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Electronic Records

Most campus departments or offices are now producing a majority of their documents electronically. These documents, like their paper counterparts, may be records and must be scheduled, retained, and disposed of properly. At the same time, records in electronic format present a number of challenges for both records creators and records managers. This page will answer some of the most common questions about electronic records at UWM. As always, contact the records officer directly for specific help.

Quick E-Records Links

Preferred File Formats for Electronic Records Electronic Transfers E-mail Management
University Digitization Policy

How do I determine if my electronic record is a “record” for administrative, legal, or fiscal purposes?

Electronic records are classified as records or non-records in the same way that paper records are classified. If a document helps you perform your job description or documents the history and/or administration of your office, it is probably a record and should be scheduled appropriately. The value of a record is determined by content, not by format. See Wis. Stat. 16.61, the Public Records Law.

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How should I be naming my electronic records files?

The most important consideration for naming files is consistency. You should use whatever naming model suits your needs, but you should incorporate a recognizable pattern into your file-naming conventions, both to aid you with referring to active and semi-active records and to assist any other people who may be looking at your files, including open records requestors and future researchers.

UWM Records Management suggests a three-component file-naming scheme for most records creators, assembled in any consistent order:

  1. Date (Examples: 20081030, Oct302008, 30-10-08)
  2. Type (Examples: Minutes, Correspondence, Memo)
  3. Unique Identifier (Examples: University Committee, Staff Meeting, Departmental)

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Should I continue to maintain a foldering scheme, and what should it be?

Yes! Your computer directories, or “folders”, help you to group similar records together and are thus vital for when you need to access large quantities of the same kinds of record. As with file naming, you should choose the foldering scheme that best suits your needs, but you should be consistent with whichever scheme you select. Remember as well that electronic filing allows for multiple filing levels, so you should use as many of these as you need.

Some of the most useful foldering schemes include:

  • Subject Filing (Examples: “Chancellor’s Office Project”, “Executive Committee Minutes”)
  • Chronological Filing (Examples: “Correspondence 2008”, “Correspondence 2007)
  • Alphabetical Filing (Examples: “Smith, J”, “Smith, K”
  • Retention Filing (Examples: “Destroy After 1 year”, “Transfer to Archives”)

The UWM Records Management program recommends using retention schedules as a basis for foldering schemes, as these documents define both record series (i.e. related groups of records) and retention periods for records. Retention Schedules thus provide natural divisions for organizing your records.

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What is “metadata”, and why should I care about it?

Metadata is the information associated with an electronic record that tells you and other users about that record, including but not limited to creator, date created, intended recipient, subject terms and/or tags, digital signatures, and any changes made to the document. Metadata is critical for providing context for your electronic records, and may or may not be inherent in the records themselves. By storing documents in PantherFile you may be able to generate and preserve metadata for your records. Some programs, such as Microsoft Office, allow you to add title, author, and subject metadata through the properties menu; such data is invaluable for providing access to the records once they have been sent to the Archives.

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How should I organize and manage my emails?

Please click here for guidance on email management and retention.

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How long do I need to keep my electronic records?

Your electronic records fall under the same records retention and disposition authorities as do your paper records, so you should refer to the relevant RRDA for retention and disposition guidelines. If you print out your electronic records and use the printouts as the official record copy, you may delete the original files.

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If I digitize my records, can I throw away the paper copies?

Digitized copies of paper records may be considered the copy of record under Wisconsin Administrative Policy ADM 12 if the records in question meet the following criteria:

  • Accessible: The records can be retrieved for reference or access within a reasonable period of time.
  • Accurate: The retrieved file correctly reflects the original record.
  • Legible: The letters, numbers, and symbols in the document are uniquely identifiable.
  • Readable: The records can be opened on an accessible program and easily read by any and all users.
  • Reliable: The electronic record reflects the initial record each and every time it is accessed.
  • Authentic: The electronic record correctly reflects the input of creators and editors and can be substantiated.

If all six of these criteria are satisfied throughout the retention period specified by a record’s retention schedule, the electronic copy is considered the official record, and the paper input may be discarded. Please keep in mind that these are the criteria for records concerns only; if your records contain student information or other confidential information, you must also consider requirements to keep these confidential records secure. Contact the UWM Office of Information Security for more information.

See also the UW-System’s guidelines on digitization systems, found here, as well as UWM Select Policy S-63, Digitization of Departmental Records.


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Do I have to manage records stored in “The Cloud”?

Yes! Records stored in “Cloud applications”, such as Google Docs, are also subject to public records law and Open Records Requests. Even if you are working solely on cloud applications, such as having all of your email sent to Gmail and sending all your email from that account, work-related correspondence and other official records may still be subpoenaed and/or requested for disclosure. Because UWM does not have contracts with most of these services, access to and preservation of records stored in the Cloud is YOUR responsibility.

UWM Records Management recommends that Cloud applications be used as a backup or working system, and that the copy of record for audit, open records, or verification purposes be backed up to on-site media or a departmental server.

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How does records management apply to social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?

You are responsible for management of all information posted to social media sites on behalf of your office or department, provided that such information fits the following criteria:

  1. unique and not available elsewhere
  2. contains evidence of the agency’s policies and procedures
  3. is being used to conduct the agency’s work
  4. has been authorized by the agency, or contains information for which there is a business need.

