Electronic Records

Information technology has revolutionized the way in which University offices create, store, and manage their records. Information has moved from paper letters to email messages. Calendars, annual reports, leaflets, and other publications are now more likely to be accessed through web sites. Relational database systems have replaced transcript cards, paper forms, and case files.


With these new technologies, come questions on how to efficiently manage your electronic records. How do you distinguish e-mails worth saving from other messages, such as personal or routine e-mail? How do you ensure that electronic records having long term administrative, legal or research value can be accessed and read in ten or fifteen years from now? How can you quickly find a document in your computer directory?


In 2005, the Canadian General Standards Board published a new standard Electronic Records as Documentary Evidence (CGSB-72.34-2005). This standard "specifies in broad terms the policies, procedures, practices and documentation that organizations need to establish the integrity and authenticity of recorded information as an electronic record in an electronic records management system (RMS)." In addition to this resource, the following checklist is provided to assist faculties, departments, and administrative units in establishing good business practices to manage the University’s electronic information resources. Implementing these tips will help to ensure that electronically stored records are easily retrievable, useable, and protected for years to come.

  • Apply records management principles to all of your office’s records, including those that are produced electronically. If you wish to learn more about records management practices, take a UTARMS’ training seminar.
  • Keep in mind that many of the electronic documents you create are University records. A University record is any document created in the course of University activity that is recorded evidence of that activity such as a letter, memorandum, report, computer database file, e-mail, video tape or film, photograph, map, drawing and any other thing on which information is recorded or stored.
  • Remember that electronic records are subject to the same legal and legislative requirements as any record produced in any form or media.
  • Purge regularly electronic documents that are routine administrative messages, personal notes, minor redrafts, and duplicates of paper copies.
  • Establish an electronic classification plan in your file directory that follows the one created for your office’s textual records. This practice allows for similar retention and disposition of similar types of information despite their format.
  • Determine retention periods and final disposition for electronic records just as you would for paper files. Scheduling electronic records must follow appropriate University procedures and include the University Archivists’ approval. For further information on retention and disposition schedules and on scheduling guidelines, please see the UTARMS Schedules Database.
  • Develop naming conventions and version control for your electronic documents to support quick access and easy retrieval. You can learn more about these practices in the UTARMS Electronic Records and Desktop Management course.
  • Ensure that new software applications permit ready conversion of files from other systems.
  • Save and protect software, systems documentation, and data management tools needed to operate your system.
  • Guard networks and computers against threats such as viruses, tampering, and unauthorized access.
  • Plan adequate backup systems. "Refresh" data regularly by copying onto a new disc or tape.

If you have any questions about electronic records or records management in general, contact the Records Archivist or take our records management courses.

Guidelines for Archiving Web Sites

I Introduction

The following guidelines are provided to assist University administrators in identifying and preserving electronic records posted to departmental web sites and available through the University of Toronto World Wide Web. The focus is ensuring long-term access to and preservation of official university administrative records and publications created and controlled by University administrators. Other groups or individuals creating web sites in compliance with the University of Toronto Guidelines for World Wide Web Sites and Publishing may find the strategies discussed here useful in preserving their own web based information.


A source consulted in the preparation of this document is Managing Internet and Intranet information for long-term access and accountability. Implementation Guide, IM Forum Internet and Intranet Working Group (1999).

II Definitions:

Local Site repository = an electronic repository established under the control of a University office to temporarily manage copies of that office's electronically recorded information as University records until the office's record-keeping system is adequate for the task. It is intended to replicate, at time of posting, all material posted to an active Web site.

Historical Log = a record created to supplement existing record-keeping policies and practices of a University office containing the following elements:

  • the title of name of the posting
  • the version number of the posting
  • the originating author and his or her office name, address and contact information (this is usually the content manager, or another person or office responsible for creating content).
  • hyperlinks in the posting
  • the date of the initial posting
  • the date of the last modification of the posting
  • the date of the replacement or withdrawal of the posting; and
  • the disposition of the posting after it was replaced or withdrawn


= products produced under the authority of a University office for public distribution or sale to members of the University community and the general public.


University records

= "any document containing information, however recorded, whether in manuscript, printed, on film or in electronic form or otherwise…Records under the control of the University's administrative officers include those relating generally to the operation of the University, information relating to students, teaching and administrative staff individually, and records in these categories placed in the University Archives by or under the authority of administrative officers."

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III Managing Accountability Exposure

All University offices are responsible for the management of records created and used during their day to day business activities regardless of format or medium. The University of Toronto File Plan and General Procedures provide information on best practices for filing, retaining and disposing of university records. Both are available through the University of Toronto Archives and Records Management Services (UTARMS) web site and in hard copy. UTARMS also provides consultation and regular training session on various aspects of the University's records management programme and services.

Accountability exposure

The application of best practices for record keeping helps to reduce the risk of loss of information that is required for operational, fiscal or legal purposes. Offices that do not apply appropriate record keeping practices to the information disseminated on their web sites may be exposing their department and the university to unwarranted levels of risk.

