The Archives regularly receives inquiries about how parishes and dioceses should manage electronic records. We certainly sympathize with this complicated issue, as management of the Church’s vital electronic records is at the top of our priority list. To help provide a foundation for administrators, we have compiled responses to some recent questions about managing electronic records. This list is literally a compilation of some frequently asked questions. While this FAQ list is not comprehensive, we hope it may provide some basic useful information. For more specific questions and consultations, please contact the Archives.
Dioceses and Parishes should begin by creating a standard records retention policy. View the DFMS Retention Policy.
E-Records Frequently Asked Questions
- What kinds of electronic files should be saved?
- We’re not sure what to save and what to destroy.
- What types of records should be saved and for how long? What types of files should we be archiving?
- We are considering an electronic archive for our email and computer files. Do you have any software and hardware recommendations? How should we set this up?
- Do you recommend a specific technology for the archival storage of publications published in electronic formats (such as Adobe or Quark)?
- What does an archival back up look like?
- Do you have suggestions about routine back-ups of our data servers for our diocese?
- We’ve heard a considerable amount in the news about “cloud computing” and “cloud-based storage.” What should our concerns be?
- Do you have suggested guidelines for establishing “folders” and “directories,” that are preferable to store, track or maintain electronic records?
- We have a new employee replacing an existing employee who will be using the same computer. What should be saved, and how?
- Do you have suggestions on some standard ways to name computer files so that they are easier to find and retrieve in an office setting?
- If an employee of the diocese will be deposed and any and all electronic correspondence related to a legal matter is requested, how is this request best fulfilled?
1. What kinds of electronic files should be saved?
Records are not retained on the basis of the format they are created in. Instead they are retained for legal, fiscal or administrative reasons no matter what the format. Preferably, one should keep the document in the original format in which it was created. If the document was designated in the retention policy to be retained when it was created as a paper document, then the same practice would apply when the document is created and maintained in an electronic form. In creating a new retention policy, one would not evaluate the document’s format, but rather the value of the document’s content.
2. We’re not sure what to save and what to destroy.
The retention of parish or diocesan records isn’t that difficult. You should take a look at retention schedules that exist in many places including the Archives’ Website or the Manual of Business Affairs (the same schedule). The most important rule is not to make it up as you go along. Give some organized person the job of keeping the official retention schedule and carrying out the destruction and retention directions on it. If your Church entity does not have a retention policy and a standard practice, keep the records until you can adopt one. Do not, under any condition, allow records to be destroyed upon suspicion or knowledge of wrong doing or the possibility that some wrong will be discovered.
3. What types of records should be saved and for how long? What types of files should we be archiving?
In most cases, dioceses and parishes create many of the same kinds of records. Consult the records retention schedule endorsed in the Business Manual by General Convention should be consulted (see chapter 14 of that manual or download the Records Management for Congregations). A retention schedule will tell you how long to keep records that are temporary. Some records are considered permanent archival records, whether in the form of paper or electronic files. Among these are:
- Journals of Diocesan Convention (4 good copies)
- Minutes and proceedings of all bodies
- Meeting dockets (including sample meeting mailings)
- Bylaws and revisions (cumulative)
- Incorporation papers, articles of association, etc.
- Reports, statements, studies, and/or occasional papers of the Diocese or member parishes
- Pastoral letters and other official communication of the Bishop
- Major Project and Events Files (e.g., convocations, advocacy, mission initiatives, etc.)
- Construction and Building Files (major renovations and new construction)
- Executive Correspondence (Parish Contact Files, Clergy Contact Files)
- Audits and annual financial statements
- Trust fund register, files and endowments
- Electronic meeting records, discussion forums, and substantive e-mail correspondence
- Publications (including studies, newsletters and brochures, websites, etc.)
- Newspapers or monthlies and similar circulars
- Databases of membership, volunteers’ service, personnel, ledgers, and vital data
- Master calendars
- Photographs (digital and film)
- Audio and visual recordings (presentations on CD, DVD, etc.)
4. We are considering an electronic archive for our email and computer files. Do you have any software and hardware recommendations? How should we set this up?
The numerous variables in any situation prevent us from providing a single solution to how dioceses and parishes should create electronic archives. If your unit has not taken the time to create a good archive for the paper records, the electronic Archives will easily and quickly become lost and disorganized. Dependencies such as staff, budget, and resources play a role in assessing the way forward for your particular Church organization. There are, however, some general best practices and considerations that we suggest.
