Step 2. Conducting a Records Inventory
In Step 1 you were to develop a documentation strategy to identify what records your program needs to keep, where they should be filed, and who is responsible for them. The second step is to match that theoretical structure to reality by going out and conducting an inventory of what is actually in your office. To conduct an inventory means to do four things:
- Physically inspect all of the files in the unit and record the essential information about them.
- Identify duplicate, fragmented, and related records.
- Match the records to the records schedules.
- Evaluate the existing records (documentation) against your documentation strategy and information needs.
Physically inspect the files and record essential information.
This is the most time consuming part of the entire process. To do a good job you will need a data collection form, and a tape measure (and a sense of humor). Systematically survey any areas where records might be stored such as offices, storage areas, and off-site storage areas. Look for records in all media including maps, audio-visual materials, and electronic records.
To save time, divide what you find into four categories:
- Personal papers
- Reference materials
- Other non-record materials such as stocks of publications
- Records or potential records (including working files)
For the first three groupings, collect only the following information:
- Volume (linear feet or inches)
- Owner (who has custody of the materials) and telephone number and mail code
- Location (room number, file cabinet drawer, etc.)
For record and potential record material, you should collect the following information:
- Office What is the name of the program (office, division, or branch) responsible for the records?
- Location Where are the documents physically located?
For example: file room, someone's office, etc.
- Title What are they called?
For example: permits, correspondence, etc.
- Inclusive dates What is the date span?
For example: 1992-1999
- Description What is included in the folder?
For example: Contains records used in the issuance or denial of a permit issued by EPA offices or authorized states, Federal Facilities, or interstate agencies. Includes draft and final permits, major and minor permits, permit modifications, general, special, emergency, research, interim permits, pretreatment, and others.
- Arrangement How are they arranged?
For example: alphabetically, by date, etc.
- Medium What is the format?
For example: paper, microfilm, electronic, video, etc.
- Volume What is the current volume in feet or inches?
For example: 2"
- Annual accumulation What is the rate of buildup in one year?
For example: 6"
- File break When is the file closed or "cut off?"
For example: at end of fiscal year
- Legal requirements Are these documents created or collected pursuant to a statute or regulation? If so, which one(s)?
For example: Clean Water Act, as amended, Sections 402, 404, 40 CFR 122
- Vital records Are these documents needed for disaster recovery purposes or to protect rights and interests?
- Finding aids Are there any related indexes or lists which serve as finding aids?
- Restrictions Do the documents contain any restricted information such as confidential business information (CBI), Privacy Act or enforcement sensitive information?
- Related records Are there any other records which are related to this group or series? Are copies maintained elsewhere, and if so, who holds them?
To effectively capture all the information, we recommend you use some type of inventory form. We have included samples here or you can develop your own.
Sample Inventory Forms
Record Series Inventory Form (MS Word) (2 pp, 75K)
Electronic System Inventory Form (MS Word) (2 pp, 68K)
Identify duplicate, fragmented, and related records.
Once you've completed the inventory, you will be faced with a pile of survey forms organized by the locations and custodians of the files. These forms are like pieces to a puzzle that need to be assembled to create a picture of your unit's documentation.
To do this, you must establish intellectual control over them. First, review the survey forms and identify records that:
- Duplicate each other or overlap. A complete file should be created and the duplicates eliminated as to the extent feasible.
- Are fragmented with the result that the complete file is divided among several persons, each of whom has a portion of the complete file. The fragments should be physically united, if at all possible. At a minimum, the unit needs to understand where all the pieces are and who is responsible for them, and then standardize the way they are arranged and maintained.
- Are related to one another, such as drafts and finals, chron and subject files, or final reports and working papers. By understanding the relationships, you will be able to better determine the best retention for each piece.
Match the records to the records schedules.
The next step is to match the inventory results to the records schedules. Remember, many programs use generic schedule items such as Project Files or Contracts rather than identifying individual projects. If you have questions, call your Records Liaison Officer or the National Records Management Program Help Desk for assistance. Records for which schedule items do not exist will have to be scheduled.
Match the existing documentation against your documentation strategy and evaluate whether it matches your information needs.
The final step in the process is to determine whether the records you have are the ones you need. Compare the records you have identified to your documentation strategy.
- Do you keep files you don't need?
- Are you missing files you do need?
- Does the current organization and retention meet your current needs?
- If not, what should be changed so your needs are met?
Some Practical Hints for Conducting Inventories
Program staff are the specialists in how the records they create are used. They are your key to understanding the records management needs of your organization.
Although nobody wants to take responsibility for records management, everyone has opinions on how best to manage records. Their suggestions are vital to a workable filing system.
Recognize and respect the fact that many people are VERY protective of "their" records. Getting program staff to trust and use a filing system (other than their own) is the biggest hurdle you will face.
You haven't finished until you've found the Christmas decorations!