Many of us find the data and information we store to be in all sorts of areas, be it in the basement VHS collection, on the bookshelf, emails on the home computer, or spread out over an organisation in various silos. If we wanted to access all the information we had on hiring staff we’d get ourselves into an awful pickle hunting through each of the informational areas.
In order to bring all the information together into one searchable database we need to conduct an information audit, we need to compile a list naming each of the files (generally a folder containing records) or electronic folders that we hold. Before we embark on this project, we’ll need to have convinced ourselves or senior management of the need for records management, and to have analysed our business or information needs according to the function of the organisation. This involves creating a business classification scheme which I’ve covered in a previous post (click on the link to access it). We’ll then need to have defined what a record is so we know what we’re looking for.
Once we’ve convinced ourselves of the need for it, performed the folder structure analysis, and know what we’re looking for it’s time to get down to business and find out what information is stored where. There are a number of methods for doing this, but if we want to create something we can search across it’s best to make it electronic. For a small organisation or a home collection you might think about using a simple spreadsheet, such as MS Excel or the Google Spreadsheet. To find any relevant information you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F to find any documents you may have on a certain topic.
On the other hand, it will make things a great deal easier in the long run (presuming there is a long run) to enter the information into a form – with automated fields and drop down boxes – on a database. This will provide you with an underlying table – similar to a spreadsheet – that you can then run various queries on as well as creating search forms.
Whether you use a spreadsheet or a database, you’ll need to design it with various fields in mind. The first ought to be an ‘autonumber’, one that gets automatically created each time a new record is added. If using a database, this also ought to be the primary key since it will denote the uniqueness of each surrogate record and enable you to relate it to other tables, such as a table of friends or staff who are borrowing a document.
You’ll also need at least two title fields, one for the folder’s function and one for the activity it covers. Any more than this and it may become too arduous a task. Try to be as descriptive as possible when you’re filling these out so as not to get any duplicate titling.
Other fields you’ll need include:
Format – how is the folder stored? As a VHS video, DVD, hard-drive or networked folder, paper or what have you. Use a drop-down list if you’re using
a form on a database.
Creator – who established the folder’s existence? Once again, use a drop-down list of staff or authors.
Date of creation. Use a standard format for this field, such as DD/MM/YYYY.
Review date. You’ll need to have attached disposition criteria alongside each of
the functions/activities in your folder structure, so use these to calculate when a folder needs to be reviewed for destruction, archive, or retention for a further period of activity.
Confidential details. You may wish to create a separate table of teams that have access to any given activity. You can then add and delete members of the team without having to change each folder they have access to.
Location. Use a drop-down list to define where a folder is stored. If it is electronic, use a hyperlink.
Status. Whether the item is available, on loan, being reviewed, archived, or, ultimately, if it has been destroyed.
There may well be other information you wish to add to this at your discretion, such as a file numbering system, barcode, the date of file closure, any freedom of information or data protection act exemptions that may apply, the division of the organisation that is responsible for the activity, a notes field, some keywords, the data entry officer, the date of data entry, even the colour of the file.
Be sure to check out the Information Auditor above for some fully customised software to speed up the information audit process.