Record Retention

Lew Love

Lew Love

As most institutions move to electronic document management, record retention is a main topic of conversation. How long do you keep paper files? When can you purge electronic copies? Do electronic versions of documents stand up in court? Whose rules should you use–The federal government, your state government, valued associations like AACRAO, your previous SACS audit or your institution’s legal department?

Over the years, our court system has moved to a “best available copy” realizing original records can be digitized and maintained electronically, thus allowing for original documents to be purged but still available digitally within its record retention rules. Another layer of governance and a very smart approach, is to always maintain digital records in a public domain extension such as PDF, TIF, JPG, DOC, or XLS format. Any proprietary extension is typically prohibited.

Many states have implemented retention policies that can help institutions guide staff. One of the key pieces in this process is to avoid letting staff personal preferences get in the way of effectiveness and efficiencies, dare I say “change management”. Secure and immediate access to information helps with faster, more informed decision making across departmental boundaries. Personal silos of information can become detrimental to your institution. Work with your staff and Softdocs to outline best practices for the purging of content outside of their legal timeframe.

So many times it is not the document, but the signature on the document, which staff seem to protect. Be it the VP of the institution or a parent’s signature, do not let an original signature overrule the government’s rule of record retention purge timeframe. Do note that there are exceptions, such as destroying documents if audits or litigations are pending or reasonably anticipated.

Bottom-line, learn your record retention rules!!! Many institutions have staff trained and qualified to assist departments with your institution’s record retention policy. An investment of “professional development classes” to train staff members on document management in a digital world is paramount to a successful implementation of an document management and archival solution, such as with Etrieve Content.