Is finding the right file like looking for a needle in a haystack?

Do you ever look with despair at the overflowing paper records in your office, store rooms, cupboards and filing cabinets? Do you tear your hair out looking for that important document that you know should be somewhere or attached to an email from someone-or-other? Trust me, you’re not alone! When faced with this challenge, many of us choose to shut the door, close the cupboard or turn off the computer, but it’s my mission to help you avoid falling into this trap. Read on to find out how to tackle your records haystack.

Separating wheat from chaff

We all know that not every record needs to be kept forever. While minutes of meetings are important to keep, emails arranging the meeting are not. To help provide some more guidance on what to keep and what to get rid of, we’ve prepared a useful resource – Retention and Disposal Schedule. This document provides tips for managing different types of records (audio recordings, employee info, historical papers, financial records, bulletins etc). It also advises rules for how long particular types of records need to be kept, and offers advice on how to manage paper and electronic records.

This document is rather hefty, so I’ve highlighted out some of the important points here that will make the job of maintaining your records a bit easier:

Accumulate rather than disperse

Whether in paper or electronic form, it’s best to have all records together in one place. Ask all committee members and office bearers lodge a copy of the documents they create with the secretary/clerk. Records should be stored onsite at the church or presbytery office in a dedicated storage area for paper records and on the secretary’s/clerk’s computer for all electronic records.

Mirror your paper and electronic filing systems

It’s much easier to sort and find records if your filing systems for paper and electronic records are the same. Use the names for the folders you create for your paper records for the folders you create on your computer. You can also create the same folders in your email programme underneath the inbox, and then drag-and-drop emails relating to that subject/event into these folders.

Simple filing systems

When it comes to setting up a filing system for your records, it is better to stick with broad rather than specific subjects. You may want to use the record types outlined in the Retention and Disposal Schedule as a guide, or you might want to have a folder for the records created by each committee or office bearer. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, as the filing system should be determined by the scope and size of your parish or presbytery.

New Year = new folder

Start a new folder for your paper and electronic records each year. This will make following the disposal rules on the retention and disposal schedule much easier.

Golden rule: if in doubt don’t chuck out

If you are unsure about whether a record is important or not, either contact the archives team to find out, or retain the record.

That’s it folks! For more info, download the Retention and Disposal Schedule and use this to get on top of your records haystack and to help you set up better systems into the future. And remember, the Archive team is here to help! Feel free to give us a call on 03 473 0777 or send us an email. My next blog will be on archival survival and making sure that your records last the distance.


Eva Garbutt

Eva is the Archivist at the Presbyterian Research Centre – incorporating the Archive and Hewitson Library – which is based at Knox College, Dunedin. Eva’s role is to support the Church – from Assembly Office to presbyteries, parishes and their individual members – to create, maintain and preserve records.

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