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5 Lessons from Archivists at the Smithsonian

Managing Paper Files

Paper files can quickly get out of hand. In a matter of months, your office could be full of overflowing file cabinets and a mess of documents. Where should paper files be stored? If files are used by multiple staff members, you should create a central file solution that's physically accessible to all of the necessary parties. The Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) website recommends using "out" cards when removing any file from central files to record the name of the file, the date it was removed and the person who removed it. The card should be placed in the space from which the file was removed. This way, files stay organized, no matter who has access to them. The quality and integrity of each step in the records management life cycle is fundamental to success.

Digitization Matters

Today's enterprises are overloaded with information. If separate departments create their own assets, your organization may have fragmented records that are generated with different standards. Furthermore, this process may put your retention periods at risk. This mess might get even worse if your organization has not put a thorough digitization procedure in place.

Transferring or Destroying Records

The SIA facilitate the transfer of permanent records to the archives and temporary records to the records center. Temporary records are held in the records center for a scheduled period of time before they are destroyed. When transferring permanent records to the archives, the museum and other units must follow a series of instructions, including consulting the Smithsonian-wide or appropriate unit-specific records disposition schedule. By establishing an efficient workflow and a clear step-by-step process, enterprise leaders can protect their valuable information.

Establish a Collection Policy

Not every piece of information needs to be preserved forever. The Smithsonian archivists are tasked with the responsibility of creating a collection policy. These policies generally include a limiting factor that identifies the scope of materials that will remain stored and collected.

Within the Institution, there are 11 archives and each one has its own collection policy. Staff members are required to consult with the SIA before they dispose of any records. In an effort to establish a seamless process, the Institution creates schedules that inform staff members how long they need to keep certain types of records, and what to do once those records are no longer needed.

Preserving Electronic Records

In accordance with best practices, the Smithsonian Institution Archives prefers to preserve electronic records in specific formats, such as PDF, TIFF and WARC. Formats should be open, standard, non-proprietary and well-established.

For more information, check out the Smithsonian Institution Archives website.

Mary Shultz