Meet the Staff Feature: Charles Busby

For the Record’s “Meet the Staff” feature is an opportunity for our archivists to connect directly with the community which we serve.

Name: Charles Busby

Title: Records Management Archivist

Specialties: Local government Records Management & Preservation

How did you end up working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

I ambled into the world of archives as an aspiring historian but got lost and never looked back. After studying history and English at the University of Tennessee at Martin, I earned my MA in history (with an archival and public history specialization) at Auburn University. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of working in academic archives at Auburn and Denison universities; corporate archives with Zaner-Bloser, Inc.; and government archives for the National Park Service (NPS) and now the State of Alabama. My work within these different archival arenas coupled with an historian’s eye means I approach records management from a unique perspective. 

What is your role?

I help local government entities with the development, revision, and implementation of their records disposition schedules.

What is something you enjoy about working in records management?

I’m fascinated by the “big picture” character of records management work. Whereas museum artifacts or archival manuscripts are handled mostly with respect to their uniqueness, a rough inverse is true of government records whose value lay in their collective. Think of government records like motion picture film—individual stills might not seem important, but when viewed together they illustrate a fluid, evolving process. Likewise, discrete government records contextualize one another to produce a documentary film of how government works.

To continue the movie analogy, because governing processes yield the same type of materials year after year, the application of RDAs would be like post-production in moviemaking, where information managers trim excesses and clarify major plot points. There aren’t Academy Awards for records management yet, but it’s on my list.

For people who don’t think about their records every day, why is records management important?

If we only preserve documentary materials we consider old or interesting – manuscripts, clay sherds, photographs, leather-bound tombs – and forgo humdrum spreadsheets and emails, we neglect to build the archives of tomorrow. A couple centuries ago, the Declaration of Independence was a daring message on some mundane parchment – that is, the medium is less important than the information!

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I enjoy doing basic restoration work on fountain pens and typewriters, writing letters, cooking, playing board games with friends, and reading Pratchett novels.

Updates from the State Records Commission: October 28, 2020

The State Records Commission (SRC) is responsible for determining which state government records have permanent historic value and which may be destroyed after specified periods of time. The Commission meets every April and October to approve Records Disposition Authorities, or RDAs. These documents outline all records that state agencies create, identify which records should be preserved permanently, and provide retention requirements for all other records. The SRC held its regularly scheduled meeting on October 28, 2020. In accordance with Governor Kay Ivey’s proclamation issued on March 18, 2020, the SRC conducted its October 2020 meeting via a publicly accessible online teleconference. The SRC’s April 2020 meeting was cancelled due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Agency Outreach and Training

Records Management staff reported on state agency consultations and training sessions. In late March, the section transitioned from mostly in-person consultation to remote consultation via online teleconferencing platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fiscal year 2020, Records Management staff held a total of 72 outreach sessions with 230 attendees, with 40 of those sessions occurring remotely. Meeting topics included RDA development and revision, records management training, permanent records transmittal, and the Records and Archives Modernization Project (RAMP), a collaboration with the Alabama Office of the Secretary of State.

Here are some highlights from the year:

  • From October 2019 to March 2020, Records Management staff worked with staff with the Executive, Elections, and Finance divisions of the Alabama Secretary of State’s office to organize files, properly dispose of records which have met the RDA’s requirements, and transmit permanent paper and electronic records to the ADAH. One key objective of RAMP is to organize the Secretary of State’s offsite storage facility. From December 2019 to January 2020, ADAH archivists from the Records Management and Collections sections inventoried the legislative volumes at the facility; set aside extraneous copies of the volumes in keeping with the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-14-6; and supervised the destruction of obsolete paper records, as well as the surplussing of office furniture and computer equipment.
  • In March 2020, Ms. Rebecca Hebert provided records management training to the Laserfiche user group. Laserfiche is a private company which produces document management software. Attendees included 49 state employees from 24 agencies. The meeting educated agencies about the records retention requirements promulgated by the SRC and how to utilize Laserfiche in accordance with these requirements.
  • As the ADAH RDA was last approved by the SRC in April 2015, Ms. Sophie Law began work on a revision to the RDA during March and April 2020. Much has changed at the department within the last five years; moreover, the RDA’s structure and language are inconsistent with current practices. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff used platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to conduct 22 records surveys with ADAH staff.

