always maintaining their integrity, reliability, and authenticity. Long-term preservation of electronic records is costly and complex, and should be reserved for the most deserving records. Routine destruction of short-term electronic records helps to "separate the wheat from the chaff" so that preservation resources can be used appropriately.

Electronic Records Management

To approach electronic records management in your office, first take a look at the electronic records that your office creates or receives in the course of conducting University business, and review the corresponding records retention schedules. If you have electronic records that have passed their retention period, refer to the Office Disposition instructions to determine whether to destroy the records or transfer them to the Archives. Contact the Archives if you are unsure about proper disposition or if you find records that are not covered by existing records retention schedules.

Next, plan ahead for future destruction of electronic records. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of manual deletion versus automated services offered by vendors. With either approach, it may be helpful to incorporate new metadata fields such as "records series" and "disposition." (Hundreds of individual records may fall within a single record series, which simplifies the disposition process.) If a vendor is storing University records on behalf of your office, make sure the vendor is prepared to comply with the University's records retention schedules.

If your office has electronic records that need to be retained permanently for legal or historical purposes, consult with the Archives to discuss eventual migration and preservation at the Archives. Such records should remain with your office throughout their active life, but early planning is essential to ensure that the records will not be lost due to technological advances or staff turnover.

Considerations for Electronic Recordkeeping Systems

Before adopting a new or upgraded electronic recordkeeping system, determine what University record series will be maintained in the system and identify the records retention schedules for those record series. If the records are not reflected in existing general or office-specific records retention schedules, contact the Archivist for Records Management to develop appropriate retention and disposition procedures.

Electronic recordkeeping systems must ensure the security, authenticity, integrity, reliability, and usability of all University records they contain. In addition, the Archives recommends certain functionality to simplify compliance with records retention schedules:

  • System should include methods for time- or event-based (1) destruction of records and corresponding metadata, (2) transfer of records and corresponding metadata to nearline or offline storage, and (3) extraction or export of records and corresponding metadata to non-proprietary or standard format.
  • System should allow for multiple documents to be grouped together as a single record series managed in accordance with a particular records retention schedule.
  • System must include ability to suspend destruction in the event of an audit or legal hold.
  • System development and implementation decisions must incorporate eventual decommissioning of the system, including how and when to migrate, export and / or permanently delete data.

Remember that every University office is responsible for proper management of the records it creates or receives in the course of conducting University business, and that records retention schedules and records management procedures must be consistently applied to records in any media or format. Contact the Archives to discuss your particular recordkeeping practices and to implement solid retention and disposition strategies.




This page was last updated May 23, 2012