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What Should You Archive?

October 11th, 2006

Every organisation has to decide what their archiving policies are. Which records (or documents) should they keep, and which should they destroy? What affects this decision?

Public organisations are often given clear guidance by law, or by the National Archives. Business and industry receive some guidance from law, but that mainly encourages them to destroy records after a defined retention period (often only 7 years). Private individuals receive no guidance at all. They are left to their natural inclinations, so tidy people throw everything away, and hoarders keep their bus tickets and shopping lists.

Is there any system to the ways different organisations manage their archives? Should there be?

We should answer this question differently for periods of 10 – 100, or 101 – 999+ years. Within the ten to one hundred year span, Retention Schedules should prevail. Outside of legally mandated retention periods, businesses and individual people should be allowed to follow their natural impulses. Over this time span, plenty of material will be archived by these natural processes.

For longer periods, perhaps there should NOT be any rigorously enforced system. Archiving will be determined by a mixture of long retention items and whatever regard the government department, business or individual has to history and the future.

However, at some point in the longer time period, organisations and individuals should consider the following points when they set policy: how much can you afford to store; what would someone in 100 years (or 1000 years) want to see: anything saying how things were done (methods, recipes, etc), anything with people’s names, addresses, personal details or anything saying what things cost. What will provide evidence of important events (locally, nationally, internationally).

If we keep everything, we will spend our future burrowing in a massive rubbish tip. If we keep too little, there will be no history of our period. It is in your hands.

Audata is exhibiting at Documation UK in partnership with AIIM

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