New and Revised State Agency RDAs

The SRC approved new or revised RDAs for the following agencies:

Tourism Department (Revision)

The Tourism Department plans and conducts publicity programs to attract tourists to the state of Alabama. The department disseminates information about the state’s resources, plans and attends travel shows and travel-related activities, and contracts with regional promotional agencies for the purpose of advertising the state. In addition to promoting the state, the department maintains eight Alabama Welcome Centers which annually assist more than six million visitors.

The revised RDA gives the department more flexibility in managing its publications, photographs, and audiovisual materials in an electronic world. The department may take a hundred similar photos or create a dozen similar advertisements for use on various platforms. The department may create a ten-minute video by editing thirty minutes of raw video footage. Only a selection of these materials or a final version should be preserved.

Office of State Treasurer (Revision)

The Office of State Treasurer is the state’s central banking agency. The agency maintains custody of all state funds deposited with the state, pays duly executed warrants, and makes payments on the state debt. The Office of State Treasurer also administers several savings investment plans including the CollegeCounts 529 Program and the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program. These programs provide eligible disabled individuals with a tax-exempt savings program which does not impact their eligibility for other resource-based benefits. The RDA revision accurately describes the Office of State Treasurer’s current programs and initiatives, while also including definitions and explanations that make the document widely accessible.

Department of Youth Services (Revision)

The Department of Youth Services (DYS) promotes and safeguards the well-being and welfare of youth in the state through a comprehensive and coordinated program of public services for the prevention of juvenile delinquency and the rehabilitation of delinquent youth. To this end, DYS screens and places youths committed by juvenile courts to DYS custody; operates institutional facilities; educates students; provides treatment services; and advocates for students by investigating complaints and misconduct.

The comprehensive RDA revision includes a notable change for the DYS School District. The district operates in relation to the State Department of Education as do other local boards of education in the state. Local boards of education have their own RDA approved by the Local Government Records Commission which is more frequently updated to reflect changes in legislation, requirements from the State and Federal Departments of Education, school practices, and other developments. The DYS RDA therefore includes a statement referring to the Local Boards of Education RDA’s retention guidelines for educational records.

Agricultural Museum Board (New)

The Alabama Agricultural Museum Board works in coordination with Landmark Park, a nonprofit organization and the official Agricultural Museum of Alabama, to preserve and share Alabama’s agricultural history. Located in Dothan, Landmark Park maintains, exhibits, displays, and interprets artifacts, and provides educational programing to the public. Staff and volunteers demonstrate historic farming techniques using vintage agricultural implements at the Park’s “living history” farmstead. Other educational activities include farm tours, live animal demonstrations, and historical re-enactments. Landmark Park and the Agricultural Museum receive approximately 30,000 and 40,000 visitors every year from the Wiregrass region and beyond.

The new RDA for the Agricultural Museum Board will aid agency staff members in identifying records which provide essential documentation of the Park’s collections and educational programming.

Athlete Agents Commission (New)

The Alabama Office of the Secretary of State acts on behalf of the Alabama Athlete Agents Commission to register athlete agents in Alabama (Code of Alabama 1975 Title 8 Chapter 26B). An athlete agent is an individual who “… recruits or solicits a student athlete to enter into an agency contract or…procures employment or offers, promises, attempts, or negotiates to obtain employment for a student athlete as a professional athlete…” (Code of Alabama 1975 § 8-26B-2). The Alabama Athlete Agents Commission promulgates rules and standards of conduct for athlete agents.

The Alabama Office of the Secretary of State requested the creation of this RDA to clearly distinguish the office’s work with the Athlete Agents Commission from its other duties.

