Importance of Archives
Every company generates new records on a daily basis. These records must be sorted, shared as organisation information and kept for future reference in order to be of any use to the company. So, what happens after 30 years of accumulated records? How do you determine what stays and what goes? How do you ensure your records are in place when you need them 5 years from now? The answer is efficient archives management.
Why organisations keep archives
- Administrative value – Archives contain records of past activities, lessons learned and background information on long term clients. These records are used to establish organisational precedence that is key in sustaining the business.
- Financial value- Many companies collapse because they have no documents tracking their financial matters. Where the money came from, who was in charge, allocation of the funds and use of them is important in controlling expenditure and safeguarding the overall bottom line.
- Legal value – Contracts contain obligations of an organisation to suppliers and various other organisations. These must be preserved as evidence of transactions on a legal front and compliance to government regulations. Failure to which the organisation may find itself on the wrong side of the law and face closure.
- Information value- Archives are unique and indispensable records of any organisation. The information they hold is key for the organisation, researchers and other relevant parties.
Life Cycle of Records
We commonly associate a life span or life cycle to human beings and other living organisms and very rarely to documents. However, each record is created and has a period in which its value is highest and a time when no one remembers it existed.
Once a record is created, it is sent or shared with the relevant people. At this point, its informational or instructional content is recognized and put to use or action. It can either be maintained as part of a paper trail or if it contains eyes only clearance, it may be destroyed thus ending its life span. Those that are maintained are revised and filled for future use. In the early stages of filling, people refer to them more often and as they continue to pile up more recent information, reference to that document reduces. Once they reach the end of their active life span, they are disposed of by reformatting, transferring to less active or inactive storage and eventually they are destroyed. Those marked for non-destruction are transferred to the archives. These make up what are loosely called core memories of an organisation. Most core memories are legal and economic maintenance records that have continuing long term value and must be stored permanently in the organisations archives.
So how do organisations determine the value of a record?
Records must undergo appraisals where their legal, administrative and fiscal values are assessed alongside their longterm perceived value. During the appraisal, the record is assigned a retention period during which it cannot be restructured, revised or destroyed. This process takes place mostly when records become inactive and determines how long they can stay in the archives after which they are completely destroyed.
Processing of Archived Records
There are universally accepted standards adapted in the processing of records during the archiving process. These standards are in place to ensure the integrity of the documents is preserved. Some of the processing steps include;
- Re boxing the physical copies into water proof and acid free folders used for long term archiving. Online copies will be rearranged into folders that make it easy to trace and retrieve the information in one piece.
- Physical photographs must be kept in special enclosures that reduce the effects of air & water on the printing ink. They should also be reproduced onto stronger material that is weather proof or reprinted in more resistant ink for preservation.
- The archiving team will sift through the records to eliminate duplicate records or temporary files that may have slipped through during the appraisal process.
- All the archived records, whether online or in hard copies, must be entered into an inventory with a well-structured coding system. This system must be in place before the first document is archived. The code works as a reference number and makes it easier to retrieve any document in the organisations archives.
Article by Josephine Wanja. You can follow her on twitter @JosephineWanja