Get Rec’d: The Difference Between Archiving and Records Management

This post was written by Samara Carter, University Records Manager.

Box for Records Management. The labels indicate the types of materials included in the box (i.e. prospective student sign-in sheets, payment sheets, copies of graduation lists). This photo was taken by Nick Welsh, Records Management Specialist, in the warehouse which is separate space from the SCRC stacks containing rare books and archival materials.

“I have stuff for archiving.”

The word archiving gets used interchangeably day in and day out by university offices wanting to submit records to University Archives or URM (University Records Management), both housed in Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Sometimes departments have photographs or publications for University Archives, sometimes departments have financial documents that need to be stored for a few years before they can be destroyed. While both of our units work in tandem to oversee Masons’ records, archiving is best applied as a term when speaking about historical and/or permanent records. 

Why is that?

An archive is a repository for items that need to be maintained for an undefined period of time, generally forever. University Archives houses collections with the intention of tending to them in perpetuity for the purpose of making them available for research and posterity, including documenting the history of George Mason. URM houses public records with the intention of destroying them at a later date.

Records fall into three categories here at Mason:

  • Historical (permanent)
  • Public (permanent)
  • Public (temporary)

However, all records have a lifecycle that begin the exact same way – a document of some format or another is created and bam – a record is born! Along the lifecycle of a record, though, the path diverges towards two choices: permanent retention or destruction.

Word of the Week: Lifecycle” created by the National Archives, explaining the life cycle of records.

Once a record has reached the end of its active usefulness, a Mason department will contact University Archives or URM about “archiving” it. Historical items are gleefully claimed by our archivists whereas temporary, public items eventually make their way with approval to the URC (University Records Center). Public records are stored, rather than “archived,” at the URC and given a destruction date based on the context of use and date of the documents in question.

At University Archives and URM, we are doing our best to clear up the confusion between our respective tasks to protect against permanent items accidentally being stashed away in an area where they could meet an untimely end in a shredder.

As for those permanent public records? Currently they’re all maintained in-house with their respective departments for accessibility reasons.

For more information about Records and Information Management look here.

Samara can be reached at or  703.993.2201. Nick Welsh, Records Management Specialist, can be reached at or 703.993.5273.

Mass Shredding Made Easy

In the early days of Records Management, the majority of university records could be disposed though recycling or waste  (simply throwing records in the trash).  Due to the confidential nature of university records and ever increasing security concerns, shredding is now mandatory for most temporary records.  Fear not!  Records Management provides a free shredding service for all university offices and departments.

Before any records are shredded, we must receive disposal permission from the department of origin.  We then stage the records on the floor of the University Records Center and double check each box to assure that only the proper records are disposed.

View inside the University Records Center where boxes are staged for shredding.

Boxes that can be shredded are placed on shred pallets and clearly labeled.

We shred approximately 300 boxes of temporary records each month.  To handle this mass shredding, we use an outside vendor, Shred-It.   We shred all records on-site as an added security measure.

The Shred-It truck parks outside the Central Receiving Warehouse, while shredding is completed on-site.

A peak at the industrial shredder inside the Shred-It truck.

Contents of an entire box are shredded -- no need to remove paperclips, staples, or binders.

Spring Cleaning

The thermometer may be hovering close to freezing, but George Mason University employees are already thinking about spring. “Spring Cleaning” is underway in many offices, as employees are either preparing to move to new quarters or preparing for the start of the new semester.

George Mason University Records Management, run out of Special Collections & Archives, assists university departments with the retention and disposition of all temporary university records.

We help with spring cleaning efforts by offering an alternative location to store inactive, but still important, university records.  University offices may store inactive paper records at the University Records Center in the Central Receiving Warehouse on the Fairfax campus. Approximately 10,000 cubic feet of inactive university records reside in this secure and efficient space.  The department of origin retains full ownership of all records stored there and can request records returned any time.

We make the process as easy as possible.  Records Management provides boxes, free of charge, for all records stored at the University Records Center.  We also arrange for box transfer with no charge to faculty or staff.

A view inside the University Records Center

For additional information about Records Management, take a look at our website: