Organizing Physical Records for Storage
The RIMS team strongly advises departments to follow the storage guidelines provided here to ensure that records are protected until they surpass their minimum retention periods.
Due to the high costs and limited availability of office space, storage of physical records within a department is generally discouraged. Cost effective options for storage of physical records can be found on the RIMS Records Storage page.
Records that have passed their State mandated minimum retention periods should be disposed of after receiving State approval.
A flow chart of the comprehensive disposition process is available.
CONTAINERS AND ORGANIZATION
Records should be stored in containers designed for records storage purposes such as filing cabinets or records boxes. When storing records in records boxes, be sure to load the box with just enough space to allow for easy removal of folders without too much space. A good measure of the right amount of space is approximately the width of three fingers. An ideal box is a 10” x 12” x 15” Bankers-style box such as item #12770 available from the ODP Business Solutions catalog through iBuy. This size is necessary for shelving; other sizes will result in re-boxing fees. Printer/copier paper boxes are not sturdy and should be avoided. Two foot “long” records boxes should also be avoided due to their increased weight. Boxes should not be stacked more than four high as the bottom boxes collapse under the weight of taller stacks.
Folders are commonly used to store related records. Folders should not be stored in a pile but, rather, they should be stored upright to allow for retrieval without disturbing nearby folders. Each folder should have a unique title, often a person’s name or an account number to which the records relate.
Records should be arranged in a manner that allows for easy retrieval and disposal. For instance, financial files might be grouped by fiscal year and then arranged alphabetically by vendor. When possible, avoid storing together different categories of records or records that cover long spans of time as this can hinder retrieval and disposal.
Each box or file cabinet drawer should be labeled with a unique title to identify and distinguish its contents from other records. The label will typically also include a date range and box or file cabinet/drawer number.
A list of the locations and contents of all records, including date range and box number, should be maintained to identify the office to which they belong, to ensure easy retrieval, and to account for the records. Where possible, the inventory should also include a list of folder titles as well as the date when the records may be disposed of or transferred to the campus Archives.
Prolonged exposure to extreme heat or cold or excessive temperature variations should be avoided, particularly for archival, audio visual, and other sensitive materials or for records that require long-term retention. Space that is not environmentally controlled such as attics or outbuildings may be acceptable for storage of material requiring only short-term retention such as 5 years or less, but should always be monitored for environmental changes that may have adverse effects on the records.
Excessive humidity can promote the growth of mold. Humidity should not exceed 60%, while long-term or sensitive materials should ideally be stored below 40% humidity, minimizing excessive variations. Proper air circulation is an important factor in regulating the effects of humidity.
Water is one of the greatest threats to records. Floods, burst pipes, and roof leaks are all common sources of water which can rapidly destroy records. Care should be taken to protect against such sources of damage. Records should be stored at least 3 inches off the ground on shelving or pallets. Where possible, records should be located away from overhead sources of water including pipes and sprinkler systems, or they should be covered to prevent damage caused by a possible leak. If your records do get wet, or have fire, smoke, or other damage, please contact RIMS for assistance as soon as possible after the crisis has been stabilized.
There are a variety of insects and rodents that will cause damage to files. Storage areas should be inspected on a regular basis for the presence of pests and appropriate pest control measures should be implemented as soon as possible if pests are detected. Avoid the storage or consumption of food near records storage areas to limit the potential of attracting pests to these areas.
To avoid intentional or unintentional loss of records, it is important to know who has access to the records storage space. Department staff, other building occupants, custodians, students, and the public may all potentially have access to the space unless precautions are taken to restrict this access. The location for stored records should be carefully chosen to minimize the potential for unauthorized personnel having access to the records.
Records should be stored in a locked environment, ideally behind a keyed door with no other easy entry points such as windows. A key log should be maintained to know who has access to the space. Using locking file cabinets may also be considered when shared access is needed for the space. The door and lock should be sturdy enough to withstand attempts at forceful entry or vandalism.
The storage space should be in a visible location and regularly visited to identify actual or attempted vandalism. Notify authorities as soon as possible if an attempt at unauthorized access is identified.
The storage space should have sufficient lighting to allow staff to work in the space safely. When working in the space, care should be exercised to ensure that shelves and cabinets do not tip due to an unbalanced weight distribution such as what occurs when having multiple drawers open at the same time. Boxes should not be stacked more than four high to prevent their collapse or accidental toppling. Storage above shoulder height requires additional safety considerations such as the use of a step ladder and should be avoided if at all possible.