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Electronic Records

Electronic documents, like their paper counterparts, may qualify as records and must be scheduled, retained, and disposed of according to university policy and legal statute. See below for answers to some of the most common questions about electronic records at UWM. Contact the archives directly for additional assistance.

Quick E-Records Links

Electronic Transfers E-mail Management University Digitization Policy

Frequently Asked Questions

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”)

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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 OneDrive/SharePoint, 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 see our E-mail Management page 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 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.

It is strongly advised that UWM staff use services and platforms on contract with UWM for all university records when practicable. For most document types this means using Microsoft Office 365, including OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams rather than Google Drive, Slack, Zoom, etc. The university also provides virtual drive space to staff accessible from their office computer which they are encouraged to use in lieu of storing files locally on their office computer’s hard drive.

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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 SharePoint, 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: In order to ensure you can read your own older files, we recommend migrating files to the new format whenever a new version of the program is released. There is no need to worry about file conversion for files being transferred to the archives. 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.

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 Office 365 affect management of electronic records?

Office 365 features enhanced collaboration capabilities and integration with Microsoft Office desktop applications through applications including OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams. Here 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.

A tip for using SharePoint:

  • Regularly tend your SharePoint space. Shared drive spaces like SharePoint tend to accumulate records quickly. Consider a foldering or migration scheme that will allow you to easily file records away that are no longer being frequently used by multiple individuals.

Tips for using Teams:

  • Remember that data in Teams can still be records. This includes recorded meeting video, call and message transcripts, and chat logs. While most of these records will be transitory or routine and thus have very short retention periods, do not delete these records until authorized to do so via a relevant RRDA. Remember this also before you post messages of a personal or potentially embarrassing nature to friends and colleagues in chat, even in a separate chat log you created to be “private!”
  • Do not use Teams for classes. Use Canvas and Collaborate Ultra instead. Microsoft Teams deletes groups and teams that are not used in a 1-year span of time along with their associated records, and re-using Teams content across terms to prevent that deletion exposes student information in ways that can violate FERPA. If you must use Teams for a class, migrate the content off of Teams at the end of the term.
  • Remember that Teams content expires due to inactivity. If you use Teams for a limited-term task such as a hiring committee or project, remember to move that content out of Teams at the end of the task.

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 provide a link for transfer via OneDrive or SharePoint, or alternatively put files for transfer either on CD-R or flash drives 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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