Records with short retention periods are usually placed in temporary storage areas prior to disposal, while records with longer retention periods are placed in long-term storage areas. Records that need to be stored for a long time, including records that have permanent retention periods and records with historic value, may be moved to the back of an office, or even transferred into a storage facility away from the office. Inactive records in West Virginia are often stored in hallways, closets, basements and attics, as well as more "exotic" spaces. A great deal of creativity has turned garages, tool sheds, county jails and local bank vaults into records storage areas.
Usually, the decision is made to move records to storage when the filing cabinets in the active office areas are full. After the closets or back rooms or other, usually inhospitable areas are full, the decision is made to find very remote inactive storage for the records. These areas tend to be attics or basements or the like, and the records often share the space with vermin or rodents. Storage sites should be chosen that adequately preserve the records and spare records from potential disasters, including leaks, fires, theft, and destruction by pests and animals. Those Records Officers who can afford it sometimes store their permanent records in a commercial storage facility. Those records with historic and research value may be transferable to the State Archives. In any situation where records with long retention periods are at stake, special storage spaces and special precautionary measures to insure their preservation should be taken. The staff at State Archives can consult with public offices to be sure the best decision for the safety and security of the records is made.
Storing Records in Active Office Areas
Storing records in your office rather than an off-site location ensures that records are kept near their users and enhances record accessibility when they are well organized. It may also spare some of the financial burdens that might result from storage in a commercial off-site facility. The unfortunate temptation is to stuff unsorted records into neglected spaces that lack protection from natural disasters - and to throw away large quantities of records without properly assessing their legal and research value or following legal procedures for destruction.
A well-designed in-house records storage system will:
- Remove inactive records to protected storage locations in the building, away from central areas of the office
- Assure fast and easy retrieval of stored records by creating an organized retrieval system
- Ensure that the records are not subject to access by unauthorized personnel
- Facilitate the timely disposition of records, according to approved retention schedules
Selecting a Storage Site
Criteria for suitable inactive records storage sites:
- The space chosen must have heating and air-conditioning (especially for permanent records or records in other formats other than paper) providing an ambient temperature range between 65-70 degrees F and humidity range of 50 to 55 percent.
- A storage area central to its users is best. If necessary, several storage areas may be designated. Active records that are commonly accessed should be positioned in the central location; inactive records should be stored in places that are not expensive to maintain and which are somewhat removed from locations of daily business activities.
- Receiving and removing records from the storage area should be easy to do. If records are stacked on the floor of a closet or stuffed beneath a table, they may be harder to find, update or remove quickly. It may also make it harder to keep track of which records are due for disposal. Worst of all, records stored in a haphazard way are less likely to be accessed, even when needed, because finding them is "too much trouble," and tends to be an unpleasant process.
- The records storage area should have fire suppression equipment. Sprinklers are best, but if not those, then the area should have smoke detectors and fully charged fire extinguishers. Local fire and safety specialists can be helpful in evaluating the area. Water damaged records usually can be restored; burned records are lost forever. Records should not be stored on the floor but rather on shelves at least three inches above the floor and at least three inches from ceiling and sprinklers, if present.
- Access to the area should be limited to the personnel in whose office the records originated. If space is shared, it should be separated with access restricted to appropriate office staff. The storage area should not be used for the storage of any other materials.
- Storage areas exposed to smoke, dust or chemical fumes produced by paints, chemicals, or copying devices should not be used for records storage.
- Attics, basements, garages and warehouses are rarely acceptable for storage because of temperature and humidity variances.
- Areas with water pipes in the ceiling can be used, if no other spaces are available, but deflectors should be installed so that any water that accumulates will run off away from the records.
- Above all, the storage area should not be in a flood zone or other area susceptible to natural disaster.
Permanent, historic, and vital records have special storage considerations. Ideally, these records are stored in a secure vault or, if appropriate, at the State Archives. Records that should be duplicated or backed-up for protection should be identified as needing special handling. Floods, fires, and other natural disasters in West Virginia have already caused many essential records to be lost forever.
Selecting Records for Storage
Since office space is expensive and limited, only current and frequently used records should be housed in an active office area. Records that are accessed less often are sent to storage areas where they can be retrieved quickly when needed.
Ideally, retention schedules specify when a records series should be sent to storage. The terms "active" and "inactive" for records indicate how frequently users reference a records series. As records get older, they usually are needed less often.
Criteria to consider include:
Storage Boxes and Shelving
Storage boxes should:
- Be uniform in size. Whenever possible, the standard one cubic foot (15" x 12" x 10") size box with a separate lid should be used. These fit compactly on shelves, are easily handled, and can hold either letter-size or legal-size documents. One box will be needed for every 14 inches of letter-size files and one box will be needed for every 11 inches of legal-size files.
- Have double walls and bottoms so they can be safely stacked and reused.
