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Active Records

Records should be managed at each stage of their lifecycle, from the time they are created to the time they no longer hold any administrative, legal, or fiscal value. For active records, which are documents (regardless of format) still being actively used by an office, this means proper files management – the process of determining how files will be arranged, categorized, accessed, and stored.

Assessing Your Files Management Practices 

Image. Staff overwhelmed by paperwork

While many records management and historical records programs have adequate and efficiently functioning filing systems in place, there are certain situations that warrant a reassessment of files management practices: 

  • Reorganization within the program that creates new patterns in the flow of records 
  • A sudden growth of records due to expansion of program function or responsibility 
  • The introduction of office automation systems that alter existing patterns of records production 
  • Staff turnover resulting in a knowledge gap over content and arrangement of files 
  • Backlogs of unfiled records, missing or misplaced records, and unlabeled or unindexed filing cabinets 

Organizing your Records

Files management allows your organization to organize records for active use in supporting program activities.  Think about how to make your records accessible from the moment you create them: 

  • Set up a filing structure based on how people will search for information 
  • File  electronic records in a manner that mirrors your paper filing system 
  • Ensure that your local area network (LAN) or other shared drives are organized and centrally managed
  • Allocate adequate space 
  • Purchase appropriate filing equipment 
  • Use database software to index records such as meeting minutes, case files, or birth, death, and marriage records. 
  • Develop a file plan and detailed procedures for retrieval and refiling, and incorporate a retention period for records into the file plan 

Developing a File Plan 

The file plan is integral to a successful records management program and should be implemented to support and document the creation of, access to, and disposal of your records. A good file plan should be simple, consistent, and flexible, and must address not merely paper files but also electronic recordkeeping systems and electronic documents stored on network drives. If an office maintains both paper and electronic systems, it does not make sense for a single records series to have two different filing schemes. 
A plan will save both money and office space by allowing you to make records available quickly when they’re requested and providing easy identification of records for disposal. It will also help you determine whether the content of a record is confidential or restricted  and ensure appropriate protections are placed on the record and access is limited to appropriate staff. All file plans should be accompanied by policies and procedures that are widely disseminated and training that is scheduled on a regular basis.