GUIDELINES FOR EMAIL RECORDS
Email is a Record
Despite the informal "feel" of email, electronic messages
are records. Just like paper records, email messages and attachments
serve to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions,
procedures, operations, and other activities of your department.
Thus, it is important to understand that the email messages you
send and receive are records of the College and as such as subject
to its Records
The College is not alone in recognizing email as a record. Federal
and state courts, government regulatory agencies, and many corporate
and academic entities view email as a record. In recent litigation,
email has been treated as any other documentary source: it is discoverable
and has been produced in court with dramatic results.
- Benefits & Risks
The potential liability of email can be minimized, and the benefits
maximized by good records management practices. Poorly managed
email records are those that are:
• Purged without regard for the valuable information being
discarded or for College or federally mandated retention periods.
Retained because it is too much trouble to evaluate them for destruction
or for no particular reason beyond "just in case".
Incomplete and a poor representation of an event or business transaction;
Not in compliance with College requirements or professional standards
for documentation of that type;
Well-managed email records are:
• Created, managed, and retained according to College requirements
and professional best practices;
Complete, and present a fair representation of events or transactions;
Can be used to understand a past decision or serve as the basis
for future decision-making.
College Guidelines on Retention of Email
One of the most important tools to manage your email is the College's
Records Retention Policy. You can protect yourself and the College
by using the Schedule to promptly destroy eligible records. You,
and the College, can also profit by preserving records that are
not yet eligible for destruction or are permanently valuable and
will serve as the basis for future decisions.
Retention Schedule lists by functional area all of
the most common types of records produced in College departments.
These include administration, finance, human resources, program
management, public relations, faculty and departmental records.
For each group of record types generated from an activity area,
the Schedule assigns a retention period, the period of time the
records must be retained. Most retention periods are six years
or less; a small number of record types must be held for 10 years
or longer. Retention periods apply to records in all media. The
Schedule is available electronically -- http://www.mtholyoke.edu/lits/privacy-security/links/.
Transitory Information -- Delete
II. Substantive Information -- Retain
I. TRANSITORY INFORMATION
Many emails are transitory records that may be destroyed immediately.
Some common types of transitory records sent as e-mail include:
"for your information" copies on which no action is taken
(including directives that are distributed widely)
informational requests and responses
unsolicited resumes and inquiries.
The College requires offices to transfer substantive messages,
message transmission data, and attachments out of e-mail and
into the appropriate paper or electronic files to be retained
according to the retention schedule guidelines for those record
series. Users should dispose of e-mail versions as soon as they
are transferred to a more stable format and are no longer needed
in the e-mail system. Some common types of substantive messages
policy drafts and comments
program development and review memoranda
reports of official activities
authorizations for expenditure
agreement negotiations and finalization.
Generally speaking, e-mails that have substantive value are those
that have future consequences, records that may be needed as
the basis of future decisions or reports, or as part of an audit trail
that documents and clarifies a decision. Widely distributed policies,
such as directives and memoranda, should be considered of substantive
value only in the sending office. The many offices that receive
such messages may consider them of shorter-term value, and may
destroy them once their administrative usefulness expires.
Those e-mail records appraised as having long term, permanent,
or historical value to the College must be retained in a medium
that will be useable for future generations. Since there is no
national standard for permanency of the e-mail medium, it is not
considered acceptable for permanent record storage. Therefore,
e-mail records that are of permanent value must be transferred
to another acceptable medium for preservation. Print and file or
save as .PDF/A and store on network. Please see Guidelines
for Electronic Records Formats for further information.
As noted under maintenance above, the envelope information must
be retained with the e-mail record. This applies to long- term
preservation as well.
Managing the Digital Desktop http://www.ils.unc.edu/digitaldesktop/
Harvard University, Countway Library Archives and Records Management
E-Mail Policy and Best Practices“: A comprehensive guide
from the College of Wisconsin, one of many available on the Web.
Contact Archives and Special Collections Staff for help with any
of these standards or to transfer records: email@example.com.