Bicentennial Commission (New)

The Alabama Legislature passed Alabama Act 2013-10 on February 14, 2013, establishing the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. The act tasked the commission with promoting scholarship, education, and economic development through local and statewide observances of the state’s 200th anniversary. The commission and its partners engaged in a mission to support and create events and activities that commemorated the stories of Alabama’s people, places, and path to statehood. Between March 2017 and its December 14, 2019 finale celebration, ALABAMA 200 engaged residents of all ages in each of the state’s 67 counties and hundreds of communities via educational programs, community activities, and statewide initiatives designed to teach, inspire, and entertain.

The new RDA for the Bicentennial Commission will aid staff in identifying and preserving the historic records that document the state’s 200th anniversary.

Multiple Needs Child Office (Alabama Children’s Services Facilitation Team) (New)

The mandated function of the Multiple Needs Child Office is to assist the Alabama Children’s Services Facilitation Team in its work to provide services to multiple needs children. A multiple needs child is defined as “a child coming to the attention of the juvenile court or one of [five child-serving agencies] who is at imminent risk of out-of-home placement or placement in a more restrictive environment, and whose needs require the services of two or more of the following entities: Department of Youth Services [DYS], public school system (services for exceptional needs), Department of Human Resources [DHR], Department of Public Health [ADPH], juvenile probation officers, or Department of Mental Health [ADMH]…”(Code of Alabama 1975 § 12-15-501(2)). The Multiple Needs Child Office provides coordinated care for multiple needs children across the state.

The new RDA for the Multiple Needs Child Office helps to distinguish the work of the office from the work of the many state agencies with which the office collaborates.   

Capstone Email Retention Policy – Status Report

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) unveiled the Capstone approach to email retention in 2013. Capstone attempts to simplify email management by categorizing and scheduling email based on the work or position of the email account owner instead of each email’s content. The email accounts of so-called “Capstone” positions are scheduled as permanent records, while all other email accounts are designated as temporary records and retained for a fixed period of time.

Several state archives are evaluating and implementing more widespread adoptions of the Capstone approach. For instance, the State Archives of North Carolina implemented a Capstone approach with its Transforming Online Mail with Embedded Semantics (TOMES) Project.

The SRC first began discussing the Capstone approach for Alabama state agencies in 2018. In summer 2020, the Records Management Section developed a list of 310 positions from 73 state agencies (representing about 1% of the state workforce) which they suggested should be designated as Capstone accounts. All email messages sent and received by the Capstone accounts would be automatically designated as permanent records. The email accounts would be transmitted to the ADAH for permanent preservation when the records are no longer needed by the originating agency, similarly to other permanent records. Records Management staff provided this spreadsheet and an accompanying memo to the SRC. After further refinement, the list will be presented for approval at the April 2021 State Records Commission meeting.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the SRC is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

A State Agency’s Guide to Transferring Permanent Paper Records to the Archives

Many records managers think of “records disposition” as the destruction or deletion of temporary records. Destruction, however, is just one form of disposition. Disposition is the phase of the records lifecycle in which records which have fulfilled their primary function and purpose are either destroyed or archived.

Image: Utah State Archives, “Scheduling the Lifecycle of Your Records,” https://archives.utah.gov/rim/CSS/rm-certification/rm-2-4.html.

In Alabama, the State and Local Government Records Commissions determine disposition for all government records in the form of Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). RDAs designate records as either temporary records, which may be destroyed after a specified retention period, or permanent records, which are preserved for future generations.  

While local governments are responsible for preserving their permanent records within their communities, state agencies transfer their permanent records (with some exceptions) to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH), the state’s records repository, once their active life has expired. As provided in the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-12-5, “…whenever any book, paper or document… has ceased to be current, [public officials] shall deliver [them] to the Director of the Department of Archives and History…” Archiving permanent records on a regular basis will protect the records from environmental threats, conserve storage space, and increase efficiency.

With only a few staff members serving Alabama’s hundreds of state agencies and thousands of local government entities, we depend on agency staff’s help in preparing records for transfer. By following the steps below, a state agency will ensure the preservation and accessibility of their records for generations to come.

