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 people wanting to submit records to SCRC (Special Collections Research Center) or URM (University Records Management). 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 departments 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. SCRC houses collections with the intention of tending to them in perpetuity for the purpose of making them available for research and posterity, including our University Archives which documents 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 SCRC 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 SCRC 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  scarte25@gmu.edu or  703.993.2201. Nick Welsh, Records Management Specialist, can be reached at nwelsh3@gmu.edu or 703.993.5273.