Assessing the Level of Risk

The following Table presents a risk management model to assist offices in assessing low, moderate and high levels of risk associated with managing information on individual web sites and recommends appropriate record keeping and publication management responses. The assessment process should be a collaborative undertaking involving the content manager, web administrator and records officer.

Table 1: Accountability Exposure Analysis and Record-keeping and Publication Management Response

Low Risk of Accountability Exposure
Record-keeping and Publication Management Response
  • The office effectively controls who may post to Web site and what may be posted.
  • Web site contains mostly static documents
  • There is little or no adverse reaction to posted documents
  • The corporate record-keeping system has captured all posted records
  • All publications are also disseminated in other formats.
  • Continue to maintain close integration with the corporate record-keeping system
  • At the end of the record's life on the Web, dispose of it in accordance with approved records schedule or as advised by the University Archivist
  • Identify publications and arrange for transfer to UTARMS web site or departmental e-library.
Moderate Risk of Accountability Exposure
Record-keeping and Publication Management Response
  • Posting controls are inadequate to meet the growing number of sites
  • The Web site is beginning to host dynamic and interactive documents
  • There is growing potential that some posted documents may generate adverse reaction
  • Web site sometimes contains original record material that the corporate record-keeping system has not captured. Some publications are available only on the web site
  • Improve integration with office's record keeping system or with University of Toronto File Plan
  • Maintain an historical log and capture it within the office's record-keeping system or University of Toronto File Plan
  • At the end of the record's life on the Web, dispose of it according to approved University records schedule or in consultation with University Archivist
  • Continue to identify publications for transfer to UTARMS web site or departmental e-library.
High Risk of Accountability Exposure
Record-keeping and Publication Management Response
  • Posting controls show evidence of breaking down Web sites contain a significant quantity of interactive and dynamic material, including bulletin board postings
  • Web sites are under intense public scrutiny and posted material is beginning to generate negative reaction
  • There is clear evidence that the site contains many records that the office's record keeping system is not capturing
  • Many publications are available only on the web site
  • Assess the adequacy of the existing record keeping system in the office and where necessary, begin to rebuild processes for closely integrating this system with the Web.
  • Maintain an historical log and transfer it to the office's record keeping system.
  • Maintain snapshots and a site index (where there is an external threat) and transfer these to the office's record keeping system
  • Develop and maintain a local site repository as a temporary means of managing the disposition process for both records and published material

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IV Record Keeping Roles and Responsibilities

Web Administrator

  • Manages information technology aspects of web sites
  • For static materials, applies departmental record-keeping
  • For dynamic materials, consults with content manager and records officer to determine whether materials qualify as records and what area is responsible for the content of the materials
  • Maintains historical log and local site repository
  • Content Manager

  • Decides whether posting is a 'record' or a 'publication'
  • For static material, ensures that copy of the posted 'record' and its metadata, as well as any administrative records associated with the posting process are transferred to a record keeping system (e.g. University of Toronto File plan) either before or at the time of posting
  • For dynamic material, determines whether the materials qualify as records and how the departmental record keeping system will capture the records.
  • Records Officer

  • Consults University of Toronto File Plan for approved retention periods, or other approved retention schedules, or contact UTARMS for advice on final disposition of unscheduled records.
  • Contacts University Archivist for transfer of archival web site records and publications and associated metadata

  • Provides training sessions on managing university records posted to web sites.
  • Prepares, in consultation with offices retention schedules for university records in both paper and electronic format for final approval.

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V Local Site Repository

The local site repository is contained in a separate storage device. Its purpose is to provide a means of reconstructing the information content of a high-risk web site, and helps a department dispose of recorded information through 1) controlled deletion and 2) transfer of archival records to the University Archives. The local site repository is a stopgap method. It is not the preferred method for managing Web-based records or their legal disposition. Full integration between the web site and the office's record keeping system is still the preferred way to minimise risk.

It is the responsibility of the department to ensure that information stored in the local site repository is readable for as long as the department contains custody and control of the records. It is not a backup or a snapshot of the active web site. It must be backed up in accordance with the office's and /or the University's standard backup procedures for managed data.

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VI Backup and Disaster Recovery

As with other electronic records, procedures for regular backups of all web sites and associated repositories such as the local site repository and the e-library should be undertaken. Best practices to be considered are:

  • A 'three generations' backup rule should be applied in which the three most recent backup disks or tapes are kept at all times and the oldest backup copy is used for making a new backup copy.
  • Backup disks or tapes should be stored in a safe location away from the office - at minimum in another building
  • Periodic backup of on-line data resources is distinct from preservation.
  • Departments should also consult their records officers or the UTARMS for essential record requirements to plan for resumption of operations in the event of a disaster.

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Electronic Records Links

Association of Canadian Archivists’ Technology and Archives Special Interest Section

Canada. Treasury Board Secretariat. Policy on the Management of Government Information Holdings

Canadian General Standards Board

Committee on Institutional Cooperation University Archivists Group (CIC-UAG). Standards for an electronic records policy

InterPARES Project

University of Madison-Wisconsin. Policies and Best Practices for Email

 Victoria State, Australia. Victorian Electronic Records Strategy