Records Management For Local Churches

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What to Keep & What to Destroy

Looking for the local church record retention schedule? If you have questions, please contact the Conference Archivist.

Although it is often difficult to turn away certain records, keep in mind that archives are an on-going function. By keeping acquisition activity focused, one is able to ensure future growth of the collection and better service on the existing collection. The archives should never be a “dumping ground” for items that happen to be old. There must be some redeeming quality to the records to merit the investment into their preservation and care.

The following factors should be considered when deciding what to keep and what to destroy in your collections:

1. How much of the material in your filing cabinets is actually archival?

  • Only about 5-10% of the records in those drawers have permanent value. The 5-10% are documents that record important legal transactions, administrative changes or contain vital historical information.

  • The other 90-95% were created for a specific administrative purpose. After that purpose has been achieved, usually after 2 or 3 years, those records are no longer of further use and can be destroyed.

  • An estimated 85% of records have a retention period of less than eleven years.

2. What is the administrative, evidential or informational value of the records to the organization?

  • How frequently is the record used by those who created it? If the record is still frequently consulted then it should probably remain in the office.

  • But even for records which are not consulted frequently, is there still a consistent, although low, demand for the record?

  • Is there some legal or fiscal need to hold on to the record even though it is no longer consulted or used? An example here might be financial information.

  • What is the historical significance of the record? Always consider records as historical when they contain information about the institution which created the record.

3. Do the records meet the terms of your collection development, records management and acquisition policies?

  • Certain records may seem interesting but they may not belong in your archives. Does your collection development policy require you collect them? This speaks to the needs to have a policy in place against which acquisitions can be reviewed. All records in your holdings should reflect your policy and should be created by or pertain directly to your organization.
  • Records, as they reach the end of their life cycle, need to be removed from the office filling system. This should be done on a regular or annual basis. The basic tool to guide the records officer in this task is the records retention and disposition schedule.
  • If you have records that were created by or pertain directly to another organization, you should consider offering those materials to that other organization in the event they do not already have them in their archival holdings.

4. Are the records primary or unique?

  • Archives do not preserve published materials such as books and magazines, but rather primary records. The only exceptions to this apply to items such as annual reports, financial statements and newsletters (to name a few) where one copy is being preserved for archival purposes even though the original was created in multiple copies. These types of records, however, must be unique to your organization.
  • In order to combat the duplication of resources going towards preserving these publications, if the published materials were not created by or do not pertain to your organization, offer your holdings to the agency of creation.

5. Is the information in the records duplicated in another set of records?

  • For instance, most financial information is summarized in financial statements. For archival purposes, it is therefore not necessary to keep all bills and receipts.
  • Also, most committees in an organization keep the same types of documents. It is not necessary to keep more than one copy of a report if that report is already being preserved in another set of records.

6. Can the records be properly preserved?

  • Occasionally records arrive at the archives in extremely poor condition. Do you have the resources to conserve and/or preserve them to make them usable?
  • Will their presence in the archives jeopardize other records? For instance, mold on records can often spread.
  • Care and safety of archival records tends to be a low organizational priority.
  • People may remove material from the collection for their immediate needs, damaging or losing it in the process.
  • Providing secure storage space that protects the material from water, fire, light and extremes of temperature and humidity is expensive.
  • If your local archives can not safely house or conserve the materials, offer your records to the established Conference Archives.

7. Can the records be made available?

  • Keeping the records on site, safe and in good order, allows you and your congregation to have access to the records at any time – this is especially useful in the eventuality of publications, fund-raising opportunities and anniversaries.
  • Undue access restrictions on donations may be cause to question if the records should be acquired in the first place.

Shipping Records

1. Contact the Conference Archivist to ensure that the records you are sending belong in the Conference Archives. However, if you follow the above qualifiers, the correct records should be prepared to send to the archives.

2. Please ship records in corrugated records storage cartons that are acid- and lignin-free. These are available from any of the recommended archival supply companies.

3. Pack the boxes tightly. Do not fill them so much that the sides bulge and/or the lids will not fit securely. Do not put so little in them that they will easily crumple under any weight. Put some sort of filler material in the boxes if there are not enough items to fill a box. Do not use newsprint or anything that can react with or soil the materials you are transporting.

4. Create an inventory of the materials in each box – a subject level inventory is fine, but file folder level is preferred. If photographs are included, please list as much identifying information as possible: persons/objects in photos, photographer, date, event, etc. Please number the pages of the inventory and place your organization’s name at the top of each page.

5. Tape the box securely.

6. Contact the Conference Archivist to let her know when the materials are coming, so that she can make room, if necessary.

7. Send the boxes to:

WMC Archives
Archives and Special Collections
Stockwell-Mudd Libraries
Albion College
611 E. Porter Street
Albion, Michigan 49224

Bibliography

Archives Association of Ontario. Archives Advisor’s Notebook – Appraisal. Retrieved November 7, 2001 from http://aao.fis.utoronto.ca/aa/appraisal.html.

Association for Manitoba Archives. AMA Digital Library: What to do when the filing cabinet is full. Retrieved May 25, 2006, from http://www.mbarchives.mb.ca/doc/filingcabinet.htm.

General Commission on Archives and History. (2005). Guidelines for Managing Records of the Annual Conference and the Local Church. Retrieved May 25, 2006, from http://www.gcah.org/ConfRetSched.pdf.

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Research is by appointment only. Contact the Archivist to schedule an appointment. Last updated 5/25/06 JAT.