Charter Day: 150 Years of Record Keeping

UCOP Charter Day 150 Logo Design

By Laurie Sletten.  March 23, 2018 – Charter Day – marks UC’s 150th anniversary. We know this because someone kept records in such a manner that the records were accessible and able to be referenced.

In 1868, records were created or received on paper. With the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, mailed records crossed the country in just days. Typewriters did not enter the market until 1874. These developments made it easier to create and share records.

Still, it wasn’t until records could be easily copied (think carbon paper, copy machines and, finally, computers) that records became voluminous and required better management. Today, most of our records are electronic; most are born digital and stored electronically. When something is not electronic to start with, people are scanning it so they can get rid of the paper.

Developments in technology have placed sophisticated tools in the hands of office workers. Most records are now under the direct control of an individual at a particular desktop. Yet while everyone can create and delete records, few are managing them well.

In this age of electronic records, we encounter new record-keeping problems. First, we keep too much. It is common to have many versions of the same document, making it difficult to keep track of the correct one. All versions may be subject to Public Records Act (PRA) requests and subpoena. In fact, any records that are kept, even if past their retention period, are subject to expensive auditing, subpoena, and PRA requests. Many organizations have spent untold amounts of money sifting through records that should have been deleted long before.

On the other hand, it is now easier to lose electronic records that are supposed to be retained. Maybe they simply weren’t saved, or they weren’t stored where others could find and retrieve them, or the original creators or owners left a position and the records were deleted with their accounts. Neither keeping too many records nor losing desired records is acceptable.

As the media of records has changed, the field of records management too has evolved. It has converged into a collaborative new domain called “information governance.” This approach recognizes that the job of preserving, protecting, and managing the university’s data – its records – requires expertise from many fields. For example, the technology team should not acquire or design any system that involves data without partnering with the records manager, security officer, and privacy officer – and vice versa.

These days, good information governance depends upon an effective and ongoing partnership among the IT, information security, records management, privacy, audit and compliance, archives, and legal teams. These groups’ shared goals for governing information include:

  1. Assuring that information is available and accessible to appropriate individuals
  2. Protecting information from loss and security breaches
  3. Protecting data and personal privacy while supporting institutional transparency
  4. Managing the lifecycle of information from creation to disposition
  5. Enabling quick, cost effective, and accurate responses to investigations, audits, and legal matters
  6. Preserving the history of the institution

So what is the message for Charter Day? To reach out to your local records managers and local archivists. They are here to help and will call upon the expertise of their colleagues in other fields to find a thoughtful, pragmatic, and up-to-date approach for you. Together we will protect the records we need to celebrate UC’s next 150 years.


Laurie SlettenLaurie Sletten is records manager at UCOP and coordinates systemwide records management initiatives. This article was written in collaboration with the UC Records Management Committee.

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