Step One: Check the RDA

Refer to your agency’s RDA to confirm that the records are permanent records. All state agency RDAs are available on the ADAH website; permanent records appear in the third section of the RDA (entitled “Records Disposition Authority”), which lists all the record series an agency creates. Note: A record series is a group or category of records. Permanent record series are hard to miss – just look for the all caps. They are notated as follows:

INFORMATIONAL AND PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS
Disposition: PERMANENT RECORD.

Some permanent records are not transferred to the ADAH, but are instead retained permanently within the agency. If PERMANENT RECORD is followed by “Retain in office” (as below), these records should remain with the agency.

CERTIFIED COPIES OF ADMINISTRATIVE RULES
Disposition: PERMANENT RECORD. Retain in office.

For quick reference, see the section of the RDA entitled “Permanent Records List.” This page provides a full listing of all the permanent records created by your agency. If you are unsure whether records are permanent, contact the Records Management staff listed in step two.

Step Two: Contact the Records Management Section

To get the ball rolling, contact one of the staff members below:

Staff will provide essential instructions and forms for the transfer process.

Step Three: Receive & Construct Archival Boxes

Permanent records should be packed in archival boxes, which are provided by the ADAH. These are sturdy, acid-free boxes that meet archival standards for preservation, offering maximum protection for your records. Provide Records Management staff with an estimate of how many boxes are needed (archival boxes are approximately the size of a copy paper box), and Records Management staff will deliver the boxes to your agency. Note: Archival boxes are intended for permanent records only. Any unused boxes are to be returned to the ADAH.

The archival boxes delivered to you will be flat and unconstructed. The boxes and the lids are separate pieces. Follow the instructions printed on the box to put the boxes and lids together.

Step Four: Decide How to Arrange the Records

Unless the records that you transfer must remain confidential according to state or federal law, they will be made available to the public. The records should be divided and sorted in a way that makes them accessible. First and foremost, each record series should be packed separately. Do not place different record series in the same box – for example, “Meeting Minutes, Agendas, and Packets” should not be in the same box as “Informational and Promotional Materials,” even if one series doesn’t completely fill a box.

Secondly, the records should be arranged in a systematic way. How you organize within a record series depends on the type of records – it might make the most sense to arrange records chronologically, alphabetically, topically, by ID number, etc. Not sure which way is best? Give us a call and we’ll be happy to provide a recommendation.

Step Five: Pack the Boxes

There are several “dos and don’ts” to remember when packing to ensure the records’ long-term preservation.

DODON’T
Use archival boxes provided by the ADAHUse your own non-archival boxes
Use folders to organize recordsStack loose papers in a box
Assign each box a number & use sticky notes or light pencil markings to label the boxesWrite on the boxes in pen or marker
Pack folders along the long side of the boxPlace folders down the sides of the box or on top of other folders
Remove records from three-ring binders and place in labeled foldersUse your own labels for the boxes (the Archives will provide labels once the transmittal form is finalized)
Remove rubber bands from records

For electronic media mixed with paper records:

If a record series contains an electronic device such as a DVD, flash drive, etc., label the contents (if known) and notify Records Management staff. Electronic devices can be packed in between other folders or placed in a folder if needed to keep the item from moving around the box. 

Step Six: Complete the File Listing Form

Some transmittals will require a file listing to identify the records contained in the transmittal. As its name suggests, a file listing form lists the title of every file folder in every box. The spreadsheet includes the following fields:

  • Box number – The number of the box which contains the folder
  • Record series – The record series title as it appears in the RDA
  • Content description – A brief description of the range of records within the box. For example:
    • 176284 to 176301
    • “Adjustment, Board of” to “Attorney General, Office of”
    • 1999_01_30 to 2003_10_07
  • Folder title – The text written on the folder tab
  • Year – The earliest and latest years that the records were created (e.g., 1999-2003)

Step Seven: Complete Draft of the Transmittal Form

The transmittal form includes basic information about the records, the agency, and the staff member transferring records. The form includes the following fields:

