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Records management is based upon the records series concept and two primary principles, the "records life cycle" and "records appraisal." The basic unit used in all discussions of records management and all records retention and disposition schedules is the record series. A record series is a body of records or documents which may be filed and maintained together as a unit throughout the life cycle. Records in a series are related because they result from the same accumulation or filing process, the same function, the same activity, have the same or a similar form, have similar or related contents, or because of some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use.
Records, like living organisms, have life cycles. They are created or received (born or adopted). At this stage their physical form (paper, electronic, magnetic, photographic) and informational content are established. Records are then used and maintained (they mature). They are referred to, revised, refiled, and occasionally reorganized. It is generally true that the need to refer to files declines sharply as their age increases. As records reach the end of their active lives, they are disposed of in some manner: they are destroyed, reformatted, transferred to inactive storage, or transferred to the University Archives.
Controlling records throughout their life cycle is the basis for records management. During the creation phase, records can be controlled through forms management (establishment of standards for forms creation, design, analysis, and revision), correspondence management (establishment of uniform systems for formatting, preparing, and processing correspondence), and copy management (determining how many copies are needed, what they will be used for, how they are distributed, how they will be made in the most economical manner, and avoiding unnecessary copies).
During the use/maintenance life cycle phase, filing system design is critical in controlling records. Questions about the use and control of records should be posed and answered before a single file cabinet or folder is purchased. Will the filing system be centralized or decentralized? Will the filing arrangement be numeric, alphabetical, or a combination of both?
The disposition phase of the life cycle is critically important to proper and economical maintenance of office records. Many records can be legally destroyed at the end of their active lives. Others become semi-active and should be retired to a records storage area or reformatted for more convenient storage. Microfilming and digital imaging are the most common form of reformatting. Records with continuing long-term value are sent to the University Archives for permanent storage.
Determining the value of a record series is known as "appraisal," the second basic principle of records management. Appraisal is the process by which archivists determine the administrative, legal, and fiscal value (primary value), and the historical and long-term research value (secondary value) of records. Once the value of a record series has been determined, a realistic retention period can be assigned to it. Appraisal can take place at any point during a record series' life cycle, but is most frequently done when the records become inactive.
Some of the considerations taken into account during the appraisal process include: