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  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.

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:  http://recordsmanagement.gmu.edu/