  • Archival Records Title – Leave this field blank! ADAH staff will assign the archival records title.
  • Year Span – The earliest and latest years that the records were created (e.g., 1999-2003)
  • Volume – Count each box
  • Arrangement – Specify how the records are organized. For example:
    • Chronologically
    • Chronologically and then alphabetically by topic
    • Alphabetically by topic
    • Alphabetically by entity
    • Numerically by case file number

The table within the transmittal form is a box listing. This table includes the following fields:

  • Box No. – The number of the box
  • Records title – The record series as it appears in the RDA
  • Box Contents – A brief description of the range of records within the box (same as “Content Description” field in the file listing)
  • Year Span – the earliest and latest years that the records were created
  • Archives Location – Leave this field blank! ADAH staff will assign the archives location.

Using one row per box, write the record series contained in the box and briefly describe the range of material inside the box. For example:

Step Eight: Send File Listing and Unsigned Transmittal Form to Records Management Staff

Send the drafted file listing and unsigned transmittal form to Records Management staff in Excel or .xlsx format. Since the transmittal form officially transfers legal ownership of records to the ADAH, we may have questions or make modifications to ensure that the form accurately lists and describes your agency’s records. We will use the information on the forms to print labels for the boxes and describe the records in our catalog.

Step Nine: Schedule Pickup & Sign Transmittal Form

Coordinate a pickup date and time with Records Management staff. We will provide labels for the boxes and a finalized transmittal form for signature. The SRC does not specify which agency staff member should sign the form; agencies may establish their own policy for signatures. Records Management staff will take the records and any unused boxes to the Archives. 

Your agency’s records will be processed, cataloged, shelved, and made available to the public. Should your agency need to reference the records, staff are welcome to make a trip to the ADAH Research Room. Our staff can make digital copies using iPad scanners and email them as PDFs at no charge. Researchers may also image documents with their own mobile devices or cameras (without flash). 

If your agency is preparing to send permanent records to the Archives, give us a call and we will be happy to assist.

State Agency Records Destruction 101

No state government employee may destroy records without first obtaining the approval of the State Records Commission (SRC) (Code of Alabama 1975 §  41-13-21). The SRC determines which state government records have permanent value and which may be destroyed after specified periods of time.

The SRC authorizes destruction through state agency Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). RDAs designate records as either temporary records, which may be destroyed after a specified retention period, or permanent records, which are preserved for future generations. State agencies may destroy temporary records after they have satisfied the minimum retention requirements prescribed by the RDA (and presuming no litigation or other hold is placed upon the records). The retention period is only a minimum; agencies may choose to maintain records for longer than the retention period. State agencies which have an approved RDA must document the destruction of both paper and electronic records and submit this documentation to the ADAH Records Management Section each year.

The ADAH provides on its website a template destruction form, entitled the “State Government Records Destruction Notice.” While all the required information in this form is mandatory, the format is flexible. State agencies may choose to create internal procedures for documenting destruction and may create their own forms. Whichever format agencies choose, they must capture the following information:

  • State agency name and department/division
  • Records Title as shown on RDA
  • Retention as shown on RDA
  • Inclusive dates
  • Date audited
  • Format
  • Volume
  • Total cubic feet (for paper records)
  • Total bytes (for electronic records)
  • Manner in which the records will be destroyed
  • Printed name, job title, and signature of authorizing official
  • Date signed

Documenting State Records Destruction  

Use a Records Disposition Authority

Consult your agency’s Records Disposition Authority (RDA) for retention requirements. The RDA lists the types of records your agency creates and the minimum amount of time the records must be maintained. Once the retention has been met, state agencies may (but are not obligated to) proceed with destruction.

Identify the record type(s) that you wish to destroy. Determine whether litigation or other holds prevent the destruction of otherwise eligible records. Then, document the following information in the State Government Records Destruction Notice or form of your choosing:

  • “Records Title as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the Records Title for each record type, which appear in bold in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements.”

  • “Retention as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the minimum retention as listed in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements” (for example, “Retain 3 years” or “Retain 2 years following audit”).  

  • “Inclusive Dates”

For each record type, include the earliest and latest dates that the records were created (for example, “1998,” “May-November 2019,” or “2000-2010”).

