Meet the Staff Feature: Sophie Howard

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


Name: Sophie Howard
Title: Records Management & Appraisal Archivist
Specialties: Records Disposition Authority (RDA) revision, local government records retention / destruction

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

I originally pursued an undergraduate degree in foreign language with the intention of becoming a teacher abroad. A close family member became seriously ill midway through my program, so by the time I graduated I was in the process of reframing my goals in life. I enrolled in a master’s program in Information Science (which is kind of like an updated version of “library school”) around the time that I had the opportunity to interview for this position. I feel very fortunate to be where I am now.

What is something you enjoy about working in records management?

The Department engages in many different types of activities; we have schoolchildren visiting the Museum of Alabama on our premises regularly, and we likewise have a reference room where members of the public can conduct genealogical research. Records management is more “under the radar” than the work of either of those sections, but the work lays the foundation for records stewardship throughout state and local government, which ensures that the Department’s efforts to provide access to Alabama history can continue. The work feels very purposeful, both immediately and for the benefit of future Alabamians as well.

What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the profession today?

Well, certainly the biggest challenge is the increasing volume of electronic records being produced by state and local governments and the accompanying influx of such records to archives like ours. The profession as a whole is working to build capacity and to develop standards for dealing with this new digital age, but the issue is multifaceted and extremely complex. Even seemingly fundamental concepts like “what is a record” have to be reconsidered in light of emails, databases, and blockchain.

What are your hobbies when you are not at work?

I enjoy reading fiction and nonfiction, scrapbooking, embroidering, and spending time with my fiancé and my dog.

You Don’t Need to Keep It All: Start Decluttering Your Email

To the phrase “You don’t need to keep it all,” I often receive this common response: “I would need to hire an assistant full-time just to manage my email.” While storage may be relatively cheap, think about how long it takes your search engine to find an email among twenty thousand messages. The value of information lies in its accessibility.

How do you begin to declutter your email account? Start by deleting transient emails defined by records that are not essential in documenting agency activities. We previously discussed deleting unsolicited SPAM, distributed messages such as reminders about getting your flu shot, and reference copies in “First Steps to Better Email Management.”

Another example of types of emails that require no documentation for destruction include listserv messages. Set up rules to automatically sort these messages into a separate folder. Also, unsubscribe from groups or even promotional emails that you do not need.

Other types of email easily identified for deletion without documentation include transient records such as accepted/declined meeting requests and read receipts. Even items such as meeting arrangements can be placed in the calendar with the back and forth coordination emails being deleted.

To start finding these types of messages, arrange your emails by “from” which will allow you to select groups of emails and delete them with one click of a button. By arranging your account by sender, you can identify those individuals who do not send email related to the day-to-day operation of government. Some users only send you messages such as “Are you ready for lunch?” Delete emails from these senders in batches.

Email management is not saving all email forever. Spend as little as fifteen minutes every day before or after lunch. Deleting transient emails will help you identify those messages that document your important work in government and will build your confidence as you take additional steps to declutter your account.

First Steps to Better Email Management

Many emails you receive at work are transient records and thus can be deleted. Managing those emails properly can be done in as little as fifteen minutes a day. So where do you begin? You start by deleting emails that you know can be deleted such as unsolicited SPAM or distributed messages sent to groups.

Microsoft Outlook has tools that can help you capture SPAM messages before they reach your inbox. Those messages are stored in a special SPAM or junk mail folder. SPAM messages that arrive in your inbox can be flagged to help your account identify similar future messages, so they go directly to your junk folder. You should check your SPAM folder weekly to ensure that emails created in the ordinary course of business were not misdirected. Otherwise, you can delete your entire SPAM folder weekly to reduce your email account’s clutter and make more efficient use of your account space.

Once you have deleted your SPAM messages, you can then tackle a common transient email – the distributed list email. These are emails where you have been cc’d or bcc’d as part of a larger group of recipients such as all department/agency employees. Often, such messages originate within your immediate workplace and include mass reminders such as “cake in the break room” or “flu shots available today.” Such emails distributed to (not by you) are transient non-substantive messages of short-term usefulness and often are not created as part of the normal functions/activities of your agency. Transient emails can be deleted.

Distributed meeting minutes are also considered transient records. Usually after meetings, minutes are sent to all attendees. As a recipient of these minutes, you can delete those messages because the minutes should be preserved permanently by its creator – recipients are not obligated to preserve those emails because you are merely receiving a reference copy.

Email management is NOT saving all email forever. As email will not manage itself, you must be a proactive manager as email management is your responsibility. Don’t attempt to clean up your email all at once but set aside small intervals of time. See future blogs for additional email clean-up strategies.

What about Government Email?

Can you imagine being able to conduct government business in the State of Alabama without the use of email? In general, public officials are legally obligated to create and maintain records that adequately document agency activities. These government records — including email — facilitate the efficient conduct of government programs and services; ensure effective management of government information; and provide documentation of government business. Considering this, what rules and best practices apply to email when it comes to managing and retaining government records?

Let’s define government email. The state of Alabama issues a professional e-mail account for each new employee and public official. However, Alabama law stipulates that any document is a government record when it is created by a government employee in the course of conducting public business — not just those documents created with and/or stored on government property. If an employee is engaging in government activities with his or her personal email account, those emails are government records. This is one reason that the use of official government email accounts is encouraged when conducting public business.

How long must email be maintained by government agencies? It depends. Email itself is not a record type but a format. Because records retention relies on the information in a record and not on the format, agencies cannot apply one retention to all email messages.