- Be made of acid-free cardboard for storing permanent and long-term records (e.g. minutes, executive correspondence, certain project files, etc.). Standard storage boxes, which are less expensive, can be used for normal, nonpermanent records storage.
Storage shelving units should:
- Be sized to ensure the weight of the loaded shelves meets the floor load capacity (the most common shelf size is 42" wide x 30" or 32" deep, but heights do vary).
- Be sturdy enough to hold boxes loaded with as much as 50 pounds of paper.
- Bottom shelves should keep boxes at least three inches off the floor.
- Enough space should be provided for the boxes to be pulled off the shelves easily.
- Where possible the shelving should be anchored to the floor and to the wall. The vendor providing the shelving should be held responsible that the leveling guides are adjusted properly, and the shelving is stable enough to take the torque and weight of boxes being retrieved and reshelved.
- A sturdy and appropriately sized ladder should be provided so that those who retrieve and reshelve boxes can maintain safe leverage during the process.
IMPORTANT NOTES: Finding an area to serve as a storage area for inactive records in a government office doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. In fact, many offices without a budget for inactive storage begin by simply boxing the records appropriately, labeling them, and stacking them 4 high in a closet until shelving can be purchased.
It is important to remember that ONLY records storage boxes of the type described in this manual should be used. Boxes that are cardboard imitations of four-drawer filing cabinets and that hook together with metal struts, boxes that are 24" long and that have cords that tie the top to the side of the box should NEVER be used. They are too heavy to be picked up when loaded with records, and if one is stacked on top of the other, the bottom box is easily crushed.
Packing and Stacking Boxes
Some methods of packing and stacking boxes are safer and more efficient than others. We suggest that you follow these recommendations for packing and stacking:
Keeping track of all the contents of all the boxes in an inactive storage area is simple. Four copies of the contents of each box are made. One copy is attached with tape to the front of the box, one copy is placed inside the box, one copy is kept in a file in the office of origin, and one copy is filed by the destruction date. Paper index cards can also be used to identify the contents, or a computer software database or program can keep track of the inactive records.
Any method used identifies the characteristics and location of each box.
Resources for information about how to store inactive records
This organization publishes information on establishing records storage facilities. Refer to www.arma.org.
Certain permanent, historic or archival records may be transferred to the State Archives. To determine whether the records are suitable for the State Archives, or to find more information about how to store such materials in government offices, call the State Archives at (304) 558-0230.
In West Virginia, there are very few commercial storage facilities that meet all the state regulations and standards for proper records management. Archive Services, Inc. (ASI) is under contract with West Virginia state government to be the official Records Center for all state agency records. It is not mandatory that any facility be used as the inactive storage repository, but it is mandatory that all offices keep a record of which files have been transferred, where, when, and by whom.
Archive Services, Inc. (ASI) provides record management and storage to state agencies as well as to county and municipal governments under state contract -- Rec. Mgt. 00. ASI may be reached by calling (304)-346-8878 to request that an account be opened under Rec. Mgt. 00. ASI will obtain the necessary information to service the account and will forward record transmittal and authorization forms to the proper person.
ASI will index and barcode each box, or each item where appropriate, and will maintain a retention schedule for items to be destroyed on predetermined dates. Once the retention date is reached, ASI will automatically notify its customer (the county office) that the retention period for the particular records is over. ASI will request the office confirm in writing its desire to destroy those records before destruction can proceed. It must be noted that the office must obtain the approval to destroy the records from the State Archives prior to the destruction of any records.
ASI will provide each account with a full inventory on magnetic disc or a hard copy showing box number, description of contents and retention dates. Accounts may be broken down into sub-accounts by category, departments, function, etc. ASI personnel are available to assist in setting up numbering systems at no charge. New material may be brought to ASI's facility at 1545 Hansford St., Charleston, WV 25311, or ASI will arrange to pickup records using its vehicles. For services and charge rates check with State Purchasing Division, 2019 Washington St., East, P.O. Box 50130, Charleston, WV 25305-0130; Phone: (304) 558-2306.
Transferring Records to the State Archives
Some record schedules explicitly say to transfer certain records to the State Archives.
- State Archives should be contacted to ascertain if an office's records are appropriate for a transfer. The phone number is (304) 558-0230, and the business hours are from 8 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday.
NOTE: Records are required to be transferred as a condition of complying with a records schedule, or having enduring historical and research value.
- Records must be in records storage boxes. Box lids must be flat when closed. Overloaded boxes will not fit on the shelves at the State Archives. Strapping tape should be applied to the bottoms of boxes that appear to be weak. Ledger size books must be packaged and labeled to identify individual volumes, and combined weight should not exceed fifty pounds.
- Organize the records in a logical sequence before boxing them, and then number the boxes using a common ordering system (e.g., 1 of 12; 2 of 12; 3 of 12, etc., or A of A-E; B of A-E, etc.) by writing the sequence on a piece of paper taped to the handle end of each box and placing a copy of that sequence on the inside of the box. Remove records from hanging folders before boxing them. