Tools for Records Management
Retention & Disposition
of Paper and Electronic Church Records
We want to offer you some tools for retaining and destroying
paper and electronic records. Whether you
are a keeper, or throw things away, these guidelines offer help in both
areas. In 1953 the
These guidelines are written for the church’s agencies, but can be used by organizations, conferences and congregations. It is general enough for the executive secretary (CEO) to implement a records management system, and specific enough for an individual person to manage their current, inactive and historical records.
This work requires gifts of management, discernment and custodianship. While earlier the secretary, treasurer or archivist was in charge of all records, today one relies on the network of persons to undertake this work of minding Mennonite memory for their respective offices and agencies. It is with this cooperation and combined skills that we hope to preserve our faith heritage, and proclaim the story of God’s work among us.
Steiner worked at this new mission for a year. Clara went on to form the Mennonite Women’s Missionary Society in 1915, which today is known as Mennonite Women. Persons have used Clara’s diaries and correspondence over and over again, and it was the retention of these materials by the Steiner family that made it possible today to scan these documents into the Gutenberg to Gigabytes project and make them available on the Internet.
In 1895, I. G. Plank writes from
It was back in 1937 already, that the
During the 1940s several prominent church leaders like Daniel
Kauffman (1865-1944), Aaron Loucks
(1864-1945), and J. S. Shoemaker (1854-1936), disposed of most of their
church correspondence. The feeling seemed
to be that it was better for no one to read all the contention that had
been part of the
This was when the church formed boards and
committees and was at its zenith of creating a unified church structure
Due to this confusion over the personal or church custodianship
of records, the
“Records have disappeared which should have been retained... A person holding an office in an agency of the church acts as a servant of the church, not as a private individual...An office in any agency … is a stewardship to be held in sacred trust.”
This policy was written for the secretary and
treasurer, and also other committee members. It
outlined what to keep: such as minutes and reports, and what to
discard: such as notices of coming meetings. These
policies were officially adopted by the Mennonite General Conference on
The archives came to benefit immensely from those 1953 guidelines. Boards, committees and pastors were conscientious to retain their materials and transfer them to the archives. But now the church began having the opposite problem: too many records.
This can be seen from the amount of materials
that came into the archives from 1940-90. 500
linear feet of records had been deposited into the archives at
Because of the rapid accumulation of records, the Coordinating Council revised the guidelines, and wrote these words in 1989: “Records are important. However, the long-range retention of all records is not important.” The focus had shifted. Now the church focused on managing the high volume of paper that was been created and distributed. This was a time of “priesthood of all believers”, with everyone having a copy of the minutes. The photocopier was just a step away. Now the problem was that the donkey was getting too much food from all its owners, rather than starving to death.
And with the personal computer appearing on every desk since 1980, there is now a vast amount of data on floppies and hard drives. Now archiving computer records happens every 3 months instead of every 5-10 years as it was with paper records. The need for the gifts of managing has increased. But this is also during a time when the role of secretary and support persons have decreased – with each one his or her own boss having increased. So now we all need to learn the tools of the trade, or look to those who can coordinate this for us.
For many years we learned the tools of farming and sewing. And then what it takes to be teachers and nurses and doctors, and electricians and mechanics and engineers. And the skills of being a secretary and administrative assistant and director. Now we need to apply these learning’s to the trade of administration and organization and management of the long-term retention and disposition of church records.
“Since not all records have equal value, discretion must be exercised in determining what records are retained, [and] what records are destroyed. The determination of how long records should be retained will be based on a number of factors” (1989 Guidelines).
Below we identify many tools for this work. Of these we recommend two as foundational: a Records Schedule (Tool #6) and Who is called to this ministry (Tool #28). A needle and a thread, and a hammer and some nails, are key ingredients to sewing and building. You may decide which two tools are the place to start for you.
Sometimes one wants to turn this work into a science, with a highly organized management system with forms and procedures. All the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. Other times one applies the lessons of art to this work, where one needs to add the colors of green and yellow to mix with the blues and blacks. Keeping some records and throwing others away is not always an exact science, and one uses the strengths of ones intuition. Both the left (linear) and right (creative) side of the brain need to be used to turn this work into something enjoyable. And the result is satisfaction that records are being destroyed and that the valuable ones are being kept.
1. Current Records. Identifying your records within a life cycle of current, semi-active and archival is a good starting point to get a handle on ones records, and may be the single best ingredient to make the whole system work. One can also assign different persons to work with each of these kinds of records.
In general, current records are held in the office 1-3 years, and are then weeded using the tools below. Electronic records should be examined every 3 months (every quarter). E-mail boxes soon become full, and patterns of filing computer documents can easily change. This regular review of paper and electronic records sets up a strong filing system for the whole organization. At the offices of the Historical Committee and Archives, a whole week is set aside at the beginning of each fiscal year to allow staff time to concentrate on this task. It also provides time for the CEO and records manager to review their guidelines.
2. Semi-Active Records. The semi-active records are those transferred to an accessible place in your building where one can access these files if needed. These files usually hold this status from 3-10 years. Finding a good place to place these “semi-active” records may in itself take time. It can be a closet, or storage area, but not a junk area. One will need to have access to these records from time to time, and there should be enough room to be able to retrieve and replace the files in its respective box or filing cabinet. Keeping a list of the boxes and their contents at your desk is a good way to know what records are found in this semi-active area. Numbering the boxes also keeps them in some order, and ensures that boxes can easily be found by staff members.
