George R. Hyslop, head of the Farm Crops Department at his desk, ca. 1940. Although Hyslop's desk-top filing system may have worked well for him when this photograph was taken, this is not a recommended practice for today's departmental chairs. [OSU Archives #1439]
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Filing is one of the most important tasks in any office. If the proper records are not kept and filed so that they can be retrieved when they are needed, then they serve no useful function. Filing can be an extremely complex task with very intricate systems. Filing systems may be direct or indirect and require an intervening index to be accessed.
Whichever filing system or systems you may adopt for your office, keep these two evaluative principles in mind. First, the simpler the filing system is to use and to teach, the better it will serve your long-term needs. Simplicity in filing systems sacrifices specificity or locality precision, but gains much in ease and speed of use. The second principle is to file records in the scheme that best helps you to retrieve them. The simple form of the proverb is: "file for retrieval." For example, do not file invoices under invoice numbers if you retrieve them by vendor name.
There is no single filing scheme that is the best for every office. There may not even be a single filing system that is best for every record series within a single office. One needs to remember that the simpler the filing system and the easier its use, the more people will use it and the easier it will be to train filing personnel. Even more importantly, one needs to remember that the filing system adopted should allow one to file for efficient retrieval.
The staff of the University Archives can help you with evaluating and adopting filing systems for your office records. Please contact the University Archives staff for assistance.
The filing equipment in your office has a significant impact on the efficiency and the effectiveness of your record keeping systems. The space in your office which is devoted to filing equipment is extremely valuable and is more costly than you might imagine. It is estimated that the dollar cost of maintaining 8 cubic feet of records (the content of a 5-drawer letter size vertical filing cabinet) in an average state office for one year is more than $2100 per year.
The cost estimate cited above demonstrates the high cost of maintaining files in an office. However, it can also be used to show the high cost of using inefficient and costly filing equipment in prime office space. Almost all types of filing equipment are in use on the Oregon State University campus. Each type of equipment has advantages and disadvantages and its own degree of cost efficiency (see table below).
Filing efficiency may be determined by dividing the equipment's floor space (access space required) by its linear-filing feet capacity. The resulting number is the efficiency rating. A higher number denotes greater efficiency.
|Mobile Shelving (lateral)||2.44|
|8-tier, Times Two style||2.41|
|8-tier, open-shelf lateral file||2.32|
|7-tier, open-shelf lateral file||2.00|
|7-tier, Times Two style||1.85|
|6-tier, open-shelf lateral file||1.81|
|6-tier, letter-size lateral file||1.72|
|6-tier, Times Two style||1.56|
|6-tier, legal size lateral file||1.51|
|Vertical, mobile shelving, 3 ft. deep||1.38|
|5-tier, Times Two style||1.31|
|5-tier, lateral file cabinet (doors)||1.25|
|5-drawer cabinet, vertical letter size||1.02|
|42" 4-level open shelf 1.02|
|4-drawer cabinet, vertical letter size||0.96|
|3-tier lateral file cabinet (doors)||0.85|
|5-drawer cabinet, vertical legal size||0.84|
|4-drawer cabinet, vertical legal size||0.83|
|3-drawer cabinet, vertical letter size||0.61|
|3-drawer cabinet, vertical legal size||0.51|
|2-drawer cabinet, vertical legal size||0.34|
Filing equipment is produced in a variety of styles and each style has inherent advantages and disadvantages. There are trade-offs between filing convenience and protection and cost efficiency. Purchasing filing equipment is a complex matter and input from the users is invaluable. The staff of the University Archives is willing to provide guidance and advice in the purchase of filing equipment that meets the need of your office with the greatest cost efficiency.
Some of the most popular types of filing equipment used by the University are discussed here.
Vertical filing cabinets are the most common type of filing equipment used in individual offices on campus. They are available in a variety of materials and a number of sizes. The larger legal size cabinets are significantly less space efficient than the more common letter size cabinets. The more drawers a unit has the more space and cost efficient it is; two-drawer or three-drawer legal size vertical filing cabinets are among the least efficient records alternatives available.
Vertical filing cabinets in general require a large amount of floor space. Not only do they require several square feet of floor area to sit on, but full access to the drawers requires an average of 42 inches of aisle clearance. An advantage of vertical filing cabinets is that they can provide fire protection when units are specially insulated, and they do provide controlled access when equipped with locks. Locks on vertical filing cabinets are generally not of sufficient quality to actually provide security, but they can provide controlled access. Vertical filing cabinets are most suitable for small record series that are not accessed frequently and contain files in either alphabetic or topical arrangements.
Lateral filing cabinets primarily come in 32-, 36-, and 42-inch lengths and in 15-inch depths. The lateral filing system holds side tab folders or top tab file folders which are normally filed from left to right, much the same way as in the shelf file arrangement.
Most popular units have pull-out units which permit top tab or side tab filefolders to be used. The pull-out drawer features generally require about 30 inches of aisle clearance space for full access.
These cabinets are among the most versatile of all filing units and can be used equally well for legal and letter size files. However, they are not very economical in terms of cost or floor space requirements. The cost of lateral cabinets and the space that they occupy is greater per filing inch than either vertical cabinets or shelves. Like vertical files, lateral cabinets offer the advantages of controlled access with locks and some fire resistance.
Shelf filing systems store records on open horizontal shelves rather than in closed drawers. File folders of either legal or letter size are stored in rows with side tabs facing outside for ease of reading and retrieval. While a few units of this type do have doors, the vast majority are sold without doors; therefore, files are protected neither from fire nor unauthorized access. Equipping shelf files with doors adds significantly to their cost and negates many of the advantages of easy access by many users.
Shelf files are ideal for large record series and work equally well for numeric or alphabetic filing systems. It is a system which works best when entire case files are pulled and not individual documents within a file folder. Color coding of file folders adds to the increased filing accuracy which can be achieved with open shelf filing systems.
The open shelf file unit is the most economical of all available filing systems and can provide answers to problems originating from rising file costs, lack of office space, and file retrieval difficulties.
Mechanized filing equipment is a class of office filing equipment which is not seen very often at the University but is present in a few offices. This class consists of a wide variety of forms ranging from huge electronic units which move tubs of files up and down to others which are human powered that simply move conventional shelves to face the user. All of these systems use energy to bring the files to the location of the user; the user is not moving to fixed file locations.
The cost of this class of file equipment varies greatly as does the cost of installing it. Generally, however, one can be assured that this type of equipment is more expensive than non-mechanized file equipment and its advantages of space compaction should be very carefully analyzed before it is adopted over more conventional file storage systems.