The problem with keeping everything

One of the problems with records management advice from people who don’t understand the nature of records is that they are often completely, totally, and utterly unaware of the implications relating to the various stages of a records life (from creation to final disposition). For example, people think that you can (and should) keep everything. In a recent article, it was suggested that, in the name of freedom of information and “open government”, Obama should force government agencies to “file and maintain all the records they’re creating now, so that in the future when citizens file FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to declassify documents, they won’t receive a form letter that reads, ‘Sorry, no such documents exist.'”

All records? Really? Every single last one? The emails confirming meeting times, the multiple drafts of the president’s speeches, an email asking if anyone wants to go for lunch, that post-it note that someone jotted what their dad wants for Christmas on? These are all legitimate records, and if they were created in a government building with government supplies (computers, internet connections, pens, notepads, etc.) than they are technically government records. But, they are mostly transitory records (i.e., records that do not need to be filed as they have limited use beyond an immediate or minor transaction). As one blogger pointed out, with this kind of so-called management “the important stuff will probably be kept, but sifting through all of the digital detritus in order to find it might be a real challenge.” The amount of time and money that would be needed to manage all those documents and to find the ones that people want would be astronomical. Add to that the risk of litigation and the money that would be spend on legal fees while lawyers sifted through *everything* to find those few records that relate to the litigation and you have a financial nightmare in the making, not to mention a scenario that would make most records specialist weep (would you want to be the person that had to sort through 50 boxes of loose papers to find the one document that was requested?).

Keeping everything is not the answer. They should keep official records. For example, records that are required to support business operations or records that are required by legislation. Everything else is, as the blogger called it, detritus – debris, fragments, garbage! It just clutters up everything and impedes the flow of the legitimately useful records.

Yes, Obama (and Harper, and every other head of state) should value records management and create an environment where all important records and their supporting bits of information are kept, but, no, they should not be keeping everything.

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One Response to The problem with keeping everything

  1. Sue Massey says:

    A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. I read that one a few more. Really enjoy your blog. Thanks

    Like

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