At the offices of Mennonite Mission Network
With electronic records, one may only need two divisions, current and archival, to manage these materials. The first step is to be able to figure out how the current files are managed. A second step is to then create an Electronic Archives on one’s hard drive, or server, where files can be transferred which are no longer used, or which are only semi-active. This continues to be a new area of management, so one can experiment what works best. However, the key is to make sure there is an archival area on the computer, since persons will want to get rid of their current minutes and reports. Yet persons also want to be able to have access to the older set of their reports, and minutes of the organization.
One solution that the Historical Committee has come up with in ensuring that their electronic records are preserved is to burn a set of CDs of their entire electronic records. Each staff member is responsible to burn their files onto a CD, and clearly mark on the CD the contents of that disk. This ensures that all the files have been saved for every year, and reflects the ongoing changes of the organization each year. For example, the web site may change, but one can go back and examine what that organization’s web site looked like a year ago. These electronic files have not been weeded, or appraised as to their long-term value, and access, but at least there is a permanent set of the files on disk.
3. Archival records. When records have been identified as archival, an inventory of these files is made. This list with the boxes are then transferred to an archives. It is this inventory which becomes the main access point to these files. The archivist uses this list to understand these records, and to catalog them in the proper place of an organization’s archival collection. This inventory (along with the catalog, box and file numbers) is then posted on the web, so the organization has ongoing access to their files.
In practice, the archives also acts as a record center for semi-active records for organizations. The Mennonite Church does not have a records center, like the state archives does, so it can become convenient for an agency to transfer records that are somewhere between the stage of no longer used and archival. On the other hand, agencies have sometimes retained historical records for a very long time, and not transferred them since they get billed by the Historical Committee on the based on the linear feet of records sent to the archives. Both of these scenarios prove inadequate, and is one of the main reasons for revising these retention and disposition guidelines.
The archives main goal is not to work with semi-active records. And if an agency keeps historical records too long, they are then not taken care of and inaccessible to the wider church. It means agencies and archives need to work together to come up a single records schedule that builds confidence in the long-range preservation of valuable records and in the destruction of records that have been identified as having a short-life span.
4. Paper and Electronic Records. These guidelines treat paper and electronic records in the same fashion. In other words, both need to be well managed. There may also be an overlap of these two formats in with your files. The end goal is that the filing system (and management) of both should be similar, and mirror each other. One should be able to find a full set of Annual Reports, for example, 1980-90 are in paper copy, and 1991-2004 in electronic copy. It may take another 10-20 years of working with both paper and computer files to figure out how best to retain files for the long-term.
5. Electronic Records. A whole section will be devoted to computer files and e-mail, but it is mentioned here to ensure these files get included in the overall management of records. Printing out e-mail and documents, and filing paper copies, is one way to preserve these computer files, but the volume can get too large to make this feasible. So one needs to try and preserve the files electronically through the years.
The archives is committed to the electronic medium, and in finding ways to preserve this magnetic records for the long term. This decision is also based on the experience of working with reel-to-reel tapes, 16mm films, and color slides at the archives. These materials date from 1930s-60s, and have all held up through time, and can be transferred to newer formats.
Conversion of files from older formats into newer ones becomes important for the long-range retention of electronic records. One needs to figure in this knowledge in understanding the ongoing use of this medium. For example, one may need to migrate data from the old 5 1/4” diskettes (used from 1980-1994) onto the 3 1/2” disks (used from 1989-present). And old Word-processing files from 4.0 need to be converted to Word 2000. That in itself can take a learning process. Even if there the files are found in a mixture of software formats, one can use Wordpad to access the data. Decisions can also be made at this point on the value of various sets of records, and spend time to convert the ones identified as “permanent” and “archival”.
Naming of computer folders and files (or e-mail boxes and e-mail subject lines) becomes important to easily organize and access the materials. By adding dates, one can also manage them chronologically. This naming becomes even more important in offices that are working with the same computer files. Materials in electronic medium make them accessible through word searches, or through the “find folders of files” in Windows Explorer, so again the naming of files becomes important.
The archives is taking this electronic archives one step further. It has launched a project whereby selected historical records get scanned into the computer and can then be available to look at on the Internet. It is aptly called from Gutenberg to Gigabytes. For example, the diaries of Clara Eby Steiner, the correspondence of John F. Funk, and the reports of Mennonite General Conference, 1890 – 1971 have already been digitized. This also provides added preservation of these documents, in another medium.
6. Centralized or Decentralized Management. Some organizations hire one person to do the
records management for the entire organization, like Mennonite Central
Committee. Other organizations, like
Mennonite Mission Network and
In our Historical Committee offices, we have found that computers actually aid in centralizing our work. All staff share files on one drive on a computer server, and can easily work together on many projects. Each staff has been assigned major responsibility for their specific folders which reflect their work. All staff also have their own private e-mail and a private drive which can only be accessed by them.
7. Records Survey. I have found that doing a survey of existing records helps me to assess the current health of an organization when it comes to its files. This includes what is in the filing cabinets, what are on the shelves, and what is in the desk drawers. This also includes what is in the computer, on the hard drive, with the e-mail program, with the web files, with the databases, and the software.