Government email messages must be retained and disposed of according to the Records Disposition Authority (RDA) approved by the appropriate records commission for that agency. For example, if your agency’s RDA requires grant project files to be maintained “six years after submission of the final federal financial report,” then email associated with the grant project file would have that same six-year retention. Email messages are subject to the same retention requirements as the same type of records in another format or medium. Keep in mind that the retention of email is dependent upon the content of the email, not where the email account resides.

Email records are also subject to the same legal requirements regarding access as an agency’s other government records, as established by Alabama’s open records law. Because email created in the conduct of state or local business is public record and rarely subject to restrictions, written communications should be articulated clearly and professionally, leaving banter to the break room.

Getting to Know the Alabama State Records Commission

What is at the center of the state’s government records management program? The State Records Commission (or SRC), established in 1955, oversees the disposition of all state government records. The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) serves as support staff for the State Records Commission and provides records management assistance to all state agencies.

You can’t keep everything forever, but where can you turn for help? ADAH Records and Information Management staff, in cooperation with agency representatives, compile Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs) for state agencies. Those RDAs are then approved by the State Records Commission.

RDAs list records agencies create and maintain while carrying out their mandated functions and activities. They also establish minimum retention periods and disposition instructions for those records; provide the legal authority for agencies to implement records destruction; and identify permanent state records that will ultimately be transferred to the Alabama Department of Archives and History for preservation and public access.

The nine-member State Records Commission oversees the approval of all new and revised state agency RDAs. Commission members represent various state agencies and public universities across Alabama, including Auburn University, the University of Alabama, one of Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Attorney General, Secretary of State, Department of Finance, Department of Revenue, and Examiners of Public Accounts. Steve Murray, ADAH Director, chairs the Commission.

All state agencies are required by the Code of Alabama to create an RDA. Currently, more than 170 Alabama state agencies and commissions have established RDAs through the State Records Commission. If your agency does not have an RDA, they should contact ADAH as soon as possible to initiate the development process. Even those agencies that have RDAs often find themselves in need of revising their existing retention schedules, due to changes in legislation or the discovery or creation of new types of records. All RDA revisions are written in consultation with ADAH staff and brought to the State Records Commission, which meets twice a year, for final approval.

The State Records Commission will meet on Wednesday, October 24, at ADAH in Montgomery. The agenda includes discussion of revisions to existing RDAs for several state agencies, including the Department of Commerce, Board of Medical Examiners/Medical Licensure Commission, State Board of Pharmacy, School of Mathematics and Science, and Mobile County Health Department. Meetings are open to the public.

If you have questions about the Alabama State Records Commission generally, or would like more information about updating your state agency’s RDA, please contact Rebecca L. Hebert at

It’s That Time Again! The 2018 State Agency Annual Records Disposition Authority Implementation Report

The Alabama Department of Archives and History is responsible for working with state agencies on managing their records. This year, we have developed a new online method for reporting your state agency’s 2018 records management activities. Each agency is required to complete this process by January 15, 2019. The new reporting method involves three easy steps:

1. Access the State Agency Annual Records Disposition Authority Implementation Report (it’s best to use a Chrome web browser since this document was created using Google forms). This form contains seven sections of questions about your records management activities, including records destroyed; electronic newsletters, bulletins, and annual reports created; and permanent records transferred to ADAH during the 2018 fiscal year. If your agency did not file a report in previous fiscal years, you can use this same Google form to submit those past reports—just be sure to fill out separate forms for 2018 and any other year you wish to submit.

2. Send a copy of your 2018 destruction notices to

3. Send electronic copies of newsletters, bulletins, and agency annual reports to

Once you complete these three simple steps, you will receive a PDF copy of your completed Annual RDA Implementation Report from ADAH within 30 days of your submission.

If you want to see if your agency has submitted the necessary reports for the past five years, you can check your agency’s compliance at the ADAH State Agency Annual Report Log. After January 15, 2019, you can use that same link to view your agency’s status for FY2018.

When you access the Google form, you will only see one section of questions at a time. If you would like to see all the questions at once to guide your submission process, you can download a PDF of the full questionnaire here: State Agency Annual RDA Implementation Report Preview Of Questions.

Also, when you enter your fiscal year into the Google form, please enter “2018” rather than “FY18” or any other derivation of 2018.

As always, if you have questions about the annual reporting form, please contact Rebecca Hebert at

Thinking Outside the Acid-Free Box on Electronic Records Day

The times might always be changing but thankfully resources exist to ensure that your agency’s records are just as accessible in the future as they are today. Thanks to a three-year grant provided by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) has launched a new initiative to preserve the permanent electronic records created by state agencies. With help from Preservica — a cloud-based subscription service that provides long-term access to a wide array of electronic records formats — ADAH plans to collaborate with state agency records liaisons to think outside the box as we ensure that today’s born-digital records can serve future generations of Alabamians.

In 2017, ADAH used Preservica to make publicly available over 3,500 born-digital files created by the Office of the Governor. Not only does Preservica provide access to the electronic files that originated from Governor Bob Riley’s administration, but the tool migrates the various electronic records formats to new formats that ensure their long-term preservation. The records are accessible to researchers through the Archives website. Check the website often as we add new files to our growing electronic records collections, including our most recent addition of House Journals from 1998 to 2017.

The NHPRC grant also provided funds to assist state agency records liaisons in the development and implementation of electronic records management best practices. ADAH has created new guidelines for handling incoming electronic storage media and is crafting procedures for managing e-mail.

With the NHPRC’s help, ADAH is better prepared to advise state agencies on electronic records management policies and to provide a long-term tool for preserving and accessing permanent digital records. If your agency is interested in learning more about ADAH’s electronic records management program, please contact Rebecca Hebert, State and Local Records Coordinator, at