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Records and data management

In general, a repository manages two types of records related to archeological projects -- the records generated by the repository during day-to-day operations and the associated records of an archeological project. The care and management of archeological associated records have been discussed in previous sections as an integral part of archeological collections management.

What has not been fully presented is the management of the repository records and the information they contain. Repository staff both create and manage numerous records, those that document day-to-day activities and those that record specific information about the objects, associated records, and collections themselves over time. Detailed and consistent management of these records is essential to ensure their long-term usefulness for repository staff, researchers, resource managers, and others. Records may be produced in a number of media, such as ink, toner, or pencil on paper; photographs and film; digital, audiovisual, and magnetic media; and microforms such as microfilm.

Common Types of Repository Records & Information
(may vary with type and size of repository)
Accession File Central document file on an acquisition or incoming transaction. Should contain all associated paperwork, including legal documents, correspondence, deed of title, and copyrights, when applicable. It may also include photos, object history, condition report, and catalog information.
Source or Donor File Information that identifies donors or source of individual items or collections of objects and/or associated records. Useful for identifying past provenance. May be part of an accession record.
Insurance Information Information on what is covered by insurance and the value of objects or documents. Often in an accession record.
Catalog Record Information on individual objects, lots of objects, or a collection of records (including a sub-collection, series, container, and file unit), often organized by accession number. Usually contains basic descriptive information and access points (e.g., names, subjects, genres). Instead of placing this information on cards, as in previous decades, these records are now often in a digital format, such as a database. May be cross-referenced to other types of records.
Location File Details the location of all objects and collections of associated records. May be organized by object type or by location. May include location history. Often found on a catalog record or in a catalog database for easy search and retrieval.
Classification or Category File Information on a system used to group together objects. Categories vary by type of collection and repository organization. Associated records are not arranged in a classified order, but by the record creator's original arrangement or filing plan. The repository creates finding aids to help locate and use specific records.
Photo or Image File Information on photographs or images of objects, documents, collections, exhibits, etc. May contain captions, release forms, copyright information, and other data about the photo or image, or may contain actual photographs or images.
Loan File Documents incoming and outgoing loans. File contains information on ownership, object use, loan conditions, and location.
Exhibition File Detailed information on an exhibit, such as exhibition objects and/or documents, loans, receipts, correspondence, photos, layout and design, research, budgets, and insurance.
Correspondence Incoming and outgoing letters, memoranda, minutes from meetings, briefing materials, decision documents, etc.
Access, Reference, and Use File Information on users and collections use, including researcher registration forms, permissions to publish, duplication requests, rights and permissions granted, requests for research help, researcher correspondence, and Freedom of Information Act requests (see Section IX).

Given the broad range of records created and managed by a repository, it should have policies and procedures in place to handle the records management life cycle -- the phases of creation, maintenance and use, and disposition. Importantly, however, records management may be handled somewhat differently by the various types of repositories discussed in Section VII based on laws, regulations, directives by the Board of Directors, or other guidance for this activity. In particular, federal repositories must follow the requirements specified in the Federal Records Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and their accompanying regulations. Many states may have similar laws, including Sunshine laws, and policies that affect state repositories and archives. Private museums, academic repositories, tribal cultural centers, and historical society museums, however, may choose to follow standards set out by professional societies, such as the Society of American Archivists, the Academy of Certified Archivists, and the Association of Information Management Professionals.

In the life cycle of records management, the creation of records involves a number of considerations. These include:

  • Knowing the action that generated the records.
  • Identifying the need for particular kinds of information, such as those presented in the chart above.
  • Distinguishing records from other documents (e.g., books and other library materials, exact duplicate copies, blank forms, personal materials not related to repository business).
  • Selecting appropriate, long-lived media to produce and retain records.
  • Determining appropriate communication methods to record information to ensure efficient and effective preservation, retrieval, and use (e.g., documents, database files, images, etc.).

The second phase of the records management life cycle is maintenance and use, which involves the organization, storage, access and retrieval of repository records and data. This is when filing systems (paper or digital) are used to separate repository records from other documentary materials, as well as to efficiently and effectively retrieve specific records. It also when security and backup measures are used to protect records from loss or damage by natural or human causes, unauthorized change or deletion, and leaking of confidential or sensitive material. Other considerations include:

  • Identifying records with proprietary, confidential or sensitive information. Sensitive information may need to be placed in a password-protected electronic system or in restricted access cabinets or areas.
  • Implementing a file plan or arrangement of the records during their active lifetime.
  • Identifying copyrights to any of the materials, which are held by another, such as a contractor.
  • Preparing a disposition schedule for the records.

The vast majority of the repository records discussed above remain in active use and should be stored and managed following standard archival procedures. Some records, on the other hand, may become candidates for disposition when the items they document are deaccessioned or transferred. At this third stage in the records management life cycle, the status of records change from active to inactive and, in some cases, to temporary. This is when the records schedule, a written guide for identifying how long to keep temporary records, how to dispose of them, and who should hold an organization's permanent records when they are inactive, comes into play.

Scheduling the disposition of records is complex. It may involve temporarily storing records for a specific period of time in an appropriate storage facility. For records of continuing value (e.g., they fit in the repository's scope of collections and mission), this may involve transferring their custody to a designated archive (the National Archives and Records Administration for federal records) where the records are arranged, rehoused, described in a finding aid, cataloged, and made accessible for use. The last means to dispose of records is to destroy them.


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