This also includes all the semi-active materials found in boxes in closets and shelves throughout the organization. And one can also check to see what archival records are already found at the archives from a particular department, or entire agency.
To do a records survey, one can easily go from office to office, interviewing persons on their records. Make a list of the various sections of records that they use, and to add dates next to each type, including location, and person.
Minutes, 1991-2001, 1 Historical File Room 22 Director, John E. Sharp
Invoices & Receipts, 2003-04, 1 File Drawer Cage room Bookkeeper, Ruth Schrock
Archives Administ. 2002-04, 1 File drawer Room 23 Archivist, Dennis Stoesz
Assist. Working Files, 2001-04 1/2 File drawer Room 21 Assistant, Cathy Hochstetler
It then means typing out this list, and making recommendations on whether there are too many semi-active or archival records in the offices, or if there are too few. It is also a simple way to get a handle on the whole organization, and to see the management from a bird’s eye view. Doing this once a year also ensures the ongoing transfer of records out of offices, and that values are being assigned to the different sets of materials.
8. Record Schedules. It is the recommendation of these guidelines that the schedule will become one of the most important tools for the long-range management of the church’s records. A records schedule is defined as “A document describing records of an agency, organization, or administrative unit, establishing a timetable for their life cycle, and providing authorization for their disposition.. Also referred to as a records retention schedule, ...and transfer schedule. (Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, by Lynn Lady Bellardo, et. al., Society of American Archivists, Chicago, Illinois, 1992)
Sometimes an organization types out the records surveys, and then begins to appraise the value of each set of records. The schedule indicates specific dates for how long each type of record needs to be kept, and when it can be destroyed. It also shows if it should be transferred to semi-active, or to the archives.
I think such a schedule is one of the biggest practical tools available to us. But it takes time to develop one, and takes time for everyone to agree on what to keep and what to throw away. Below is one produced by the Methodist archives for congregations (1998), see below. One difference in Mennonite congregations is that annual reports would be retained permanently instead of destroyed.
And here is a schedule produced for Indiana Public Schools, in 1995.
Here is the Schedule produced by the Central,
Here is the report on Schedules at MCC, by records manager Irene Leaman, 2000.
These schedules can lead to a collaborative effort, between administrators, historians, lawyers and boards. And once such a schedule is in place, it becomes an effective tool for a church agency and archives to state the position on what records are considered of long-term value, and what gets destroyed.
9. Record Types. A good understanding of the different types of records in one’s office may be the easiest way in which to manage one’s files, both paper and electronic. For example, where are the minutes of your organization kept? Can you identify a full run of them from the very first meeting since you began? Minutes are a record type. It means being able to list all of these types of records in your office and computer. An example of this was already given in the section on doing a records survey:
Minutes, 1991-2001, 1 Historical File Room 22 Director, John E. Sharp
Invoices & Receipts, 2003-04, 1 File Drawer Cage room Bookkeeper, Ruth Schrock
Archives Administ. 2002-04, 1 File drawer Room 23 Archivist, Dennis Stoesz
Assist. Working Files, 2001-04 1/2 File drawer Room 21 Assistant, Cathy Hochstetler
One needs to include beginning and end dates, and also location, and the person who creates these records. At this point one is not assigning value to them, but trying to describe each set of records.
Minutes. Minutes continue to be an important source of information about one’s organization. It includes names of persons, actions taken, and information about how decisions were made. Depending on the secretary, minutes can also be descriptive and provide a good deal of knowledge about the agency. There also made be minutes by several departments in the organization, and by the board itself. It means knowing where all these materials are kept, and which prove the most essential.
Reports. Does your organization generate reports? By whom, and where are they kept? Can you find a copy of the 1980 report, the 1937 one, or last years? Sometimes reports capture the activity of an organization in such a way that these may become one of the most important items to keep. This is especially true if a lot of organizational energy goes into producing that report. On the other hand, for example, some congregations don’t produce any annual reports, so one has to keep the minutes and maybe also the taped copy of a congregational meeting to capture this report.
Correspondence. This may be too general of a designation for a series of records. Usually a name of a person, or the function of the correspondence, would be listed next to this record type.
Program Files. These files are usually associated with a specific name of a program, or by the name of the person running a certain program.
Financial records. Includes audited reports, budgets, summary statements, journal entries, tax returns, bank statements, canceled checks, donation records, invoices and receipts, payroll records. And this includes all electronic spreadsheets or database programs.
Electronic records. Although it may be easier to identify types of records within the electronic records, it is mentioned as a record type here to remind persons to also list the files found in the computer sitting on the desk.
Publicity materials. Includes newsletters, brochures, newspaper clippings.
Constitutions, and such things as incorporation papers, by-laws, mission statements, property deeds, legal documents, agreements, contracts.
Membership records, or files reflecting your network with other groups.
Academic Records of Students.
Photographs, or other drawings, maps, brochures, made or kept by your organization.
Videos, CDs, DVDs, audiotapes, films created or important for your agency.
Books, articles written on your organization, yearbooks, alumni directories.
Artifacts, like peace signs, or mission banks for the Mission Board, which provide meaning to you and your organization.
The purpose of the list above is not to come up with a standardized list. Rather the list should help explain the various sets of records within a office or department.
10. Dates of records. One also needs to assign dates to each record type. How old are these records? And how long do each set of records remain useful to the person using them? 10 years or only 1 year. Invoices and receipts often have only a 1-2 year life span in the current office. Minutes, on the other hand, can be retained for 5-10 years.
