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.

Records and Information Management: What We Do With Student Records

Graduation season has come again! Most of the colleges here at Mason will be using the quiet months ahead to pack away the files of the spring graduates who have finished their academic career. For some offices, that means small hills of archival boxes packed against the wall until they can get them out of their way to make room for the incoming summer and fall students.

As a state university, Mason is required to follow the Public Records Act policies set forth by the Commonwealth. The Library of Virginia has set specific guidelines for state colleges that certain types of student records need to be retained for specific periods of time before the universities are allowed to dispose of them. Those laws do not just apply to paper records, but our digital-born documentation as well!

University Records Management works with Mason offices to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the retention requirements and that there are resources available to help with issues such as long-term storage. Most student documents are temporary records – this means is that the records are eligible for shredding, burning, or pulping after a certain number of years after graduation. Some types of information – such as students’ grades – are considered permanent records, and it is up to University Records Management to ensure that Mason maintains the security and accessibility of these records forever. Not just 100 or 10,000 years, but forever. Or until the Library of Virginia decides that maybe 10,000 is a bit too long.

Starting any day now, Mason faculty and staff will begin sorting through graduates’ files and dividing them up between the different types of records series; some examples of series are admission files, academic counseling files. Once they are aware of how much paper there is, someone usually reaches out to University Records Management to acquire archival boxes to store these records for the remainder of their life cycle. When these boxes are packed and labels with the contents and inclusive records dates, the Records Manager arranges to have them stored at the University Records Center on Fairfax campus. There, the records are kept safe and sound until an office needs to request a file back or until the records meet their retention period.

Then it is time to call in the shredders!

Here are some helpful definitions:

Permanent Record –  Materials created or received in the conduct of affairs that are preserved by the creator because of the enduring historical value or as evidence of the roles and responsibilities of the creator

Records Series – Group of similar or related records that are arranged according to a file system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity

Life Cycle – Distinct phases of a record’s existence, from creation, to use, to maintenance, and finally disposition

(Definitions are from the Library of Virginia Public Records Management Manual)

For more information about SCRC and Records and Information Management look here.

The University Records Manager is Samara Carter. You can reach her at  scarte25@gmu.edu or  703.993.2201.

The Jeffrey Chamberlain Music Collection

Patti Page, “Say Wonderful Things” single 1963. Jeffrey Chamberlain music collection, Collection #C0185, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University.


Somethin' Smith and the Redheads, "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" single 1950s. Jeffrey Chamberlain music collection, Collection #C0185, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University.


Carl Dobkins Jr., "My Heart is an Open Book" 1959. Jeffrey Chamberlain music collection, Collection #C0185, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University.


Looking through old records can be a frustrating task, mainly because you want to be able to listen to what you are looking at. Of course looking at old records can be rewarding in that the artwork of the label, box, or sleeve it comes in is often engaging, but there is nothing like looking at and listening to classic vinyl.

Here are three examples of 45 rpm singles from the Jeffrey Chamberlain Music Collection. These singles with song titles like “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” and the contrasting red label and black stripes on the sleeve of the Patti Page album made me very curious as to what these sounded like.

The Jeffrey Chamberlain Music Collection is a recently acquired collection of records. It includes 78s, long play records, and 45s that date from the 1910s to the 1980s.  Classical, jazz, and popular music genres are represented in the collection, as well as, show tunes and many French 45 rpm singles. Chamberlain was a George Mason associate professor of French in the Department of Modern and Classical languages.

For your listening pleasure here are links to Carl Dobkins Jr “My Heart is an Open Book”, Patti Page “Say Wonderful Things”, and Somethin’ Smith and the Redheads “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire”.