Big Project or Why You Need a Retention Schedule

A few months ago I think it was November I began working on my biggest project so far as a volunteer at the Utah Valley University Archives. It was twelve boxes of varying size and style piled sometimes two levels high with various folders and paperwork from the university’s Continuing Education department. As usual most of it was not in any kind of order.

My first duty was to go through the boxes and determine what items were contained in each box. I found that the boxes contained programs/excursions, budgets, bank statements, audio/visual items, floppy discs, waivers, personnel records, etc.  When this was done I worked on setting up the collection on Archivist’s Toolkit and determining series and possible subseries headings. This then also gave me a basic idea of how to sort out the collection.


The majority of the files and paperwork seem to revolve around the “Elderhostel” programs/excursions. While sorting things out I decided that I would keep most of that information together. The two biggest items I have separated out from those files include items that deal with university personnel and medical waiver forms. The medical waiver forms have made up the largest amount of documents that will need to be destroyed due to sensitive information including Social Security Numbers, medical insurance providers and policy numbers.

And there are stwaiversacks and stacks of these documents. Every time a participant enrolled in a program they were required to fill out a form. Potentially participants have several duplicate forms within these files.  With this many forms it is surprising that the department never developed or instituted a Retention Schedule that calls for the destruction of non-vital sensitive materials. I recall that my final project for my course in Records Management was to create a Retention Schedule that would provide for the destruction or retention of materials.

All organizations should and need to have a Retention Schedule. These schedules allow for institutions to comply with various legal statues or corporate policies. This in turn allows those who control the records to know what should be kept and for how long. Another part of the Retention Schedule includes the destruction of documents allowing for proper disposal of sensitive materials.

Added benefits of file destruction includes that it generates space and prevents a lot of unnecessary items making their way to the archive. This is another reason that archivists should become involved in the records management process from the beginning. When archivists work hand in hand with those who are creating the documents there is a smoother transition of items into the archive for long term keeping.

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