11. Person creating or using the records. One also needs to identify the name of the person, or the office, in charge of a particular set of records. Often this becomes an easy way to clarify who is then responsible to the ongoing disposition of those materials. In our office of the Historical Committee, each computer folder has the initials of the person responsible for the folder on it. That way each staff person knows what to manage.
12. Location of current, and semi-active and archival records. Identifying the location of the records becomes important since files may be scattered all over an organization. It is also easier to leave the records where they are (even it they are stored in a closet), and write this information on the records survey, rather than try to find a new place for them. This is also an easy way to get a bird’s eye view of the physical location and quantity of the files.
This proved most useful in the records survey
In conclusion, making a list of the significant record types in your organization will give you a sense of the whole, without getting mired down in the detailed files. And this list can easily be turned into a records schedule once it has been determined how long to keep each set of materials, and what to then retain and dispose after 3 years, and after 10 years.
Computer files have already been mentioned throughout the preceding pages, but are included in a separate section here. In a way they could be seen as a record type. And yet they are used so often and in so many different ways, that they deserve special mention.
The personal computer began landing on everyone’s desk in the early 1980s as IBM marketed a smaller computer which could be used by everyone. Now everyone began using those 5 1/4” floppy disks which were replaced by 3 1/2” diskettes in the early 1990s. How many of you still have kept those 5 1/4” floppies, or migrated that electronic data into newer formats? Or to put it another way, what is the oldest computer file on your computer? The archives has retained hardware that can copy from the older to the newer floppy disks, and recently recovered some 1986 minutes of the African-American Mennonite Association, which retained their computer records.
Financial departments had already been using the larger
computers in the 1970s, because of its number crunching capabilities. OCLC (Ohio Library Cataloging Service)
began a large data base used by libraries all over
But how does one try to work with the changing hardware and software through the years?
13. Technology Person. First, the records manager should become acquainted with the technology person of the organization, and how the entire computer system works at storing records. There may already be a management system in place which helps one manage the electronic records. And can one identify on the computer, where the e-mail and attachments are stored, the financial records, the program files, the computer software programs, the backup disks, etc.
It may be that the technology person can act as the electronic records manager, and work as a team in coming up with a united approach to managing paper and electronic records. This may then enhance both systems, rather than compete with each other.
This data policy committee has met at least several times since 2001, and it includes the executive board, publishing network, education agency, mission network and mutual aid, as well as guests from Mennonite.net. Its focus has been on identifying the databases used by the different groups such as Mennonite Directory, Youth Census, a congregational database. Each agency also has many other computer programs to run various aspects of their church program.
The Data Policy Committee has talked a little bit about “record retention”. At present the agencies use the period of time set by their financial auditors to retain and destroy electronic records. The 2001 report gives guidance to this work under the section “archiving electronic materials”:
The guidelines recommend that MC USA agencies maintain a list of designated positions with archiving responsibilities and outline the type of email, web-based information, databases and files to be stored electronically and in preferred formats.
The Archives of the
The full test of this Nashville 2001 “Data Policy Proposal Synopsis” is included as Appendix B at the end of these Guidelines.
15. E-Mail Correspondence. Writing and checking e-mails seems to a large part of the activity of an organization today. Along with this then comes the work of having to file that correspondence. Sometimes this just piles up in ones in and out e-mail boxes, arranged in chronological or alphabetical order. Often one creates separate mailboxes for each of the activities one is involved in and transfers that in and out mail to those boxes. Sometime someone just deletes everything, or saves everything in a chronological archived e-mail boxes. Keeping this material organized and manageable takes time. It means someone in the organization needs to monitor how this is going for all staff.
One organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), set up a system whereby a copy of all e-mail would be sent to a centralized mailbox for each department. That way each staff member did not have to go through everything and evaluate what to keep and what to delete. Staff could also decide to turn off this cc. function for an e-mail that they would send. In other words, all correspondence was filed centrally just like MCC had done since 1935.
Here is a report on electronic filing at MCC by records manager Irene Leaman (April 2000):
E-mail is often controlled by each individual in the organization, and is often seen as personal. So it often takes cooperation and some guidelines that the valuable correspondence be retained, and that it also does not pile up so much that no one could find anything. This includes ensuring confidentially of the correspondence, by clearly marking on the CD that access is limited to a specific department or person for a certain length of time (for example, 10 years) at which point it become archival.
Where did you put your 1997 e-mails can put ones correspondence into perspective? Either it is entirely gone, or one printed and filed only hard copies, or one kept this in an archived computer file. It does not mean one has to keep all correspondence, but does anything survive? And can you pull up that e-mail and read it today?
16. Concerns about conversion. This subject was mentioned earlier under tool #5, but is repeated here. The archives is committed to the electronic medium, and in finding ways to preserve this magnetic records for the long term. This decision is also based on the experience of working with reel-to-reel tapes, 16mm films, and color slides at the archives. These materials date from 1930s-60s, and have all held up through time, and can be transferred to newer formats.
We now move on to talk about making decisions on what to keep and what to throw away. The process of determining the short and long-term value of records is called appraisal. And this appraisal can be done after 1-3 years when files are moved into semi-active storage, and after 10 years, when some records are transferred to the archives. And the appraisal of records can continue to be done at the archives with the older records that have been kept.
