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Chapter 5:

Years ago, filing was done by numerous ingenious ways. Thomas Jefferson invented a mechanical device that enabled him to create copies of all his correspondence at the same time he was composing the original. Official records were often copied into books or journals. Later, carbon paper could fill the function of creating one or more copies of documents simultaneously while creating the original. As the amount of potential copies of records increased, so did the need to store them. At first, records were folded into sections (imagine a business letter received in the mail), and then stored vertically in narrow pull-out drawers. This was often called "shuck filing." Over the years archivists have developed clever ways to unfold these documents without damaging them in their creases as they are unfolded.

Later, documents were housed in a "new" way, in four-drawer files. These were invented in the late 19th century, and many are still in use.

Folders became incorporated in the drawer filing systems, in order that a searcher could find a specific group of documents within the drawers. This system continued until the mid-twentieth century when some manufacturers noticed that libraries and grocery stores employed an efficient method for displaying books and canned goods - shelving. These manufacturers created the open lateral files, and color-coding the files came soon after.

Following is a review of the kinds of filing equipment available.

When selecting filing equipment, consider the following:

Vertical Filing Cabinets, often referred to as standard cabinets, are commonly used in small offices. They have either four or five drawers and can be locked for file security. A typical four-drawer cabinet can store approximately 100 linear inches of files and requires 25 linear inches of aisle space, in addition to the space required to be occupied by the person accessing the files. These cabinets are the most inefficient of all the options available. They often tip over, causing injury, and they consume the most space to operate.

Lateral Filing Cabinets, often referred to as horizontal files or open-sided cabinets, also are popular in small offices. They allow files to be accessed horizontally instead of vertically, and come in four or five drawer sizes. A typical four-drawer lateral cabinet can store approximately 130 linear inches of files. They can be locked for file security. Although they may house a few more filing inches than their vertical cousins, they are really four or five-drawer vertical cabinets turned sideways. They usually have a flip-up top drawer that tends to accumulate anything but files. They also can tip over. Because they are accessed sideways, they are often used to house hanging files. These hanging files are bulky, inefficient, and reduce the available filing space by one-fourth to one-third.

Open Shelving Equipment is usually found in large offices and in central file rooms; it allows for rapid retrieval and refiling. This type of lateral file, which resembles open bookshelves, allows files to be retrieved horizontally. It also offers full viewing of the folder tabs, which makes for rapid retrieval. And there is an estimated 50 per cent saving in space when files are moved from a vertical system to an open shelf system. These units usually require professional installation, which can be negotiated with the vendor as an inclusion in the cost of the equipment. These are the most efficient kinds of files available. They may also have doors and can be locked. Some of those with doors have flush backs and can be used as attractive room dividers with the built-in advantage of providing a good deal of sound-proofing. Those with doors and 6 openings are easily accessed and provide over 200 inches of filing. Those without doors provide even more filing capacity and should be considered, even if there is a perceived need to lock them. If the room housing them can be locked, there should be no worry. Locked cabinets will not stop thieves who gain access. Cleaning people have all night to access files, if such is their intention, and the files are available to employees all day. Locked filing equipment should be limited to confidential files.

Mobile Aisle Systems, also known as high-density systems, are considered when access to large quantities of files is desired and space is at a premium. These units, which can be mechanized or manual lateral file systems, are on tracks that move back and forth to conserve floor space. You must consult a structural engineer and the building superintendent to ensure your facility has a floor load capacity that can accommodate this type of system.

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Created 2 September 2003
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Records Management and Preservation Board