An organization’s records and information are among its most valuable assets. Caring for them in the present ensures that they remain valuable well into the future. Follow these simple steps to secure your organization’s legacy.
Some basic Records Management (RM) tips for maintaining records
Keep all your records in a central place, to ensure they aren’t lost or forgotten. You may need to keep them at the society’s registered address (per British Columbia’s Societies Act). Otherwise, keep records where they can easily be accessed by staff or volunteers who need to refer to them. Develop a straightforward filing system that everyone in the organization can follow. Make it a routine part of your annual activities to move less important records that you don’t often consult to storage. This allows you to make room for new records that you regularly need. Also, make it routine to destroy records that you don’t need anymore (more on this topic later!).
Make it a habit to label materials, in particular photographs or audio-visual materials, with full names, dates, and descriptions of the event or circumstances. Keeping information with the records makes it easier to find photographs and ensures that organizational memory isn’t lost when a director or staff member moves on.
Avoid storing records anywhere with dampness, dust, excessive sun or heat, and temperature swings. Dampness can cause moldy records, excessive heat or sun can fade or otherwise damage paper records and temperature swings can cause records to degrade. Avoid using rubber bands to hold records together; old rubber bands become hard and crusty and can damage paper records. Staples or plastic clips are a better choice.
Don’t forget the digital
Be sure to develop a filing system for digital records. You can use the same system that you use for paper records; you just have to create the necessary folder structure on your computer/Sharepoint /Google Drive or wherever you store digital records.
Develop naming conventions for digital documents, streamline organizing documents and folders, and ensure you don’t have to search through a bunch of report_final_final.docs to find the one you need. Suggestions for document naming conventions are widely available. You can decide on the one that works best for you. Here’s an example tip sheet from York University. And here is a brief podcast, transcript, and graphic for document naming conventions from SFU.
Blank or unused forms, duplicate material, drafts of any papers, reports, etc. that have been published, financial materials that are older than 7 years, especially receipts (the exception are budgets and financial statements – see below) are records that don’t have historical value and can be considered short-term and be disposed of when no longer needed.
There are also records that have long-term or historical value and should be maintained as evidence of past decisions and actions.
These records include (but aren’t limited to): certificate of incorporation; constitution and bylaws; register of directors; register of members; minutes of each meeting of members; financial statements of the society; and minutes of each board meeting.
Other records with historical value include: files documenting policies, decisions, committee and task force reports; publications, such as journals, monographs, newsletters, brochures, or posters; audio-visual, including photographs, video recordings, sound recordings; office files and officer’s files, such as correspondence, and subject files concerning your organization’s projects, activities, and functions; and scrapbooks.
Preserving records and making them accessible
For many organizations, partnering with a repository is a good strategy to preserve inactive records. This frees up valuable storage space for current records and provides research access to members of your organization and the public, thus expanding the reach of your organization’s story. Ultimately, this collaboration helps to safeguard the historical legacy and memory of your organization.
Simon Fraser University Library Special Collections & Rare Books (SCRB) is interested in developing its collections to support the teaching, learning, and research needs of the University and broader community. We are especially keen to contribute to efforts to better reflect the diversity of experiences in British Columbia. SCRB has strong collections with respect to the following themes: activism, arts and culture, labour, and immigration. SCRB collections may also be useful in your work now. Existing collections may allow you to trace the history of an issue, or to find new ideas and inspiration.
We welcome inquiries from prospective donors wishing to donate materials. Our decisions about what we can accept include consideration of the following: the content and how well it documents your organization, physical condition of records, processing and maintenance costs, and restrictions (if any) you wish to place on content. If your records do not fit our collection mandate, we may be able to refer you to another potential repository. We welcome your questions! Thank you for taking steps to ensure that your records are cared for and preserved so they can contribute to our larger community’s collective memory.
Blog written by: Alexandra Wieland, Processing and Reference Archivist, SFU Library Special Collections and Rare Books
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