  • “Date Audited”

Some retentions are dependent on audit date. If the retention in the RDA mentions an audit date, identify when these records were made available for audit. If the retention does not mention an audit, write “N/A” for Not Applicable.

Note: Do not list your state agency’s most recent audit. Specify when the records were made available for audit. For example, consider a state agency that has been audited in 2010 and 2017. The agency is submitting a destruction notice that includes records with a minimum retention “Retain 2 years following audit” and which were created in 2008 and audited in 2010. The agency should write “2010” in this field, as this was the audit cycle in which the 2008 records were made available.

  • “Format”

The format or medium of the records (paper or electronic).   

  • “Volume”

The volume of the paper records being destroyed in cubic feet and/or electronic records being destroyed in bytes.

Paper Records

Paper RecordsList how many cubic feet are being
destroyed for each record type
1 Box of Copy Paper1 Cubic Foot
1 Banker’s Box2 Cubic Feet
1 Legal-Sized File Drawer2 Cubic Feet
Fifty 100 Foot 35mm Microfilm1 Cubic Foot
3×5 Cards, Ten 12″ Rows1 Cubic Foot
3 Large Bound Volumes1.5 Cubic Feet

Electronic Records

Electronic RecordsList how many bytes (B, KB, MB, GB, TB, or PB)
are being destroyed
1 Byte (B)8 Bits
1 Kilobyte (KB)1,024 Bytes
1 Megabyte (MB)1,024 Kilobytes
1 Gigabyte (GB)1,024 Megabytes
1 Terabyte (TB)1,024 Gigabytes
1 Petabyte (PB)1,024 Terabytes

Complete the Total Records Destroyed

Add up the total cubic feet and write the sum in the field entitled “For Paper Records: Total Cubic Feet.”

Add up the total bytes and write the sum in the field entitled “For Electronic Records: Total Bytes.”  

Complete the Signature Section

Ensure the appropriate authorizing official signs the notice. The notice may be signed electronically or may be printed and signed. Please remember to include the printed name and title of the authorizing official. All destruction must be reported to the Records Liaison so that they can document the destruction in the Annual RDA Implementation Report.

Destroy the Records

The SRC and LGRC do not stipulate how records should be destroyed; however, state agencies should ensure that the disposition method they use is appropriate for the records being destroyed. Records with confidential or sensitive content, such as financial information, personally identifiable information (PII), or personal health information (PHI), should be destroyed securely in a way that leaves records unreadable and unrecoverable. 

For Records Liaisons: Guide to Completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report

Each year (typically in October), the ADAH Records Management Section sends state agency Records Liaisons instructions for completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report. Records Liaisons must complete the report and submit all destruction documentation to Records Management staff by January 15th of the following year. 

Note: Failure to properly adhere to destruction procedures may result in an audit finding.

Can I Scan and Toss? Six Considerations for a Digitization Project

“If I scan a document, can I toss the paper copy?” This is one of the most common questions that Records Management Section staff hear from state and local government agencies. Perhaps your office wants to migrate records to a document management system or simply wants to move records to a shared drive for easy reference and to save space. Digital tools offer convenient ways for searching, retaining, and disposing of records, but there are a few factors that government officials should consider before embarking on a “scan and toss” project.

(1) Permanent records should be maintained in their original format, whether paper or electronic.

The State and Local Government Records Commissions, which oversee the disposition of all government records in Alabama, require that records designated as permanent be maintained in their original format. For permanent records, the medium is as historically valuable as the message – consider holding the original marriage ledger that your great-grandparents signed, versus seeing a digitized version through a screen. This means that permanent records originally created in paper format must be retained in paper format, and permanent records originally created in electronic format must be retained electronically. Permanent paper records may be digitized to increase their accessibility, but the original files must be preserved.

There is no requirement that temporary paper records be retained in paper format. Governments may digitize temporary records and discard the duplicate paper copies; however, governments must be prepared to maintain the digitized records in an accessible format for the required minimum retention specified in the appropriate Records Disposition Authority (RDA)

Note: As a general rule, local governments should consult the ADAH before destroying records which were created before 1940.

