Inventories

Conducting a Records Inventory

A records inventory is a summary account of all of an organization’s records. Typically, it identifies all records and their physical location, quantity, date range, reference activity, required floor or disc space, and supporting equipment and supplies. Gathering this type of information is the first step in establishing control over office records. The results of a records inventory can be used as the basis for developing file plans, and retention and disposition schedules. It can be used to identify duplication and other inefficiencies in records maintenance and storage. It can also help identify and protect records that are vital to the University and its units.

It is important to get support and commitment from senior management before proceeding with a records inventory. The objectives and scope of the project should be defined in advance and communicated to all staff. An office inventory will require the commitment and co-operation of all office staff whose records fall within the scope of the inventory project.

Before a records inventory can be completed, there are some important preparatory steps that must be taken. Preparing for a Records Inventory involves evaluating current filing practices, identifying and separating administrative and operational records, identifying and separating different series, identifying the physical locations of files, and examining the electronic work environment. If an office file plan already exists, then a copy should be obtained.

Once these preparations are complete, a records inventory can be undertaken. Completing a Records Inventory consists of obtaining information about each records series by means of a record inventory form. Completed inventory forms are then analyzed based on all of the informational elements gathered.

Note that the scope of the inventory, as described here, does not include personal records of faculty or staff. For example, the inventory would not include faculty teaching or research notes. For guidance on filing and managing faculty papers, please contact the Records Archivist.

 

Preparing for a Records Inventory

Before undertaking a records inventory of an office, the office’s current filing practices of both its paper and electronic records should be examined. Basic recordkeeping requirements must be met before an inventory is attempted. Therefore, some basic preliminary steps may need to be taken.

Locate all Office Records

The first preparatory step is to identify all areas where records are located and maintained. Some offices may have all records in one central file location for the use of all office staff. Other offices may have files held within individual staff offices or areas.

Locating office records is not limited to paper records. Records located in electronic work environments should also be identified. For example, electronic documents generated by desktop applications such as word-processing, email, and spreadsheet applications should be included in the records inventory. It is important to determine whether electronic documents are stored locally or on shared networks. If on shared networks, it is important to determine if the shared space is at the work group level, office level or organizational level.

This is also a good time to determine if the office has any policies or procedures in place that govern the use of electronic records and their retention and disposition. In most offices, the office’s official record is the hard-copy document printed from the electronic system and the electronic document is maintained as a mere convenience copy. Where University offices are maintaining electronic documents as their official office records, rather than a paper copies, legal and administrative issues relating to managing electronic records should be reviewed.

Identify Operational and Administrative Records

The second preparatory step is to identify that operational and administrative records. This is a fundamental classification distinction and all University records are created to fulfill either an operational or administrative function.

Administrative records are records that:

  • are generated or received via the office’s administrative functions; 
  • document the support or "housekeeping" functions of the office and fall within the following main subject groups: 

Administration
Buildings and Properties
Equipment and Supplies
Finance
Human Resources;

  • generally have short-term retention value to the office (usually from two to seven years); and, 
  • are common to all University offices. 

Operational record are records that:

  • are generated or received via the office’s operational functions; 
  • document the specific mandate or activities of the office; 
  • contain information with long-term value for statutory, legal or historical purposes; and, 
  • are unique to the University office, as indicated by the mandate of that office. 

It is important to identify operational and administrative records if they have been inter-filed. It is often easiest to begin by identifying all files that fall into one of the five following administrative main subject groups: Administration, Buildings and Properties, Equipment and Supplies, Finance, and Human Resources. The remaining records will then be operational records. Hard copy operational and administrative records should be physically separated. For example, separate filing cabinets or drawers can be dedicated to operational or administrative files. Electronic operational and administrative records should be separated through different electronic directories or folders. This should be done in all electronic work spaces, including local drives, email applications, and shared network space.

Identify Record Series

The third preparatory step is to further intellecturally sub-divide the office’s operational and administrative records into smaller classification groups. These smaller classification groups are called records series. A series is a group of files that are arranged systematically, or maintained as a unit, because they relate to a particular function, subject, or activity. Arrangement of records by series is important because files within a record series can be collectively retained and disposed of at the same time. In other words, a record series is generated by the same activity or function and, therefore, these records will likely have the same operational, legal, or archival value.

What should be avoided is one long, continuous arrangement of alpha-arranged records with no distinction between operational and administrative functions and no distinction between sub-functions within the operational and administrative groups. Such an arrangement makes filing and retrieval difficult and the application of retention and disposition almost impossible.

The University of Toronto File Plan provides a model for the arrangement of administrative records by series. It provides a detailed classification of University administrative records as well as guidance on retention and disposition. Implementation of the File Plan is not mandatory, but some of the retention and disposition periods described in the File Plan are mandatory. Therefore, other administrative file plans developed by University offices must still accommodate the application of the mandatory retention and disposition periods.

There is no model file plan for the University’s operational records. Each office must identify the records series that are most appropriate for their operational records. Each series should be related to a unique operational function or activity. Consequently, identifying and arranging files into record series is easier with a thorough knowledge of the office’s mandates and functions.

Locate and Examine Office File Plan

If a written office file plan exists, it should be located and analyzed. It may be a useful tool to determine if records have been classified by operational and administrative functions and sub-classified by series. It is also important to determine whether the file plan has actually been consistently applied to all office records, including paper and electronic.

 

Completing a Records Inventory

A records inventory is a summary account of all of an organization’s records. An inventory should not be undertaken until important preparatory steps have been completed. These steps are outlined in preparing for the records inventory. Completing an inventory consists of obtaining information about each records series by means of a record inventory form. A record series is a group of files that are arranged systematically, or maintained as a unit, because they relate to a particular function, subject, or activity.

A records inventory form is used to capture information about the records series of an office. The information collected can then be used to develop an office file plan, identify vital office records, and identify record maintenance inefficiencies.

The information collected via the inventory can also be used by UTARMS and University offices to develop records retention and disposition schedules. These schedules will guide offices on records retention and indicate when records can be either transferred to the University Archives or destroyed. UTARMS may require that the office complete a profile of office form when the inventory results will be used to develop retention and disposition schedules. For further information on compiling a records inventory contact the Records Archivist.

 

Profile of Office Form

UTARMS may require that University offices complete a profile of office form when the inventory results will be used to develop retention and disposition schedules. Please contact the Records Archivist for further details.