This appraisal decides how long to keep records, when to destroy them, and when to transfer them to the archives. It is this decision of “retention and disposition” that then gets written down on the records schedule. Annual reports continue to hold their value through time. Bank checks, however, do not. Correspondence may be harder to judge.
17. Administrative Value. Do the records you are examining have value for the conduct of the current and future activities of your organization? This could be a mission statement, a constitution, bylaws, personnel records, or reports and correspondence about a project. If they are not needed, they are transferred to the semi-active records, where you can consult them when needed.
Some of the administrative records you may consider permanent, such as bylaws, or personnel records, even if they may be quite old. These documents reflect key decisions made, a major shift in program, or current personnel. Often these materials are found in a binder on a shelf, for easy access and use.
18. Legal Value. Do some of the files you are looking at reflect written agreements, or contracts, made between two parties? This could have to do with land, or money, or relationships. Staff personnel records, minutes of meetings, or correspondence may contain these kind of formal or informal contracts. Sometimes these documents are filed by the date of the transaction, and can be placed with inactive and then archival records. They can then be accessed by year. Or they can be kept in with a section of the current administrative records by their function, contracts, minutes, etc.
Once these contracts have been fulfilled, or if there is a long-standing relationship that has stayed the same, these files can be transferred to inactive status. When a person retires, for example, that personnel record may be placed in the inactive section, and upon the person’s death, that record, or portions thereof can become archival.
19. Fiscal Value. How does one decide what to keep of all the financial records that are generated? First one looks for an audited report. If there isn’t one, where is there an annual statement of income and expenditures? And does the statement provide enough details to allow one to see where all the money came from, and where it went? In the past the journal entries provided this information, but how is this information stored now?
There are government laws which govern the retention of financial records, usually for a seven year period. This makes it even more important to set up a specific place in your organization (or on your computer) for semi-active records. This ensures that one can easily access them on regular basis.
20. Evidential Value. This value is sometimes less understood. Just like a rabbit leaves tracks in the snow, so do e-mails and correspondence show evidence of activity. Evidence of your work! This doesn’t have to be a major report, or show a decision. It just shows that there was work being done, and for that we need to be thankful. It doesn’t mean all the e-mails have to be kept, or all the invoices and receipts. But keeping a month’s sample of the various kinds of work you gives credit where credit is due. It provides evidence of the person who created the material, and shows the functions and activities of the person. We need to have enough self-esteem to keep this kind of material in the files.
Value. What information can
you find in the files you are looking at? About persons, or about subjects, or about places? Maybe they contain articles and stories of
your organization, or about the work your organization does. Annual reports, and newsletters,
correspondence between a person in
22. Intrinsic Value. Sometimes a document or item has worth simply because of its age, or its long and continuos use, the circumstances of its creation, or by the signature of the persons who signed it. Here I can think of the Mission Savings Bank of the former Mennonite Board of Missions which were widely and heavily used for many years.
23. Condition of the records. Sometimes the contents of a file do not prove very useful. For example, long handwritten notes on meetings or courses, which are not legible.
24. Archiving by originating agency. This tool was been identified in the earlier 1989 Guidelines, and has been especially useful. Reports, minutes and other documents created by one agency and used by another should be archived by the originating agency and not by the other agency. In other words if the Executive Board collects annual reports and minutes from the Publishing Network, the Executive Board does not have to archive them since that is the responsibility of the Publishing Network.
The one exception to this is if the specific material has been
used as part of an agency’s program. The
other exception to this is that if minutes of an overseas church is found, for
example, in the Mennonite Central Committee’s files, these minutes may
not exist anywhere else in
25. Culling and weeding. Through time one can also begin assigning value to certain sets of correspondence. Maybe with one set only samples are kept. With others, the entire set is kept. Or with another, like a central filing system, a person is assigned to go through it once a year to keep only the 25-30% of the letters which reflect the organizations’ life and work.
Correspondence continues to hold high value at the archives because of its personal nature, and because it is filled with story. And it helps if the letters have been organized and clearly identified as to who and where and when.
26. Archival Value. Archival value is given to a set of records when there is enough justification for their long-term preservation and use. In other words, if you have used all the values described above to make judgments on some records, and found that the records continue to have use, these documents then have archival value. For example, church membership records become historical since they are so useful in doing family research, and in verifying birth dates, and in finding out information about a person’s faith pilgrimage, etc.
of Function and Time. Understanding
the ongoing function and use of records is one of the joys in working
with archival records. And the advantage
is that one can see this over a hundred years in the
The role of secretary seems to have changed
through the years. In the first half of
the 20th century, secretaries seem to do the bulk of the
work, including taking minutes, and having treasurer duties, and doing
all the correspondence relating to decisions made.
This was often a voluntary position, and the person worked out
of the home. This was the case for
example, with Levi Mumaw,
In the second half of the 20th century it seemed that secretaries became Executive Secretaries, and it was the administrative assistants, usually women, who did the work of recording minutes, and typing and filing correspondence, keeping the treasurer’s books, and managing all the records of an organization. Persons were now paid to run the program of an organization. Now it was not as clear where the official minutes, and files, were kept, and by whom. The Executive Secretary wanted a set of minutes, and so did the persons sitting in meeting, and so did the person having to file them. And the same could be said of the electronic copy. Maybe it ended up as an attachment to an e-mail of one of the staff persons, but not accessible by other staff.