Keep all your records on a backed up server and make sure they are organized. Having the files organized on a file server in a network environment is the first level of record keeping that allows for ready retrieval and direct access to your data. Like paper files, it is best to think in terms of groups of records, and only rarely in terms of single documents. In this case file “directories” or “folders” are the important organizing and archiving unit.
The key component of this set up is that someone takes responsibility for organizing the data by a combination of structure and business process or function. Ideally the archive repository mirrors to some extent the organizational structure of the active files so that legacy files can be easily moved. The archive directory should be under the supervision of the designated custodian of the record for the parish or diocese – or the archivist if that person is so qualified. The directory should be protected by restricting “write” and “delete” permissions, while allowing read-only access and retrieval.
Upkeep of organized directories will help you avoid the problem of file servers becoming full and directories becoming unwieldy with legacy or old data. Legacy files should not be kept permanently mixed with the active files on the data file server. If staff members have not saved documents in directories, and there is no one to clean up the files, it will be extremely difficult to judge how important that person’s work was to the organization. You may be forced to perform either a large save or deletion and never be certain that you have complied with your retention policy or know how important that person’s work was to the organization.
The organization must decide if it wants to segregate and organize archived records on a separate server. Either way, one should insist on deploying a RAID array disc system, which is a file server that automatically creates redundant or duplicate data. The redundancy prevents a “crash” situation from occurring in which one drive becomes damaged and results in a total loss of data. This arrangement should be supplemented by a back up system of optical disc copies (DVDs) or a data storage service company in the Internet “cloud.”
There are no inexpensive or easily implemented records management or archiving software systems. Most Church bodies will be well advised to practice good record keeping from the outset and find an organized staff person to help develop policy, practice, organizational structures, and some authority to enforce compliance by other members of the staff team. The good news is following these best practices are the necessary steps for preparing records for the implementation of electronic records management or archiving software.
5. Do you recommend a specific technology for the archival storage of publications published in electronic formats (such as Adobe or Quark)?
Your server should have mirrored hard drives (e.g., a RAID array system) -- which is to say that there is a constant backup process in place for the file or data server (apart from any remote tape backup system). You should create an "archive" section on the server for the electronic publications. Staff should get into the practice of depositing a final copy of all publications and important revisions or versions to this section of the server.
A certain amount of upkeep, organization, and data migration may be needed over time as staff changes occur and system platforms are upgraded. Without the initial organization of a data repository for publications as an organizing “window" on the data, its permanence will never be assured.
If you are not in the position to monitor the electronic records, we advise you to print hard copies of the electronic publications until you are able to have a hand in administering the data through server access.
6. What does an archival back up look like?
In addition to the system backup mentioned above (RAID array system), you should have at least one remote backup of the permanent records generated on a quarterly, or semi-annual basis. The data should be placed on a high quality DVD such as MAM-A Mitsui GOLD DVD-Rs. In this case, price often signifies a better manufacturing process. For frequently referenced data such as parish registers, one could make two optical disk copies: one for reference/general use, and the other an archival copy kept in a protected environment (out of light, low humidity and temperature, and dust-free).
7. Do you have suggestions about routine back-ups of our data servers for our diocese?
Begin first by identifying the person(s) in your diocese or parish who has the information about where all of the Diocese’s permanent electronic records are. Someone must be responsible for knowing your data, and this is especially important for litigation and e-discovery in legal requests. Ideally this person would be a paid staff member. Professional systems administrators play a critical role in accounting for your compliance in backing up your data. If you do not have a technology systems administrator on staff, consider investing in semi-annual or annual audits by an information systems consultant.
When it comes to evaluating your current back up systems, consider the following: if the hard drive on your computer system crashed and you lost all of the data stored there, would a reasonably computer-literate person be able to recreate the data from the computer backups? Sometimes reconstituting data from computer backups fails significantly, especially if the software version was changed and not backed up, or if the storage media is questionable. If there isn’t even the most basic documentation on location, procedures, and content of the back up files, you can waste much time and money. Because of this, having at least one backup of permanent archival record copies on optical disks (e.g., CD/DVD/BLU-Ray) is a good idea. These off line backups should be conducted on a regularly scheduled basis.
8. We’ve heard a considerable amount in the news about “cloud computing” and “cloud-based storage.” What should our concerns be?
Using remote computers to store or backup an organization’s data files and servers is the most common and reliable use of Internet service companies who operate in the so-called “cloud.” It is the least complicated in terms of security issues. It has now become a fairly standard way to back up corporate computer data. Concerns are mostly in the area of using the cloud for direct transactional computing outside of one’s own server.
