Records may include paper files, electronic files, three dimensional artifacts, audio/visual materials, and other media. There are some processes that apply regardless of the type of record. These are called media-neutral processes, some of which are described below. (Adapted from an Ohio State University Library presentation, undated.)
All records should have names that identify what the record is, who or what it pertains to, and when it was created. File naming schemes should be consistent across a department or office and allow anyone to quickly identify and access the file they need. File naming schemes should be media-neutral, meaning once a scheme is established it should be as applicable to paper files as it is to electronic files, audio/visual materials, etc.
Record/file names should distinguish . . .
When naming files, determine the order of the information in the file name based on how you anticipate looking for the item in the future. Even though you cannot anticipate every possible need that may arise, you can speculate how you are most likely to use or search for your records, and name them accordingly. The University Archivist can advise on file naming schemes.
Use whole words when naming files, not abbreviations. It is better to have a long file name than a name that only makes sense to a small group familiar with the abbreviation.
Example of Media-Neutral Naming
The label of a hardcopy file folder might be “Records Management Memos, 2021, Lowe,” while the name of a digital folder might be “RecordsMangement-Memos-2021-Lowe.” In this example, consider whether it is most useful to group all of the memos, all of the documents created by Lowe, all of the documents on Records Management, or all of the documents created in 2021. The most important grouping should be the first term in the file name. Also notice the use of complete words, avoiding abbreviations: “MEMO” not “M,” and “Records Management” not “RM.”
It is often easier to determine the most useful arrangementⓘ and naming of records once you have a few of them together. Context is essential. Some records can start with temporary names as long as records creators are committed to renaming a set of records once their use becomes more clear.
Each record should have one and only one location. Sometimes a single record might be related to various subjects. This means sometimes making difficult decisions about where to save a record. The foundation of these decisions should be retaining the record’s context, (what is it mostly about and how is it used?), and providing for how the record will most likely be searched for and used.
Archives generally do not retain multiple copies of records dispersed throughout different files. For the purposes of day-to-day operations in an office or organization, there may be times when it is necessary to produce copies of a document that get filed in more than one location. When such files get transferred to the University Archives, the University Archivist will have discretion regarding whether copies are retained or destroyed. At times, retaining copies will be necessary if they provide evidence of different uses or contexts for the information, or because they provide backup copies of records that may be in poor condition.
Filing should be consistent throughout the office or organization. This means that onboarding of new workers or members must include an introduction to the filing system. Depending on the set of records and their uses, creating an order for folders and subfolders can include consideration of any or all of the following choices:
When arranging records chronologically, make deliberate decisions about whether you will file in direct or reverse chronological order. When arranging records alphabetically, consider whether words like “the” or “a” will be considered part of the title. Document these decisions and train new individuals in following the filing plan.