Today it means cooperation and communication between persons who use and take care of the records to know, for example, where the official set of minutes are kept, both paper and electronic. And it also means establishing who is responsible for maintaining the records currently and also as they become inactive and archival.
One can describe this work by answering the six questions, Who, What, Where, Why, When and How? And the most important one to start with is who.
28. Who is the person you think of in your organization who is willing, and has the gifts to set up a long-term management of records, both in destroying them and retaining them? This work includes at least three kinds of offices or roles. Someone needs to help in making the policy decisions on records. One person needs to know how to manage or coordinate the overall organization of such a record schedule. And one person needs to know the technical side of computers, and how electronic data gets filed and managed.
Is someone assigned to these tasks in your organization? Is this person an office manager, an executive secretary, an administrative assistant, a recording secretary, a treasurer, a business manager, or an assistant to those positions. Or is it the web master, or computer technical support person. Or could it be the conference historical committee, the congregational historian, or a specially appointed person interested in history who is willing to tackle this task for an organization. What gifts and ideas to you bring to this task?
29. What are we talking about when we talk about current records? Semi-active records? Archival records? Would you consider all the records you work with as current? Or is everything else non-existent, or at least out of sight, out of mind?
30. Where would you go to look for your current records? Inactive? Archival?
31. When do you work with these records? When the old boss has left, and the new one will be arriving shortly? Or when you have a free moment which never comes? Or when you can’t seem to find that vital report or e-mail about that major decision? Or when you can’t find those architectural records of the church which are needed for renovation, and could cost you a lot of money if you can’t find them.
32. How do you go about deciding what to keep and what to throw away? Have you had to clean out an office, or the storage closet? Below find some tools on how to do this.
33. Why? Do you or your CEO need a reason why before embarking on this task? The mission statement of the Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee below may suffice.
"God calls us to preserve our heritage,
to interpret our faith stories, and to proclaim God's work among us"
Having tools is important. But it is just as important to go ahead and build the building and sewing that quilt. By doing one can learn to use the different tools. The clearest mandate that I have read for this task of records management is in the 1989 Guidelines:
1. I-D. Agreements.
Each agency of the
This agreement would be signed by the CEO of each agency and the Director of the Historical Committee.
2. Implementing the “Guidelines for Retention and Disposition of Records”
1. The person in charge of records management at each institution needs to set up retention schedules for all materials based on the Guidelines.
2. Transfer schedules need to be set up in conjunction with the archivist.
The Historical Committee is also recommending that each agency
free up a person one morning (or afternoon) a week to work on this task
of records management. There would also be
an annual archives visit to each agency to review all current,
semi-active and archival records, both paper and electronic. Agencies west of the
The Historical Committee and its archives (
GUIDELINES FOR RETENTION AND DISPOSITION OF RECORDS
A Philosophy on Record Retention and Disposition
Records are important. However, the long-range retention of all records is not important. Since not all records have equal value, discretion must be exercised in determining what records are retained, what records are destroyed, where records are located, who becomes the archivist for non-current records, and what are the archival functions.
The determination of how long records should be retained will be based on a number of factors. Records may be important for legal reasons, for historical and research purposes, and / or for the ongoing administrative and financial functions of the organization. These must all be reviewed in making judgments on retention and disposition of records.
There are records that are confidential in nature, either for a period of time or permanently, and the respect for and management of that confidentiality must be honored. At the same time, most records need to be preserved in such a way that they are accessible and of service to those who can make profitable use of their contents.
It is intended that guidelines can be established which will give a degree of uniformity to the various Mennonite Church organizations in their treatment of records retention and disposition, and at the same time permit the degree of flexibility necessary in each particular organization as dictated by its needs and circumstances.
Section I. General Policies
I-A. Ownership of materials.
Records of organizations and agencies of the
I-B. Location of materials.
Materials from church-wide Mennonite boards and agencies and conference bodies having historical value are to be transferred to the Archives of the Mennonite Church when and / or after they are no longer needed for active use by the organization that has produced them.
I-B. Location of materials (Continued)
Whether or not archival materials of regional offices of church-wide boards and agencies would be located at the regional location or at the Archives of the Mennonite Church is to be based on anticipated use of the materials and whether or not it is good stewardship for the regional office to provide staffing and space for retaining and making accessible these materials for church uses at the regional setting.
Some regional conference bodies and agencies may also wish to
locate materials at the Archives of the
I-C. Destruction of materials.
Certain records and informational materials are to be destroyed at such time that their usefulness has terminated. (See Section II for designation of records to be retained and destroyed.)
If the Director of the Archives of the
Each agency of the
It is assumed that staffing and space costs of retaining and making accessible materials at the Archives will be equal to or less than staffing and space costs for agencies to place such materials in safe and accessible locations elsewhere. In the future, costs of retention of the materials agencies wish to have kept in the Archives will be based on a
I-E Costs (Continued)
formula that takes into consideration the total linear feet of space used by that specific agency. This formula will be discussed by the Archives with
the agencies in the Coordinating council and approved by the Mennonite Church General Board, in consultation with the agencies involved.
I-F. Dissolution: In event of agency dissolution.
In dissolving an agency, the board of control of that agency
will dispose of all then-current archival materials, in line with
specific guidelines outlined in this document. Under
the Mennonite Church General Board, the Archives of the
I-G. Public use.