Similarly, if a member of the public posts information to a portion of an office’s social media presence (e.g. a Facebook wall), those posts are also considered to be public records to be managed. In most cases these posts will fall under the RRDA for Routine Communication (retain for 6 months and destroy), but there may be instances in which public communications may have archival value. The UWM Archives can assist campus offices with downloading and preserving their social media records, as needed.

For the most part, information posted to personal social media accounts is not subject to public records law. However, if your affiliation to the University is known, you should still use discretion with regards to the tone and content of your posts, and not post anything you would not want to reflect poorly on either you or UWM.

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What should I do for long-term storage of electronic records in our office?

In-office storage of electronic records has two factors to consider:

  1. Storage Medium: Store your active electronic records in a distributed computing space, such as your departmental LAN or groupshare or in PantherFile, as these spaces are relatively durable and backed up regularly. Try not to store official records on your computer’s hard drive, as they are vulnerable to computer failure in that location. Do not store record copies of electronic records on CD-Rs, Flash Drives, or other portable storage media if at all possible, as these media are unreliable and deteriorate after a short period of time.
  2. File Format: Convert your files to neutral, non-proprietary formats, such as *.txt, RTF, or PDF/A for textual documents and TIFF for images. If you choose to maintain your files in native formats, make sure that you migrate them to the new format whenever a new version of the program comes out. On average, files become unreadable after two generations of software, so it is very important that you keep up with migration. (If you have unreadable files, UWM Records Management or UITS may be able to assist with their recovery.)

See also Preferred File Formats for Electronic Records.

What is meant by “migration” of records? By “emulation”?

“Migration” refers to the process of moving electronic records from an aging or obsolete format to a modern or sustainable format for the purposes of long-term preservation and access. Migration is easily performed by office or departmental staff and should be done before transferring records to the archives, if possible. If your office needs to keep electronic records on-site for an extended period of time, you will need to create a ‘migration plan’, which states which files will need to be migrated, the current location of those files, and how often you need to migrate the files (once every 5 years or 2 software generations is usually appropriate).

“Emulation” involves creating a software program to set up an “emulation environment”, where otherwise-obsolete documents can be opened and read on copies of the original software used to create them. Emulation better preserves the metadata and the “look and feel” of the documents, but it is also a process that requires specialized knowledge and technical expertise. Please contact the Archives for assistance with accessing old electronic records via emulation.

See also: InterPARES Guidelines for Preservers, Appendix C.

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Should I print my electronic records?

If you do not feel your office is capable of maintaining the standards described above, then you should print your records (including emails) and file them as paper records. In general, however, you should try to maintain your e-records in electronic format to better preserve the associated metadata.

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How does PantherFile affect management of electronic records?

As of November 2014, PantherFile does not include a dedicated records management component. However, the existing system includes a number of relevant records management functions, including:

  • Read/Write Protection. Read protection is useful for protecting confidential or non-public information while providing access to approved individuals. Write protection, conversely, preserves the integrity of shared documents and thus satisfies the “authenticity” requirement of ADM 12.
  • Versioning/Logging. For situations in which multiple people are making changes to the same record, versioning and logging are two ways to track the changes made to records and revert to earlier versions if necessary. These tools provide an audit trail for associated documents and thus satisfy both ADM authenticity and accuracy requirements.
  • Distributed storage and departmental groupshares. Because PantherFile is stored on dedicated servers, there is greater file redundancy built in to the system. If part of the system goes down, the probability of data loss is much lower than if the electronic records were being stored on an individual office computer.
  • Tagging. Users may classify related documents in different folders by applying “tags” describings subjects, authors, recipients, etc. This process makes documents more accessible by adding to the precision of search results across multiple folders.

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How does Office 365 affect management of electronic records?

The OneDrive component of Office 365 provides many of the same document management features of PantherFile (Write-Protection, Versioning, Tagging, etc), but features enhanced collaboration capabilities and integration with Microsoft Office desktop applications. There are a few basic tips you should follow to make best use of OneDrive for managing your records:

  • Be very aware of security issues. The default permission level on OneDrive is open sharing, and the search bar on the web interface means that any user can potentially access anything on your OneDrive site. Be sure to set permissions on files to the appropriate level, and be cautious about keeping sensitive information on OneDrive. For more information, see the OneDrive Security Recommendations.
  • Use Site Collection Features to customize your OneDrive. By going to Site Settings > Site Collection Features, you can include additional functionality in your OneDrive site. Most people will get the most use out of activating the Reporting module, which allows OneDrive to create reports about changed or deleted content.
  • Use item properties to help your searching. You can add enterprise keywords to make it easier to find similar types of documents across different project files (e.g. tagging all reports with keyword “Report”. You can also configure OneDrive to allow you to add more information, including formal titles and description.

OneDrive is a personal version of SharePoint, which will eventually allow UWM employees to collaborate on documents in secure, neutral space. Watch the Office 365 site and this site for more information.

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How can I transfer my electronic records to the archives?

If you have electronic records scheduled for archiving, we will accept them in whatever format you can provide. We prefer, however, that you put files for transfer either on CD-R, flash drives, or provide a link for transfer via PantherFile, as we are most prepared to ingest files sent to us over those media. Please see our Electronic Records Transfer page for more in-depth information.

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