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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:

  1. Physically inspect all of the files in the unit and record the essential information about them.
  2. Identify duplicate, fragmented, and related records.
  3. Match the records to the records schedules.
  4. 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:

  1. Personal papers
  2. Reference materials
  3. Other non-record materials such as stocks of publications
  4. Records or potential records (including working files)

For the first three groupings, collect only the following information:

For record and potential record material, you should collect the following information:

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:

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.

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!

Introduction | Step 1 | Step 2 | Step 3 | Step 4 | Step 5 | Step 6

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