Public use of materials of historical nature, whether in custody
of the originating organization or of the Archives of the
I-H. Archiving by originating agency.
Reports, minutes and other documents created by one agency and used by another agency should be archived by the originating agency and not by the other agency, unless specific material is used as part of its program.
Flexibility within the spirit and purposes of these guidelines is suggested to allow agencies to work with their unique procedures, schedules, and/or materials.
Section II. Designation of records to be retained, destroyed,
II-A. Records to be permanently retained at the originating organization (we recommend the organization follow professional archival procedures for care of these materials, such as making permanent photocopies of earlier “purple-master” [spirit-process] materials, photocopying newspaper-quality materials, and maintaining permanent materials in acid-free folders.):
II-A. Records to be permanently retained by originating organization (Cont’d)
1. Constitution and Bylaws, other official organization documents.
copies of minutes and reports of boards and committees.
3. Annual audited financial reports.
4. Legal and contractual documents of the organization.
5. Academic records of students.
II-B. Records to be destroyed. The time stated is the number of years after the creation of the item unless otherwise noted.
1. Notices of meetings, memos, etc.---after three or four years.
2. Canceled checks, vouchers, invoices, receipts, and other financial records of this type – after ten years.
3. Miscellaneous correspondence of routine nature, contribution acknowledgment letters, etc. – after ten years.
4. Records (including correspondence) from counseling of non-staff persons, except as required for II-C-7—ten years after conclusion of counseling.
5. Evaluative material from personnel files including counseling, psychiatric and medical reports, forms and letters of reference and performance appraisals — ten years after termination of employment.
6. Applications and files of persons not employed – after five or six years.
7. Student personnel files – after five or six years after the student has left the institution.
II-C. Materials to be transferred to Mennonite Archives. The times stated are the number of years after the creation of records unless otherwise noted.
1. Program materials (textual – correspondence, reports, scripts and the like; audiovisuals; etc.) — after they are no longer needed by the agency, normally ten or twelve years. Certain materials such as books, periodicals, and tapes may be transferred more frequently. Each organization will need to establish a consistent pattern of saving all or only samples of certain program materials, which are to be sent to the Archives office.
II-C. Materials to be transferred to Mennonite Archives (Continued)
2. Correspondence, minutes, and reports from program files which deal with issues involving personnel relationships may be identified by the respective program administrator so that when program files are transferred to the Archives, these materials will be filed separately for restricted use only.
3. Official copies of annual reports, board and committee minutes, with all exhibits and attachments, are to be retained as part of the organization’s permanent records and duplicate copies sent to the Archives office on an annual basis. The Archives will take the initiative in requesting these materials.
4. Correspondence, reports, and documents related to estate planning and negotiations on major gifts would be transferred to the Archives for restricted use only after the agency has no need for them.
5. Financial records (other than annual audited financial reports – see II-A-3), such as books of original entry, under certain conditions should be transferred to the Archives (for restricted use only) at the point they become non-current. (Transfer of such items to be negotiated with the Director of the Archives.)
6. Correspondence (except that which is considered personal counseling) and records of date (application, job assignment, salary, time sheets) from personnel files will be transferred to the Archives after they are no longer needed by the agency, normally ten or more years after termination of employment for restricted use.
7. One to 25 percent (based on volume of materials to be transferred) of correspondence, interview reports, and counselor notations from counseling of non-staff persons will be selected at random for copying and transferred to the Archives for restricted use only.
Prior to copying, names and addresses are to be blocked out to remove identity. Transfer is to be done at whatever point an agency no longer desires to retain the materials in its own files. Systematically selected samples of informational and publicity type materials are to be transferred to the Archives annually.
II-C. Materials to be transferred to Mennonite Archives (Continued)
The attached sample agreement indicates the kinds of items that
may be included in actual agreements, which will vary with the needs of
the various programs of the
Section III. Implementation and Amendment Provisions
These guidelines become effective upon recommendation of the Coordinating Council and approval of the Mennonite Church General Board.
These guidelines may be amended upon recommendation of the Coordinating Council and approval of the Mennonite Church General Board. In preparing a specific recommendation for amendment, the Coordinating Council may wish to counsel with and/or request the affirmation of some or all boards, or, due to the minor nature of the amendment or for other reason, it may indicate by consensus that is does not see this as necessary in the specific instance.
Attachment 1. Implementing the “Guidelines for Retention and Disposition of Records”, An Operational Statement
2. Sample Agreement between
Guidelines approved by
Mennonite Church Coordinating Council,
Guidelines approved by
Mennonite Church General Board,
Earliest guidelines were
written by the Historical Committee of the
“Guidelines for Retention and Disposition of Records”
AN OPERATIONAL STATEMENT
A. The person in charge of records management at each institution needs to set up retention schedules for all materials based on the Guidelines.
B. A workable coding system then needs to be devised to fit the retention schedules. In this way, materials which are later to be discarded can be so coded. This will make the purging of files at a later date less time consuming and thus more efficient.
C. Transfer schedules need to be set up in conjunction with the archivist. If materials are filed departmentally, it may mean that it might be more desirable to send the files in time blocks larger than one year, perhaps five years. (E.g., 1980 to 1985 materials could be transferred in one group in 1995.)
