Record Production and Maintenance

Who should become the Records Custodian?

What are the responsibilities of the Records Custodian?

Using Records Management for consulting on systems.

Record production and maintenance in offices

What is a record?

How should I manage files in my office?

A few more thoughts about digital records.


Good Records Management begins the moment a record is created. This section of the Records Management website will examine the vital role of the Record Custodian, define what is and is not a record, and provide some hints and techniques you may find helpful in designing an efficient recordkeeping system.

Who should become the Records Custodian?

The Records Custodian is a single individual, appointed by the department head, who satisfies the following conditions:

  • The person understands the record systems of the office.
  • The person is able to make decisions on retention and disposition of these records.

Since departmental directors are frequently not intimately involved in the day-to-day records maintenance in each office, they are often not the best Records Custodians. Rather, the primary Administrative Assistant is often the better choice, as this is usually the person who has more direct knowledge and control of the records being produced. However, the decision of who is to become Records Custodian for any office is left to the discretion of the departmental director.

NOTE: It is highly recommended that the Records Custodian work closely with their departmental director and other staff, especially in all decisions made regarding retention and disposition.

What are the responsibilities of the Records Custodian?

The Records Custodian has five primary duties:

1) Help determine retention and disposition policies. The primary responsibility of the Records Custodian is to work closely with the College Records Manager in the determination of retention and disposition policies for all material (both physical and digital). In other words, the Records Custodian must decide "how long should we keep it" and "what should happen to it when we don't need it anymore." This is described in greater detail in the sections that follow.

2) Work with Records Management and other stakeholders in developing a departmental File Plan.  This is the primary instrument for classifying records, and is a critical component to any digital records keeping strategy

3) Make decisions about who can access records. Each department will have varying needs regarding confidentiality and security. The Records Custodian is responsible for determining who (either within the department or institution-wide) should have access to departmental records.

NOTE: Records Management never releases information or material to parties outside the institution. Such inquiries are referred to appropriate College departments. See Accessing Records for more information.

4) Provide guidance to departmental personnel in all records related issues. The Records Custodian is the "resident expert" on records produced by the department, and the primary source of information on how to use Records Management. In addition, the Records Custodian should provide guidance to departmental personnel who are involved in packing or preparing records for storage.

5) Work with Records Management to ensure proper handling of all material. Records Management will rely on the expertise of the Records Custodian for all handling and maintenance issues.

6) Review material scheduled for disposition. Periodic disposition rounds will require the review of the Records Custodian to ensure that all material scheduled is no longer needed, and is eligible for disposition.

Using Records Management for consulting on systems.

An important function of Records Management is to provide in-office consulting services to those who are modifying or creating record keeping systems. Involving Records Management in your planning process will ensure that your systems will not only serve your immediate needs, but also allow your records to move smoothly through the retention and disposition processes.

Records Management can provide suggestions on creating a file plan, purging of files, in-office retention, discarding of duplicate materials, orderly filing, and other related issues. Records Management can be especially helpful in planning for the conversion of paper-based business processes to digital processes, and creating preservation and access strategies for digital content.  

There is no charge for any of these services. Contact the Records Manager or Contact the Records Analyst for more details.


 Record production and maintenance in offices.

Here are some frequently asked questions about the maintenance of records within your office environment.

What is a record?

In the course of conducting business your department likely produces and handles a great deal of material. However, not all of this material is considered a "record." Many people mistakenly assume that anything on paper or saved to your computer is a record and should be managed as such. As Records Management can only deal with actual institutional records, it is necessary to differentiate between record and non-record material.

A record is defined as:

  • Any recorded information generated or received in the course of conducting business, and which must be maintained to meet the fiscal, legal, historical or administrative needs of the organization.

The "and" is critical in this definition.  Any piece of information must meet both these criteria before it can be considered a record.

A non-record is defined as everything else.

To provide some typical (but by no means exhaustive) examples, the following would be considered records:

  • Fiscal data
  • Outgoing and incoming correspondence
  • Reports and statistical compilations
  • Student files
  • Minutes and other records of College meetings

These are records regardless of format. They could be digital, paper, computer print out, magnetic or optical disk, computer tape, tab cards, microfilm, audio recordings, or any other means of preserving information.

