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Records Management

Q & A for Records Management

All employees of the UW Colleges and UW-Extension will practice records management, but far from all of them will know how to go about it properly, or even what it even means to "manage records." This FAQ will hopefully answer a few of the most commonly-voiced concerns about records management. If your question doesn't appear below, or isn't addressed elsewhere on the site, please let us know.

What is Records Management?

Records management is formally defined as "The systematic and administrative control of records throughout their life cycle to ensure efficiency and economy in their creation, use, handling, control, maintenance, and disposition" by the Society of American Archivists. In other words, records management is sort of "cradle-to-grave" care of documents, from their creation to their transfer to the archives or destruction.

Why should I practice records management?

It's the law! Wisconsin Stat. 16.61 mandates the maintenance, scheduling, retention, and disposition of all records created by employees or offices of state agencies, including the UW Colleges and UW-Extension. In addition, other state and federal statutes, such as the Wisconsin Public Records act and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) place other obligations on maintaining and/or providing access to records. Practicing Records Management protects offices from the legal ramifications of violating these statutes, as well as providing legal cover for records discovery in case of legal action brought against the University or one of it's units.

Beyond the legal aspects, effective records management can help offices make better use of their space, expedite file searches for administrative reference, and provide easily-accessible evidence of financial or other transaction. In the case of documents with long-term value, records management also allows the UW archives to preserve the history of the University for posterity. By practicing effective records management, campus units are helping to ensure that their story, and that of UW Colleges and UW-Extension as a whole, gets told fully and accurately.

What is a record?

A record is any document created or received by offices or employees that allows them to conduct business. This includes, but is not limited to, correspondence, forms, reports, committee minutes, memoranda, policy statements, and budgets. NOT included are duplicate or convenience copies of correspondence, drafts of letters or reports, routing slips, or correspondence not related to your job duties. All of the latter are considered ephemera and may be discarded at will.

An easy litmus test: If a document helps you perform your job description or documents the history and/or administration of your office, It is probably a record and should be handled appropriately.

What about emails, IMs, and other electronic correspondence and/or documents? Are those records?

Yes! The value of a record is determined by content, not by format. If an email or IM helps you conduct the substantive duties of your office, it is a record and must be scheduled as if it were any other paper document.

It sounds like I'm responsible for every record that crosses my desk! How can I keep up with that?

Although documents that you receive in the course of business do all become records, you may not be responsible for long-term maintenance of all of them. In most cases where documents are disseminated, such as in the case of correspondence or committee minutes, the records creator (in these examples, the sender or the Committee chair) hold the copy of record, which is the official, long-term copy that must be held for public records purposes. All other copies are considered convenience copies and usually have shorter retention times. Refer to your office RRDAs or contact the Records Officer for details.

What am I supposed to do with all the records I AM responsible for?

Records Management assists campus offices and departments with scheduling their records, or creating Records Retention/Disposition Authorities (RRDAs) which dictate how long offices should keep their records and what they should do with them at the end of that time. In general, records are either destroyed, destroyed confidentially, or transferred to the archives. Please see our page on Records Schedules for more information.


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