Managing Records: Identifying Records

Indexing Records

Many local governments and state agencies index the minutes of their boards and commissions on a regular basis. This guide briefly outlines how to index minutes using a simple database to maintain, search and print reports from the index.

Develop a Preliminary Master List of Subject Terms

For an index to be reliable, it must use subject terms consistently. You want to ensure that a term in your index always means the same thing, and you also want to be sure that you don't use two or more terms that mean the same thing.

You can begin developing a master list of terms by using the preliminary master lists produced by the State Archives for municipalities and school districts. Or you can develop one on your own, using your knowledge of the issues that come before your board or by using subject titles in a related filing system as a guide.

Remember that this is only a preliminary guide, not the final product. You will probably refine this preliminary list of terms as you index your minutes.

Determine what level of detail you need

The sample Microsoft Access minutes indexing database file uses at least two and up to three levels of subject: a main subject, a secondary subject and a memo field for detailed notes on the subject. You may, however, decide that you can do without some of that detail. (For information on how to use the database, see the Indexing Minutes Database Manual.)

You also need to determine what you will and will not index in the minutes. Not every event is important enough to index, so you should decide ahead of time what is important enough and then follow your own guidelines.

Finally, you need to decide what years of your minutes to index: the entire series, the most recent 20 years, the last 50 years, etc.. Make this decision based on your need for information and the time indexing will take.

Determine the order you will conduct the indexing

Most people index the most recent minutes first and work backwards. That is fine and works for most people, but you may have reasons for beginning with earlier minutes and working forward.

Determine how you will produce the index

Most people produce indexes to minutes in electronic form in databases, because this allows them to produce many different kinds of reports, to carry out many different kinds of searches and to update the index easily. But you may have other ideas that make sense for your situation.

Now, you're ready to index.

Identify an important action within the minutes

Actions are any events that take place before the board and are recorded in the minutes. See the preliminary master lists produced by the State Achives for municipalities and school districts. You can make your index more useful by maintaining information on the type of actions that take place during the course of a meeting. Tracking actions can provide another way for people to search for information (such as all local laws) and can help indexers to identify what information in the minutes is important enough to index.

Identify the main subject related to that action

The main subject is the general subject of the action. See the preliminary master lists produced by the State Archives for municipalities and school districts for examples of main subjects.

Identify the secondary subject that is a subset of the main subject

If you feel that two levels of subject access are useful in your situation, then determine the more precise secondary subject that the action is related to. See the preliminary master lists produced by the State Archives for municipalities and school districts for examples of how secondary subjects work.

Identify any information for a memo field

If you find this useful, identify information for a memo field. This field will include any detailed information about the action. The memo allows you to use your index as search tool for important keywords and to provide more detail so searchers know sooner if an entry will be relevant to their search.

Identify all the other important indexing information

To have an index be useful at all you need to maintain other easily identified information in the index, such as date of meeting, volume and page number, resolution number, and (in some cases) department.

Verify and print out your index

It's a good idea to review your index to make sure it does not contain any obvious errors (such as spelling errors) that will keep users from finding information. After you have verified the accuracy of your index, you can make it available to people for use. You may print out a copy for public use, but maintain your automated index so you can easily update the index and so you can carry out more complex searches (such as all local laws approved in the year 2000). You should also develop an indexing procedures manual to ensure that you will continue to index the records consistently over time. The State Archives has developed a sample indexing procedures manual that you can use as a guide.

Sample Indexing Database (in Microsoft Access format)

To learn about our sample database, go to our Sample Indexing Minutes Database and Manual webpage.