By contrast the following are examples of non-record material:

  • Magazines or newspapers
  • Non-substantive e-mails
  • Books or any other published information
  • Blank paper or other supplies
  • Purchased research or other data from outside sources
  • Newspaper clipping or article copy files

If you have any questions about a particular type of material, and whether it is considered a record of Dartmouth College business, contact the Records Manager or contact the Records Analyst.

How should I manage files in my office?

Proper file maintenance in the office is the foundation of an effective recordkeeping strategy. Although each office is different and you must design your systems to best meet your individual needs, keeping in mind several key concepts will be sure to make your process simpler. It will also help Records Management and the College Archives better handle the material for long term retention.

Listed below are a few concepts that will help you as you plan to modify or create new record keeping systems in your office.


 Concept 1:

Think in terms of "Record Series."
The term "Record Series" is an important one, when you are planning your physical record keeping systems. As you examine your systems and the information produced by your operations, ask yourself what kinds of records and material stand out as being cohesive, logical sets, relatively independent from your other records. Do you have particular record keeping systems in which various documents are filed together, and can be considered a unit for retention and disposition purposes?  For instance, the following may stand out immediately as potential Record Series:

  • Meeting Records
  • Fiscal Files
  • Correspondence files
  • Student files
  • Purchasing card files
  • Search files

Of course, depending on your operation these may or may not apply to you. And you will most likely have other clear record series, unique to your department, that are not mentioned here. The key is to examine the information your department produces and start compiling a list of independent record series.
Why is this important? Because for longer term maintenance and storage you will find that different types of records need very different strategies. For instance, as a general rule search files are only maintained three years, and then shredded. By contrast, a correspondence file may need to be maintained as long as fifteen years, and then be transferred to the College Archives for permanent storage. If these two paper record series were produced, maintained, and stored in an intermingled way, the search files would need to be kept up to twelve years longer than necessary. In addition, when it came time to process the correspondence into the Archives, the search material would have to be hand-pulled from the more important correspondence. Both of these facts mean that significant resources would have to be expended in storage, maintenance, and processing. This could be easily avoided by storing and maintaining these two types of material separately.

Concept 2:

Think in terms of time periods.
A common mistake made in records maintenance is to create paper filing systems where information goes in, but which provides no way for information to come out. An example of this would be a subject file where information is filed in, but which has no facility for purging out older material. A filing system such as this is destined to grow to what will soon become an unmanageable size.
Eventually systems such as this must be "purged," and many departments have found themselves with filing systems so large and cumbersome that this can be a nearly impossible task. When each folder may contain material from a time span covering many years, separating the current use material from the outdated material can be a truly daunting prospect.
To avoid this it is useful to organize your filing systems so that a set "closes" on a particular date. This may mean that each year a new set of folders is created and the older set is sent to Records Management . Thus you may have a file on a particular topic in each yearly set. If you need a record about this topic from the 1995 set, then only that file need be requested from Records Management.
Closing a set is usually a simple task for record series that are maintained chronologically, which makes chronological organization a great choice whenever possible. However, for subject files and other sets stored in non-chronological order, this often means creating a new set of file folders each year, after the previous year's set is "closed" and sent to storage. Fortunately, many departments have found that their filing systems are so consistent from year to year that most files can be created in advance from a well-maintained outline.

Concept 3:

Digital Records are Real Records.
A common misconception is that there is something special about paper records that make them more "real" than the same records in digital formats.  This is not correct.  A properly produced, stored, and maintained digital record is just as valid in the eyes of the law as any paper record.  They key for both formats is that the record is produced, stored, and maintained in such a way as to affirm its authenticity, should it be questioned.

Concept 4:

Know your copy of Record.
Many records exist simultaneously in both digital and paper formats.  Proper Records Management requires you to know which copy is your "copy of record"...  That is, the copy which we have decided to maintain to meet our record keeping obligations.  Once a copy of record has been established (either paper or digital), the other copy can be safely discarded or destroyed.  In other words, if you decide your official copy of record of a document is the one in your digital repository, there is no need to keep the paper copy.  Likewise, if you decide that the paper copy is going to be maintained as the record, then the digital copy can be deleted.

Concept 5:

Aim for consistency.
A common problem that faces many organizations is inconsistency in record keeping practices. This usually results fron personnel turnover, where each new employee creates the system   anew. If this happens several times, the record keeping systems for the department may become a combination of many techniques and schemes, and only an employee long gone may have the necessary knowledge to adequately retrieve outdated records. To combate this, a degree of consistency is necessary. New employees should be trained in the current procedures of the department, and these procedures should only be modified to address a well-defined and documented need.

