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Records Management at UNC-Chapel Hill: Digital Records

This guide contains information and tips for UNC-Chapel Hill employees about records management requirements and procedures.

Review and Organize Digital Records

Retention Review

  • To review existing digital records, see the Review Records for Retention box on the Review Strategies page for tips.
  • For obsolete digital storage devices (floppy disks, CDs, etc.) that are difficult to access and review, contact the University Archives for assistance.
  • For tips on proactively organizing digital records, see the tips below. 

Organizing Records

It can be challenging to keep records of any format organized, but digital records often feel particularly challenging because it is so easy to make copies and share files in different locations. We also tend to work collaboratively with cloud based documents and shared storage which can lead to many different organization styles converging and conflicting online. Unfortunately there is no standard, easy way to keep digital records well organized, but there are some strategies that can help if used consistently. 

  • Inventory all the digital storage locations.
  • Ensure files are backed up and secure in all locations. If your office deals with confidential information this is very important. See the Sensitive Records page for more detail and for ITS data security resources.
  • Develop a plan for organizing digital folders going forward. Keep it as simple as possible. Some plan components might be:
    • Determine how various storage locations will be used.
    • Create file naming convention guidelines.
    • Use folders strategically, but don't get carried away with nested folder structures.
    • Centralize storage for final copies of records. Avoid relying on individual staff computers or OneDrive accounts.
    • Leave behind short notes in folders to explain contents.
      • Use a text file (.txt) in a program like Notepad (PC) or Text Edit (Mac) to describe a folder of digital files. Remind your future self or future staff what the files are. Title the file README.txt 
    • Delete files after retention period and/or after transfer to the University Archives.
    • Create written documentation of the storage practices. 
    • Communicate with you team about the changes and the storage plan, so they are prepared for the change in advance and know where digital files should be stored. Train new employees in file storage practices. 

Scanning Paper Records

Scanning

  • Scanning paper files for digital use and storage does not change your records management responsibilities for those materials. You will still be responsible for securely storing and disposing of the records based on the Retention Schedule.
  • Review records for retention before scanning. Don't spend time scanning records that can be destroyed or transferred to the University Archives. Please contact us to set up a consultation if you need assistance determining retention. 
  • Plan before you scan! You'll need to consider file formats, storage needs, and organization of the resulting digital copies before beginning the scanning project. It's important that files are still readable, findable, and useable by your department. We are happy to advise on this process. Please contact us for more information. 

Email

As of April 8, 2019, there is a new policy for email retention. See the Records Retention Schedule Appendix A for complete details. 

  • This approach is based on the Capstone Approach developed by the National Archives and Records Administration. Under this approach, email records created and received by employees in selected administrative positions will automatically be retained as permanent records in the University Archives. All other email accounts will be retained for a period of five years after the employee leaves the University and then discarded. All employees still have a responsibility to evaluate emails, like other record formats, based on the Records Retention Schedule and individuals not in "Capstone positions" can still work with us to transfer permanent records if needed.  

How do I know if an email is a record?

  • It's all about the information contained in the email. Emails that contain unique and significant information or conversations about the functions and activities of your department should be retained based on the General Records Schedule.
  • If an email message is determined to be a record, then it must be maintained retained or deleted according to the Retention Schedule. It is the responsibility of each employee to manage their email records. 

It can be overwhelming to manage email records. The following strategies may be helpful:

  • Delete transitory emails right away, so they don't crowd your inbox. Examples of transitory emails would be messages about changes to meeting locations, donuts in the break room, or University announcements.
  • Use folders to organize mail that would be considered a record. Sort the mail into folders actively at regular intervals.

If your email is scheduled to be sent to the University Archives, we'll work with you on the transfer process. In general, you'll export the selected folders and/or emails from Outlook for transfer.

Digital Records FAQ

What digital records should we send to the archives?

  • Records that are scheduled for permanent retention can be transferred to the archives. With digital records there are some additional considerations:
    • If there is extensive duplication between digital originals and printed copies -- only send us what you consider to be the record copy. In general this means you should send either the paper or digital, but not both. 
    • If you've scanned paper files, we generally prefer to receive the original paper copies rather than the digital images of the paper copies.

I found old storage devices (like CDs and floppy disks) in my office, but don't have the hardware to access the disks to review the files. Can the Archives help?

  • We keep a range of disk drives for our day to day work with obsolete storage devices. Depending on the number of disks and staff availability, we may be able to help you review some of the disks. Please contact us!

My department is getting a new content management system or document management software. Do we need to manage those records? Do you have advice for selecting a system?

  • If you store records in an information system or content management system, you still have records management responsibilities for that information. We can work with you and ITS to figure out how to manage records currently in systems you use. 
  • When considering new systems, it's helpful to make records management needs part of the process. When working with ITS on selecting a system, you might consider:
    • What is the retention period for the information that will be stored in this system?
    • Can data be exported if it needs to be retained long-term either by the department or by the Archives? What is the export process like? What are the resulting file types? 
    • How can we delete nonpermanent records from this system?
    • ITS provides a Data Protection and Purchasing guide that may be of interest. 

Does the Archives require digital files be in specific formats for transfer?

  • We don't require specific file formats for records that will be transferred to the University Archives for permanent retention. You should use file formats that best suit the work your office does. If you'd like to know more about file formats that are better for long-term digital preservation, please contact us.

Digital Records Retention

University records in digital formats are subject to the same retention and disposition instructions as records in other formats. The important factor in records management is information not format. Digital records should be evaluated using the General Records Retention Schedule. Obsolete and current digital storage devices

The following information is general guidance to help you understand more about digital records management. Please contact us to discuss your specific situation in more detail. 

Web and Social Media Content

UNC websites and UNC social media accounts are considered university records and many will be preserved for historical purposes. 

The University Archives uses a service called Archive-It to archive UNC websites and some social media content. If your department is creating or significantly changing a website or social media account, please contact us by email. If we haven't archived your unit's website, please email us to nominate a website for archiving. 

One Note on OneDrive

As dictated by ITS policies, employees will lose access to email and OneDrive after leaving employment. It is important that unique departmental records are stored in or moved to shared departmental storage as appropriate. Avoid having records requiring retention siloed in staff OneDrive accounts long term.

  • Last Updated: Dec 1, 2020 10:31 AM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.unc.edu/recman