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Email

State agencies and local governments use email to communicate and administer certain business functions. Although created primarily as communications tool, email has become a records creation and storage platform and poses one of the greatest challenges for government records managers.

Setting Policies

Creating email use policies is key to managing your email well. The policy should answer email user’s questions such as

Image. Man working at computer
  • Can I use email for non-business purposes?
  • How can I ensure that official records and important information in email is accessible?
  • What do I do with trivial and duplicate messages?
  • Are email messages private? Are they secure? Do I have to provide public access to my email?
  • Who is responsible for managing email records?

Identifying Email Records

Identifying which emails are records and which are not can be difficult. Asking yourself the following questions can help you pinpoint email records:

  • Does the email merely replace a phone call?
    If so, it is almost certainly not a record and should be quickly deleted
  • Does the email replace paper correspondence?
    If so, it is likely a record containing fiscal, legal or administrative value and is a record.
  • Is the email related to a business process?
    These processes could be approving payments, authorizing a specific action, disseminating a new policy, interpreting the terms of contracts, or corresponding with constituents or customers. If this is the case you’ve likely got a record
  • Does it appear in a retention schedule?
    If you believe an email may be a record but are unsure, you should check the appropriate retention schedules. If you find an item for the email, it is a record.
  • Is it the official copy?
    Retention schedules apply to one official copy of a record and all other copies are merely duplicates and can be deleted when no longer needed. Generally, the sender of the record holds the official copy of internal emails and the recipient the official copy of the external emails.

Retention Strategies

Records managers know it is not always feasible for end users to review each email and categorize it as a record and then determine the specific record type and retention period. They have created strategies for simplifying retention:

  • The “Big Bucket” approach
    This approach allows you to create a small number of retention “buckets” to assign to emails. For example, “fiscal” would include all records in the fiscal section of the retention schedules instead of breaking separate categories.
  • Uniform Retention
    A simple retention strategy is to set one uniform retention period for all emails. Most organizations choose six or seven years since these are the most common retention periods. There are pitfalls to this approach. You will save some records longer than needed and may dispose of some permanent or long-term records. You should consider making an exception for these records.
  • The Capstone Approach
    Created by the United States National Archives, Capstone sets retention periods on user accounts based upon the user’s role in the organization. For example, department heads may have their email accounts retained permanently where the accounts of those in a finance department may be six years.

Email Management Tools

There are many tools to help you manage your email better:

  • Email Software System Tools
    Most email systems have tools to help users manage their email as records. These include the ability to create folders and subfolders to organized email by subject or retention period. You can also assign retention periods that will automatically delete or archive email after a prescribed time.
  • Archiving Software
    Archiving software will create copies of incoming and outgoing emails and archive them. The software has “deduplication” abilities so multiple copies of one email won’t be saved and some can categorize emails by subject.
  • Autocategorization Software
    This software can be programmed to categorize each email by record type and retention and file it for a prescribed time. This releases the end user from the arduous task of reviewing and categorizing each email.

Workshops

You can find more information about Email in the following workshops: