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Office Advice on What to Throw Away and What to Keep

Date: Feb. 26, 2002
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photo Dottie Stover
Archive: General News

As we come up on spring break at the University of Cincinnati, many offices are planning to set aside some time for a little spring-cleaning. However, in the aftermath of the Enron scandal and that company's records-shredding debacle, you may be wondering if you should just hang onto every piece of paper that comes across your desk. That's why Anna Truman is reminding office record keepers to get a retention schedule. "You can't get rid of anything without it. It helps people get rid of the stuff they hang onto, 'just in case.'" Anna Truman

Truman is records specialist and archivist for the University of Cincinnati's records management program, housed in the Archives and Rare Books Department of Blegen Library. She's the person who checks the retention schedules and advises offices what they should send to archives, or what should be destroyed. Truman adds the retention schedule, which comes from her office, can also free up a lot of office space, many of which are in tighter, temporary quarters because of the construction on campus.

It's not all that time consuming. Truman says taking inventory can be accomplished in a couple of hours. Most important, it provides legal protection for your office, employees, students and the university.

Records management is a legal mandate -- an accountability function of the institution. "The university's legal liabilities increase every time we keep something that we shouldn't. It can still move forward in the court system and eat up a lot of legal time, so in that way, the program works to protect everyone involved.

"I think people are afraid that if they throw something out, they're personally going to get in trouble for not having something," says Truman, who adds that destroying materials before their holding period ends is also illegal. That's the part most of us remember. "So, people will hold onto receipts forever, but may think they should throw away minutes from a meeting. But the receipts are less important than the meeting, in terms of the university's history of policy, procedure and university development."

The Records Management program website provides direction on procedure and office storage of records, and has the answers to frequently asked questions, including university policy on keeping e-mail and other electronic documents. In February, the website added a feature for offices to send their inventory online. For additional questions about electronic records, Truman suggests checking the Ohio Electronic Records Guidelines, which are compliant with state and federal regulations.

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