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Organizing Records for Retention

This page is part of a series on Implementing the Records Classification and Retention Schedule for the first time. Before reorganizing your records you must have:

  • Identified your storage locations
  • Completed an Inventory and Classification sheet.

Issues that may lead to reorganizing

During the disposition process, issues with the way records are organized, stored or filed may come to light. Some common issues may include:

  • multiple records series in the same file;
  • records organized alphabetically or numerically where the retention periods are not being tracked;
  • records not cut off at the end of the year.

In order to organize and file these records effectively, files must only contain records from a single records series. That way, the same retention trigger and retention period will apply. Retention periods and triggers should be tracked, to allow disposition to occur each year.

Retention trigger type

The type of retention trigger for a records series will affect the best way to organize records. The retention trigger is indicated in the Records Classification and Retention Schedule (RCRS). There are two kinds of retention triggers: annual and event-based.

Type 1: Annual records

Annual records have a retention trigger at the end of the year. This may be the academic, calendar or fiscal year depending on the records series.

A file of annual records should only contain records from a single year. Each year, cut off the prior year's active file. Copy anything that you are still working on to the new folder for the current year. Keep the prior year's folder until the end of its retention period and do not add anything else.

Type 2: Event-based records

Event based records have a trigger that could occur at any time. This may be the end of a project, publication, student graduating, etc.

These records remain active until something specific occurs. After the event, the folder is closed and the retention period counts down. Event-based records in the same folder should all be subject to the same trigger event. These records can be reopened if necessary. If they are reopened, the retention period would start over at the beginning when the event occurs again.

Options for tracking retention

Going forward, there are several options for tracking retention. These include physical and electronic means.

You can track all files in your area on a spreadsheet or similar list and add a trigger date when it occurs. Using this spreadsheet a list of eligible files can be generated each year. When setting up this type of spreadsheet, records series should be listed separately to ensure that eligibility is calculated correctly.

We have developed a File Tracking Sheet that you can use to track your files, and instructions for completing it. View the instructions for completing the File Tracking Sheet.

You can move closed files to a separate area and file by retention trigger date, and indicate the trigger date on the outside of the file so it is easily tracked. If the file is reopened, the closure date will need to be removed, and the file put back in the active area.

If records have an annual trigger, you can ensure that each file contains only records for a single year, and files are closed and a new file opened each year. The date of the file will show the retention trigger and can be used to calculate eligibility. You must make sure that each file only contains records from a single records series.

If records are also tracked within a records system like the Student Information System, the database can be used to generate a report that will prompt disposition of eligible files. A list of files closed prior to the eligibility threshold for the year can be generated. This list can be used as a pull list to pull all eligible files for disposition.

A combination of these methods may work the best for your unit. Files with annual trigger types may have their retention triggers tracked physically by where they are filed in a cabinet. Case files may be tracked on a spreadsheet. Project files may be tracked physically by moving them out of active storage when the project is closed, and filing by retention trigger date. The best way to organize and track retention periods will be determined by your unit’s work processes.

Develop a File Plan

In order to ensure that retention periods are tracked and filing occurs consistently, you can develop a file plan for your unit. A file plan is a list of the records series that a unit uses, and how you break those Records Series down further. Just because records are in the same records series does not mean they need to be in the same file. You can split them up into separate files to make retrieval and retention easier. Split them up in a way that makes sense for the way you do your work.

  • You can split them by date: Records by day, by month or by year.
  • You can split them by "case": A "case" might be a student, donor, a student appeal, vendor, transaction or employee.
  • Or by project: For the most part, you can keep project records as a unit. Some deliverables may actually be a part of a different records series.

But everything in a single folder should have the same records series and retention trigger date.

For more assistance

If you need advice or assistance in organizing records for retention, please contact