(2) Audits or expected litigation may require original documents to be kept.

Scans created to replace an original document will be considered the record copy of the document and may be subject to audit or litigation. These digitized records must meet standards that demonstrate completeness and authenticity. In some cases, auditors may insist on inspecting original documents rather than copies. Similarly, copied records may be inadmissible as evidence in court. Before copying documents and destroying the originals, consult with legal counsel to ensure that the original documents do not need to be maintained. If digitized documents are acceptable, establish and follow a standard process for digitization that preserves the accuracy and reliability of the records.

(3) Don’t spend time digitizing records that can be destroyed.

The key to an efficient records management system is promptly disposing of records that have met their minimum required retention. Why spend time and money digitizing records or migrating records from system to system that could have been disposed of years ago? These obsolete records create bulk that make active records harder to locate and use. Save time and money by disposing of records that are eligible for destruction before starting a digitization project – but be sure to follow the correct procedures (available here for state agencies and here for local governments). 

(4) Be prepared for the unique challenges of preserving electronic records.

State and local governments which scan and toss must ensure that the digitized records remain accessible and readable for their entire lifespan/retention period. Properly stored, paper records can still be accessible after centuries, but electronic records require more frequent care. Ideally, governments should follow the “3-2-1 Rule” of data storage: at least three copies stored on two different media with one copy being stored offsite. The two different media might be an agency server and cloud storage or an external hard drive. The agency’s files should be regularly backed up to the second storage location. In the event of a technological failure, natural disaster, or ransomware attack, having a backup means your agency’s records are recoverable. 

Moreover, just as the heyday of compact disks (CDs) has come and gone, today’s software systems, storage devices, and file formats will eventually become obsolete. It is not adequate for records to be stored on a computer in the basement which no one can access; records must be migrated to preserve accessibility. Migrating records takes time and resources. To avoid unplanned expenses later, research the costs of migration now.

(5) Digitization is not a replacement for organization.

Many offices digitize records for ease of searching and locating records. Search tools are limited, however, when records are poorly indexed, named, and organized. Indexing is the process of attaching metadata to a record. Metadata may sound intimidating, but it simply means descriptive information about a file such as the name, creator, creation date, and destruction eligibility date. Choose which metadata to capture before digitization to expedite records retrieval, sorting, and disposition. If digitizing files to a database or document management system, leverage its full potential by adding retention periods to records. Users can then filter search results to locate records which are eligible for destruction or receive notifications as soon as records become eligible. Vendors may offer advanced indexing options such as optical character recognition (OCR).

If digitizing records to a simple file system, you can still leverage metadata to work for you. Choose descriptive but concise file and folder names that make the contents of the file or folder clear. Avoid using special characters such as spaces, commas, and periods, which can cause files to become corrupt and irretrievable; instead, use underscores to separate words. Including dates in file names makes it easier to dispose of records when they have met their required retention. Finally, records should be systematically sorted, whether before or after digitization occurs. Create folders based on the records series in the RDA to make retention and disposition easier, or organize by subject, date, event, or other method. No matter the approach, consistency is key.

(6) Perform quality control.

As mentioned in consideration #2, offices that choose to scan and toss (or the vendors they hire to do so) should establish quality control standards that preserve the accuracy and reliability of records. Save scanned images in stable and high-quality file formats. For documents, a resolution of 300 DPI (dots per inch) in TIFF or PDF/A (the archival-quality version of PDF) format is a good choice. Contact the ADAH Records Management Section for recommendations for other document types. Lastly, verify the accuracy and consistency of scans, ensuring all files and pages are accounted for.

The takeaway from these points is that while digitization may be convenient in some ways for managing records, it can also complicate the preservation of records. Still have questions or feel you could benefit from tailored guidance? The Records Management Section offers free training and advice to Alabama’s state agencies and local governments. Reach out to Rebecca Hebert, State and Local Government Records Coordinator, at 334-353-5039 or becky.hebert@archives.alabama.gov.