9. Do you have suggested guidelines for establishing “folders” and “directories,” that are preferable to store, track or maintain electronic records?
Electronic records and paper records can be organized with similar filing schemes. Just as paper records are grouped together in file folders, electronic records should be grouped together into electronic folders, or directories to maintain organization. A directory folder can be divided according to common practices:
- Chronology (i.e.: year or month such as “G:/Standing Committee/Minutes/2010, functional (“Financial Records,” “Projects,” “Outreach Mission Program,” “Parish Organizations” etc.)
- By their status (closed accounts, terminated employees, case files open and closed, etc.) or by subject (the least useful!)
It is common for electronic records to have paper counterparts. Directories should follow naming conventions similar to the paper file to avoid confusion. If a paper file is named "Annual Reports," for example, the electronic directory should also be named "Annual Reports".
Below are some useful and fairly standard approaches for naming files and organizing documents to make them easier to manage.
- Create simple hierarchies of directories and sub-directories, avoid catch- all directories with long lists of files inside. This will help reduce the length of file names.
- Keep file names short but self evident. Use obvious abbreviations and avoid repeating words already in the directory name.
- Draft documents should be given version numbers and/or last revision dates; do not rely exclusively on the computer generated revision date.
- Identify in the file name the “record copy,” sometimes called the final copy or master document to distinguish it from other versions. Example: use instead of.
- Separate sub-directories by year for future reference or archiving. Previous years’ reports or publication are a good starting template for future productions.
- Use the "insert path and file name"feature of your software to keep track of important document locations. (In MS Word, for example, this feature is located as "Autotext"under Insert in the toolbar.).
- Use common abbreviations, but avoid periods in file names – they are often blocked by spam filters.
- Initials can usually substitute for first names and follow the surname (SmithB_ltr.doc)
- Articles, conjunctions, and preposition such as: the, and, of, for are not necessary.
- Avoid spaces in any file name, especially if the file will be sent to someone else by email. Instead of spaces, use hyphens or underscoring.
10. We have a new employee replacing an existing employee who will be using the same computer. What should be saved, and how?
It is standard organizational policy that records belong to the organization and not to the individual agent. Records should not be deleted or removed from diocesan or parish computers by exiting employees. Employees leaving the diocese should work with their supervisors to identify and reassign records before exiting. Long term retention will depend on whether the records have been organized into directories that follow retention schedules.
Prior to an employee leaving, an employee and supervisor should identify and label all diocesan/church records in that employee’s possession. Work reassigned to another employee, will require new access permissions or moving a directory to another part of the organizational file structure. Workstation hard drives should be checked to be sure the employee did not keep records locally instead of on the network server. Finally, policy and practice should provide that remote work with laptop computers is being stored and retained on the network servers.
After a standard period of 4 to 6 months, most new employees will be able to identify records that they need in their active directories and which ones they can retire to the archives directory or repository. They should be able to follow a retention schedule to designate electronic records for destruction or long term retention.
11. Do you have suggestions on some standard ways to name computer files so that they are easier to find and retrieve in an office setting?
There is no one way to name e-files to maximize retrieval, but there are lots of bad ways that make life difficult for other users or for keeping files long term. Consult page 11 of the Records Management Manual for Congregations and this Tip Sheet from the Archives. A Web search will give you other helpful guidelines.
12. If an employee of the diocese will be deposed and any and all electronic correspondence related to a legal matter is requested, how is this request best fulfilled?
Records management policies should state that all destruction be suspended once an investigation or litigation is reasonably anticipated. If litigation is anticipated, suspension of routines is accomplished through a litigation hold or by notifying employees/representatives of the diocese or parish of their obligations to keep all potentially relevant data (not just email). This is a critical first step in any legal process.
In the event that the diocese, or an employee of the diocese, is requested or subpoenaed to provide, “any and all electronic correspondence related to a legal matter,” lawyers/law firms/courts typically prefer records to be delivered in their native formats. This will be job for key administrative and technical staff. As with paper records, accurate copies of the files requested should be made without removing the date from the server(s). The diocese or parish should be prepared to show how the files are organized and that they are a true representation of the source. A disorganized file structure will mean releasing much more data than is perhaps necessary – and legal bills much higher than necessary for the review process that did not happen in-house.
Be aware that even if you have previously destroyed records according to a well-researched retention schedule, if you have not used “scrubbing” software for deleted records, use of computer forensic methods and searches of back up severs and tapes may be included in a discovery request.