Concept 6:

Document your procedures.
The best way to ensure this consistency is through thorough and adequate documentation. Each department should produce a simple printed guide which identifies all the records  series produced, and the guidelines for maintaining them in a consistent manner. Providing a document such as this to a new employee will help ensure consistency, prevent confusion, and guard against unnecessary altering of procedures.


Also keep in mind...

In addition to the above concepts, be mindful of document duplication whenever you are creating and maintaining records. Many internal Dartmouth documents (such as purchase orders, timesheets, etc.) may be duplicated in official records elsewhere on campus, and may not need lengthy retention by your office. (See Appendix F for a short list of College-wide records retention periods and practices.)

It is also important to balance cost of maintenance with record value. In some cases maintaining a record costs more than any benefit the material can provide. In these cases shorter retention periods may be appropriate. Contact the Records Manager for more details.

A few more thoughts about digital records.

Computers have enabled offices to update documents with ease, share information readily, and keep active records current. Unfortunately, they have also failed (so far) to deliver the much anticipated “paperless office.” Instead, they have provided users with many new ways to create and print out information. This has resulted in an unprecedented growth of paper records, and provided managers with the added complexity of handling information in both electronic and paper formats.

And now, with the advent of document imaging, we have come full circle. Today not only can electronic documents become paper, but paper documents can become electronic!

More and more information is now being maintained in computer-processable formats and in many ways it is far more challenging for organizations to control their electronic records than it is to control their paper files.

To best manage digital records; keep in mind the following points:

  • Departmental file plans should serve as a basis for the classification of electronic records. Whether those records are stored on an individual workstation, a shared server, or in the RMS digital records repository, a clear and consistent organizational structure is essential to finding and using digital records.
  • For paper records it is advisable to have file rooms, and avoid having every employee maintaining their own filing cabinet. In the digital environment, this is also very good advice. All official digital records should move off of individual workstations, and onto a controlled document repository that is shared by the department.  This could be a departmental server, OurFiles, SharePoint, or (most appropriately!) Dartmouth's digital records repository (OnBase).
  • Existing paper equivalents may allow digital records to have a significantly reduced retention period. Likewise, a well-managed digital record-keeping system may reduce or eliminate the need to maintain equivalent paper documents.
  • For computer records with no analogous hard copy equivalent, it is especially vital that policies be developed and documented as to their eventual disposition. A plan should also be put in place to ensure that this disposition is carried out on schedule.
  • Ensure duplicates and drafts are disposed along with their master documents.
  • If a document on paper has been disposed according to an approved retention schedule, yet the original electronic version of that document remains on computer media (such as a backup or security copy), the College is in violation of approved policy, and may be in a position of legal liability. Remember, computer records can and will be subpoenaed just as easily and quickly as paper documents.
  • E-mail messages may be subject to discovery in any litigation. Be judicious in the use and retention of electronic mail.  Most e-mail is very transient in nature, and should be disposed as soon as it no longer serves any clear purpose. E-mail with record value should be moved out of the e-mail repository and into a controlled repository, along with other digital documents.
  • Saving electronic documents on magnetic media such as CDs or backup tapes is not an acceptable format for long term retention. Magnetic media is notoriously unstable, and loses its signal very quickly. Records stored on these media will likely be unreadable when they are needed at a later date.
  • Records in electronic formats may quickly become unusable due to changing hardware and software standards. For instance, a document saved in an early version of a program may be unreadable when that program is upgraded to a new version. If electronic documents require retention beyond three years, a strategy must be in place to migrate that data forward.
  • The fluidity of digital records can be problematic. For instance, a document, web site or database that is updated with changes on a periodic basis can result in the loss of previous versions. Policies should be established that determine when and how a document becomes a record, and preserves version snapshots when appropriate.
  • To ensure that your electronic documents are protected, backup is not optional. It is essential!  

All of these issues can feel daunting! But the good news is that tools are emerging to help users classify, manage, retain and dispose their digital records with the same care and attention we have provided for paper files. If you need assistance or have questions on how to best manage your digital records, contact the Records Manager or contact the Records Analyst.

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Intro | Record Production | Retention | Sending Records | Accessing Records | RMS On-Line | Returning Records | Disposition | Forms