Category Archives: Records Management

UMW Records Management: Fall 2020 (and beyond!)

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Welcome to the most unusual semester in history, Eagles! It’s September and the students are masked up, squeaky clean, and back on campus. We’re thrilled to have that energy back, and we’ve loved being able to welcome our UMW family safely back into Simpson Library.  

My colleagues in Special Collections and the Digital Archiving Lab have already posted about all the work we’ve done in our department to help adjust to our “new normal” for the Fall. As the third element in Special Collections and University Archives, I’d like to take the opportunity to let you know what you can expect from Records Management. No matter what, you can still count on us to do our best to provide the UMW community with the service and support needed. 

Primarily, it’s important that everyone knows that we are still here! While telework remains the preferred method for those faculty and staff who are able, I and my colleagues in the library are still hard at work adapting our systems and processes for maximum accessibility. Remote help for Records queries is only an email, phone call, or Zoom away. In addition to the assistance I’m happy to provide, the Library of Virginia offers many helpful resources for records custodians, freely available online

1980s-era man typing on a computer.

With the majority of faculty and staff making the transition to remote work since March, we’ve all had to shift to embracing more electronic workflows. This is good news for the Records Management community! While it does present unique challenges, expanding electronic infrastructure and digital documents helps all of us as we continue to move into an increasingly more digital world.  

The Library of Virginia sets the standards for us as a state institution, and they’ve implemented an electronic method for completing the Certificate of Records Destruction (RM-3). This form documents the proper destruction of public records at the end of their retention period and is the form I see the most (here’s an example). In the past, the form has required physical signatures and a hard copy getting mailed back and forth at least twice. The current process involves a fillable PDF and no envelopes in the mail! It’s designed as a simpler procedure that the multiple needed signatories can complete from anywhere. 

Four women clean their cluttered dorm room. Two are standing holding brooms, one is on hands and knees wiping the floor, and the fourth is seated reading a newspaper.

The pandemic has also created time for some UMW folks to clean their offices. Often, this includes emptying out file cabinets. Sometimes, these file cabinets contain public records that are subject to specific disposition schedules. I’ve been fielding several questions from across campus about things that may or may not need saving. The short answer is that if it’s a public record, there is probably a schedule governing its disposition and we should discuss your next steps.

Remember: a public record is any recorded information used to transact university business, regardless of format.  

If you’re a records custodian, or you think you might be, or maybe you’re not sure, or you have questions about whether what you have is a record, please feel free to consult LVA’s helpful flowchart or contact me and we can talk! 

September 17, 2020

Managing Your Personal Records

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It’s back-to-school season! Everyone is starting to settle back into the school-year routine around UMW, but before we all get too settled, I’d like to take a quick moment to bring your attention to something you may not think about too often: your personal records.

The French Club and their important personal records, 1962.

Sadly, if you’re a collector of vintage LPs, I’m not talking about those personal records. I’m talking about the various important documents and digital materials we all generate in the course of our lives. If you’re a college student (or if you were one once, or if you’ve ever lived away from your parents), these might be the kinds of items you have to call mom or dad to send you if you’re trying to get a job or an internship, or take out a loan. These might be things like a birth certificate or your social security card. Depending on your life circumstances, these might also include things like marriage certificates or adoption papers. These types of things—the legal documents that prove you’re you—are top tier important records. I’ll talk about how to handle these later.

Personal records also include things like tax returns, bills (medical, utilities, etc.), bank statements, and similar items. These materials—the documentation of a specific transaction—are also important to retain and protect. However, these types of records don’t need to be secured for a lifetime. You might also consider your personal email, social media accounts, resumes, and photographs as part of your personal records. Some of these things you may want to preserve for any number of reasons, and some of them you might consider getting rid of to free up some space in your desk or on your hard drive (after all, how deep is your sentimental attachment to your old electric bills?). You can dispose of some of these items routinely by applying a rough retention schedule.

As the Records Coordinator at UMW, I specialize in retention schedules. Retention schedules are guidelines that help establish how long it’s necessary to keep a particular item. Agencies in the Commonwealth of Virginia (like UMW) follow retention schedules set by the Library of Virginia that keep us in legal compliance with recordkeeping standards. These are relatively strict and vary by agency and type of record. For your personal records, it can be a bit looser, but it’s still helpful to stay organized for your own benefit.

Examples of things you can dispose of after one year include:

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Utility bills

And after three years:

  • Tax returns (the IRS can audit you up to three years after you file a tax return, unless you seriously omitted more than 25% of your income in the past, and then it’s six years).
  • Medical bills

And those top tier important records I mentioned earlier? Secure those in a very safe place and keep them forever.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive or exact list. Your mileage may vary, and you might decide to keep certain things for longer, or you might have records not described here. Resources for determining records and record-keeping strategies abound online, or you can always come see us in Special Collections and University Archives with your records questions.

Once you’ve determined that you have items that you don’t need any more, make sure you think about how to dispose of them properly. Files that have personally identifying information (PII) should be disposed of securely. Shred paper records with a cross-cut shredder, and use permanent deletion software for electronic records. “Delete” or emptying the trash can on your desktop doesn’t really get rid of that file. Heidi Eraser is a free tool that completely deletes files from your hard drive by overwriting several times, and can even be set up to operate on a schedule.

Securely shred your personal paper documents whenever possible, especially if they display personally identifying information like bank account or social security numbers.

For the things you want to keep, focus on organizing your most important files. The Council of State Archivists compiled a list for Electronic Records Day last year that offers several helpful steps for organizing and preserving your personal electronic records. Among these tips include techniques such as backing files up in multiple places, and giving your files descriptive filenames. Angie White, our Digital Resources Librarian, also blogged about useful strategies for keeping your files safe and organized in her Personal Digital Archiving post for this site. Digital materials are more fragile than some people realize, so it’s important to adopt smart preservation and retention tactics to keep your information safe over time.

Take care of your records and yourself this school year, and as always, please come see us in Special Collections and University Archives if you have any questions or just want to chat! As a reminder, the SC&UA reading room has open hours on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10-12 and 1:30-4. We’re located on the second floor of Simpson Library, Room 217, and anyone is welcome to stop by during those hours. You can also make an appointment to see us outside of those times by emailing archives@umw.edu or records@umw.edu.

September 3, 2019