Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Eira Tansey, Digital Archivist/Records Manager

The transition from paper-based workflows to electronic records-based workflows has been one of the most profound ways in which work has changed over the last several decades. The “paperless revolution” has created many unanticipated challenges, but perhaps one of the more underrated ones is how it has affected institutional archives.

Back when the majority of office records were created and stored in physical storage units, like filing cabinets, the cost of storage and the space taken up by records storage often meant that university staff were more likely to weed out their paper records on a regular basis, in order to clear up room. This weeding out often meant destroying records in accordance with university records management guidelines, but for some special sets of records, it included transferring the records to university archives (http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb/records-management/disposal.html).

Today, the proliferation of electronic records, combined with the cheap costs of digital storage, means that the “running out of space” issue that in the past prompted staff to periodically clean out records storage doesn’t occur as often as it used to. In addition, because electronic records don’t take up physical space, they occupy an “out of sight, out of mind” status.

If storage is cheap, and we can save it all, is the ongoing accumulation of electronic records across the university a problem? Yes, it is. First, even though “storage is cheap,” it isn’t free. Deleting electronic records that are no longer needed means less digital storage space has to be maintained, purchased or leased – regardless of whether it is on UC servers or a cloud service. Second, hanging on to more records (paper or electronic) than is needed for business purposes opens up the university to liability in the event of legal action or hacking. Third, it means that we may be in danger of losing important university history if electronic records scheduled for the archives are not periodically transferred to us.

What can you do if your electronic records are turning into the equivalent of a basement full of bulging filing cabinets?

  1. Review the UC General Records Schedule: http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb/records-management/GRS.html
  2. Check out tools that can help you get a birds-eye view of some of the oldest records you may no longer need to keep. In Windows, you can do this pretty easily (if you are in a folder with all your files, you can right click on “date modified” to show files older than a certain date) , or you can download and use a tool like ArchivesFinder (https://github.com/acocciolo/archives_finder)
  3. If you feel really lost, please contact Records Management (tansey@uc.edu or 556-1958). I can consult with you or your office to figure out where to start with cleaning up your electronic records.


The Archives & Rare Books Library is located on the 8th floor of Carl Blegen Library.  To learn more about its services and collections, contact us at 513.556.1959, email us at archives@ucmail.uc.edu, find us on the web at http://libraries.uc.edu/arb.html or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArchivesRareBooksLibraryUniversityOfCincinnati.