A. Records will be filed using a coding method for retention purposes.
B. Acid-free folders will be used for permanent materials.
A. Purge the files using the codes in order to discard those items marked for the end of the year.
B. Send minutes (with attachments) and annual reports (with attachments) to the Archives.
IV. At time of transfer
A. The final purge of the files.
B. Sampling of (photo) copying of any materials should be done at this point.
C. Type the inventories
D. Clearly mark the restricted materials.
E. Label and number the boxes clearly and pack well for shipping.
SAMPLE AGREEMENT BETWEEN
ORGANIZATION AND ARCHIVES
This agreement is between
________________________________________ and the Archives of the
A. The originating agency and the Archives each has rights and responsibilities for the maintenance, use, and retention of materials transferred.
It is understood that materials are placed on deposit in the
Archives of the
C. Records shall not be removed from the Archives except when special permission is given by the chief executive officer of the originating organization.
A receipt of deposit will be issued from the office of the
Archives of the
E. The inventories serve as an index for the boards and agencies, facilitating the referencing of the material. The files, with the exception of certain restricted documents, will be considered open for scholarly research. Materials less than 25 years old are to be restricted, to be used only with formal permission of the originating agency. Photocopies of materials will be supplied, where feasible, in response to information requests by agency personnel. If the original materials are to be removed, the request must come from the chief executive officer of the agency in question. Except in the case of materials returned to originating agency for program use, such recalled materials shall be considered as being on loan and shall be returned within a specified mutually-agreed-upon time period.
F. Although the Archives has its own methods of categorizing materials, and on its own places restrictions upon certain types of materials, each board or committee, etc., making the transfer of records should determine which materials are of a confidential nature, such as personnel folders or correspondence relating to personnel or other confidential correspondence and records.
Attachment 2, Sample Agreement (Continued)
G. Permission for research use of items deposited under “restricted use” is to be given by the executive officer of the originating agency. The monitoring of the usage of materials in this category is to be the responsibility of the director of the Archives.
If the director of the Archives of the
I. Schedules for shipment of files will be drawn up in consultation with the director of the Archives and in accordance with the retention needs of the agency.
J. This agreement hereby allows for negotiations by both parties should there be need to revise existing agreements. Any new agreements written should clarify their relationship to previous agreements.
Agreed to this ____________ day of __________________, 20___
Archives of the
Additional comments: ____________________________________
File: “GuidesRetention1989.doc” [M: \Archives Schedules]
Daniels-Howell, Todd, “Fundamentals of Archival Acquisition and Appraisal”, Workshop, Nov. 6, 1997, by Society of Indiana Archivists, IUPUI Library, Indianpolis, Indiana, attended by Dennis Stoesz
Bantin, Philip, “Electronic
Records Management,” Workshop
Gingerich, Melvin and John F. Schmidt, “The Creation and Preservation of Church Records,” Exhibit 1, manuscript, never published , 6 pages. Includes much of the 1953 policy.
Gingerich, Melvin, “An Effective Acquisition Program for the Religious Archives,” Society of American Archivists (October 1966), pages 515-522. Includes complete policy on Retention and Disposition of Records (1953 Statement)
Ham, F. Gerald, Selecting and
Appraising Archives and
Manuscripts, Archival Fundamental Series.
Leaman, Irene, “Managing Mennonite Memory, #5: Mennonite Central Committee:, 1920- “, Mennonite Historical Bulletin (April 2000), pages 11-16.
Kevin, “1988-89 Annual [Archives] Report of the Associate Archivist”,
Oyer, Gordon, “Congregational Record Retention Guidelines”, December 2000, prepared by historians and historical committees of the Central District, Illinois, Indiana-Michigan and Ohio Mennonite Conferences.
Oyer, Gordon, “Managing Mennonite Memory #6: In pursuit of a Congregational Records Schedule,” Mennonite Historical Bulletin (October 2000), pages 10-13.
Stoesz, Dennis, “An Experiment at
Stoesz, Dennis, “Managing
Mennonite Memory”, Mennonite Historical
Bulletin, #1: Introduction April 1998; #2: Congregational Records,
Stoesz, Dennis, “Use of Record
Archivists,” SIA (Society of
Thiesen, John D., “From Cereal Boxes to Web Pages: Introducing our North Newton Archives”, Mennonite Historical Bulletin (October 2002), pages 7-10.
Wilson, Wes, “What do we do
with the Church Records?, Indiana Area
Methodist Church Records Retention and Disposition Schedule – North
Conference Local Churches”, 1998, 4 pages, DePauw University Archives,
Young, Noraleen A, Care of Indiana Public School Records: A Record Creator’s Guide, funded by Clay Community School Corporation and the Indiana Department of Education, September 1995, 71 pages
Young, Noraleen, A., Certified Archivist, “Records Management for Archivists”, Workshop, Oct. 22, 1997, by Society of Indiana Archivists, Indiana University at Kokomo, Indiana, attended by Dennis Stoesz
Zehr, Howard J., “Guidelines for Placing Materials in Archives,” Gospel Herald (July 22, 1969), page 631. Shortened version of 1953 guidelines.
Minding Mennonite Memory www.mcusa-archives.org
Mennonite Church USA Historical Committee and Archives - Goshen and North Newton
Dennis Stoesz, Archivist, March 27, 2004 (File: "RecordsManagement2004FourtyTwoPages.doc ")
Created by: Aaron Lehman 5/07/04