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Archiving documents

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Question: I am in charge of archiving documents within our office. I use storage boxes for the papers, but what is the best way to group them by appropriate topic (i.e. financial reports, board members’ backgrounds, etc.)?

I now have them in closed manila envelopes, some in hanging folders (which hinders closing the lids) and others in plain flat file folders.  Suggestions?  -- Terri L. Michael


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Being that I work for a Professional Records Management Company, let me see if I can help you.

First, put your documents in "good storage" boxes by 1)document type (minutes), 2) year of document (2001-2002) and 3) make sure the box has an expiration date (date you can destroy). Make sure this information is on the box end for easy reference.

Expiration dates are really important, especially if you decide to store your boxes with a storage company. You will need to know when you can destroy and not pay for storage anymore.

Another good thing to think about is having your items scanned onto a CD and then there is easy storage and no worry about expiration date - you can keep alot of CD's in a very small space for a very long time. This is the "new thing" in document retention.

Sorry, there is another thing too.

If you take your hanging folders and turn them around (not hanging on the side of the box) you can use the same box and the lid will fit better.

The suggestion I'd make is to get rid of the hanging folders all together and transfer your documents to manila file folders. Make sure to put titles on the tab of each manila folder. Then, file them in boxes as your first responsdent suggests.

Very good advice from both of the above respondents. I have managed archives as part of my job for the last 20 years, including a massive audit of archived files and moving them to an off-site storage bin.

Do away with notebooks and hanging folder and use just labeled manila folders or manila pocket folders as necessary. Replace notebooks with pronged fasteners. The notebooks and hanging folders can be recycled to cut down on your expense as well as bulk and weight.

Eliminate duplicate copies of documents where it makes sense. If some duplicate reporting (such as quarterly financials) may need to be accessed, create two drawers ... one for control where contents can not be removed and one where they can be removed using a sign-out sheet.

You may want to consider the type of boxes you use. If you don't have a lot or the need to access frequently (I usually keep one year on-site before boxing), bankers boxes with lids will suffice. If the records will be accessed frequently, you may want to consider the drawer type. They are about twice the size of the lid variety. If you are storing in your own facility, you may want to invest in even better ones that come with a steel supports that actually hook together and form a much sturdier unit. These cost a little more but are well worth the extra expense.

Some things make more sense to store by type (like minutes, board of directors, correspondence files). Since one year may not fill a box, you can put these in a box labeled with the years each covers.

Some times you can combine related type documents (AP check registers and GL reports) that have a like retention time. These should have the contents for one year's work.

Most important, be sure to label your boxes as accurately as possible and keep a list of box numbers and general content. Better yet, a notebook or database that maybe has more detail as to the varied contents of each box for easy access be they stored in your warehouse or off-site.

If you are unsure of the destruct date, confer with the tax department or the firm CPA. If the date isn't on the box itself when it goes into storage, you can list it in your database and review annually to make a destruct list to forward to the keeper of your boxes.

Pack the boxes tight to keep records from shifting and helping the boxes maintain their shape under the weight of the boxes on top of them. You will have strong guys (hopefully) or at least a hand truck to help move them.

When packing vendors with very full folders (some employee expense files, credit card statements, express mail or freight carriers) I would use rubber bands around the folder to keep them intact. Also if the contents are thicker at one end than the other, turn half the contents in the opposite direction to even out the load. Skinny remittances (I don't seem to have as many of them as in the past) can be stacked in a pocket foler two or three across the width and in layers to compact the contents.

Hope this helps!

When I moved 2000+ files to off-site storage, I assigned every box a name and number (the storage facility will assign the official number which is required to retrieve boxes, but the folks in our office found it easier to identify what they were looking for when the boxes were named something familiar to them); I recorded the label name of every file folder in every box and this list was put inside each box. This list was on the shared drive (read only privilege), and a hard copy was placed in the file room for those who preferred a piece of paper. This takes a commitment of time, but if you think you are going to have to retrieve files (we often did), it makes it so much easier.

If this is the first time you have done off-site storage, I suggest that one person be responsible for retrieving boxes. It is amazing how boxes and files get misplaced when there are no controls and any one can request a box. Anyway, most storage companies prefer to deal with one person.

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