Records Surveys - What records do you have on hand?
The first step is to take a survey of your records. This survey will tell you what type of records you have, how many there are, where they are, and how your records are kept. With this information you can begin to discover what to do with your records.
This survey will also tell you which of your records are:
Why perform a records survey?
Records and information are major products of all the offices at ISU, but they can cause problems if you have:
Public Records -
They are the memory of ISU. definition: "Public Record" includes, but is not limited to any writing containing information relating to the conduct or administration of the public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state agency, independent public body corporate and politic or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics. from the Idaho State Board of Education, Higher Education Records Management Guide.
- Inactive records taking up valuable office space
- Overcrowded file cabinets
- Numerous versions of the same form, reports, and key documents
- Lack of policy and procedure directives for information handling
- Lack of disaster planning for vital records
- Obscure file names
- Person-dependent filing systems
- Too much paper, but not enough information to find what you need (retrieval issues)
- Continual reorganization of records upon staff turnover
A Records Survey will help you address these problems.
Please note that a records survey must be completed prior to the destruction or purging of records.
Destruction or purging of records requires pre-approval (see Request for Records Destruction Approval). This process isn't intended to be obstructive. It provides coordination that will prevent mistaken purges. Also, creating and maintaining documentation of records destruction is one of the responsibilities of Records Coordinators.
Records Surveys will not involve:
- snooping into your personal records in your offices, regardless of format
- searching into data files or research-related records, or drafts of professional papers
The Survey process will involve:
- seeking to identify grant files and related documentation
- looking at academic advising records
- recommending record-keeping (file system) improvements
- identifying records that have reached or exceeded their active life and documenting their need for destruction
Who should perform the Records Survey?
A records Survey can be performed by permanent staff or by a temporary/student employee. However, departments should appoint a person to be their Records Coordinator. Established staff members are familiar with the office's records, the information they contain, and the purpose of the records. Access to any confidential records should be limited to permanent staff (i.e., personnel files). The Records Coordinator can oversee the Records Survey.
If temporary/student help is used, departments are strongly encouraged to closely supervise their work due to their relative lack of familiarity with the workings of the office.
Whoever conducts the survey should be thoroughly trained in how to perform one. The survey's usefulness depends on complete and accurate information.
After deciding who will perform the survey, plans for conducting the survey should be made before the actual work begins. It is important that the survey be conducted in a systematic manner. Unless all of the offices or subdivisions are doing their own survey, subdivisions should be done one at a time. The Records Coordinator should determine which office or subdivision will be surveyed first and complete it before moving on to the next office.
An organization chart can be used as a checklist to ensure that all offices or departments are surveyed.
Things to note while surveying records:
- the volume of records
- the importance of the records to the department or college
- whether your department has a critical space problem
The Records Coordinator should begin by visiting the supervisor of the office being inventoried. If the supervisor is unaware of the survey project, then the survey worker should explain what he or she is doing and why it is being done.
The following point should be made clear:
The Records Coordinator must have access to all of the records; although, encourage records holders to be present for the survey of their area.
Active office first
Always begin in the active office area before reviewing storage areas. The records in the active office will tend to be better organized, and the relationship between records series will be easier to see. In addition, if the Records Coordinator runs into problems, there will be staff members at hand to provide assistance.
Records in storage
If the office has records in storage (e.g., in the closet down the hall), then they should be surveyed after the office records have been completed. Because many storage spaces are often poorly organized, it will be much easier if the Records Coordinator is already familiar with the records when surveying the inactive records.
The records should be surveyed in a systematic manner, beginning at one part of the room and proceeding in a logical manner. One file cabinet should be completed before moving on to the next. A systematic procedure will decrease the chances of overlooking any records. This is particularly important if the Records Coordinator is surveying part time. Keep notes of your process.
Look at the records
Open every file drawer and box. Do not assume that the label on the box or file cabinet is accurate. The original records may have been taken out of the box or file drawer without the label being changed.
Using the survey results
If retention period is known, prepare either:
- A Records Destruction Approval Request form, or
- An Approval to Transfer Records to University Archives form
If all records found during your survey are active and current, then use this information to improve your current file systems as needed.