Getting Started

All Harvard University employees have a stake in making sure records are efficiently and effectively managed so that University administrative, legal, fiscal, and historical interests are served. Records are vital University assets requiring careful management. Creating and managing records contributes to greater business efficiency, promotes compliance, protects the University from legal risk, and preserves Harvard’s history. There are five basic principles that everyone working for Harvard University needs to know about managing records.

Understand the records you create in your job

Records include all forms of recorded information, regardless of physical characteristics or format that are created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of University business. Records serve as evidence of the University’s organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, and other activities. Records also document University programs, serving as resources for future historical research. While records are easily recognizable in paper formats, most records are now created electronically, including e-mail, word-processing files, web pages, and a variety of other electronic formats. Records show what happened and who was involved, what was decided or recommended and by whom, what advice or instruction was given, or the order of events of or decisions.

Retain records according to University policy

Harvard University has created approved policies on retaining and disposing of records to enable offices to make informed decisions about their records. These policies, called Records Retention Schedules, are designed to ensure that the University’s records are retained for as long as they are needed for administrative, legal, fiscal, or research purposes, and that they are properly disposed of once their value to the office and to the University has passed.

Dispose of records appropriately

Once records have met the retention requirements outlined in the Records Retention Schedule, most are eligible for destruction. Do not destroy or delete records before they have fulfilled their retention obligations. Records pertaining to any investigation, legal action or proceeding, litigation, audit, or program review in progress must not be destroyed until the action has been concluded, even if the retention period for the records has already expired. Not all records should be destroyed. Some records have historical value and should be transferred to the University Archives to preserve Harvard’s history. Records appropriate for the University Archives are noted in the records schedule by the phrases “Transfer to Archives” or “Contact Archives.”

Manage records to ensure accessibility

Since records are University assets, they need to be kept in locations and/or stored in systems that ensure ready accessibility for the entire time that they must be retained. This means keeping records in central locations when appropriate, such as on shared network drives, and not on personal computer drives or in e-mail folders where they are inaccessible to others. Records must also be identified, organized, and filed in a manner that enables information to be easily located when needed. Electronic records, including e-mail, require additional consideration when managed over the long term due to changes in software, hardware, and technology platforms.

Protect and secure records

Records must be secure from unauthorized access, tampering, deletion, and loss.

  • Be familiar with the University’s Enterprise Security Policy and its best practices for protecting information and records
  • Take steps to ensure that your physical and electronic records are in an appropriate and safe storage environment
  • Ensure that physical and electronic records are accessible only to those people with a legitimate business need for the records

For information about offsite storage, see Offsite Records Storage.

Additional responsibilities for supervisors and managers

Supervisors and managers are also responsible for promoting records management among their staff and department. They can do this by

  • Communicating the importance of records management to staff
  • Encouraging staff to attend records management training sessions
  • Establishing appropriate records management practices in the office
  • Integrating records management practices into business processes