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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”)

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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.

Because UWM does not have a contract to guarantee access to or security of records, cloud services should not be used for university records if possible, and never for sensitive university records. If necessary, Cloud storage may be used as a backup or working system, but the copy of record for audit, open records, or verification purposes should 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 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: 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.

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?

The OneDrive component of Office 365 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 allows 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 OneDrive or SharePoint, 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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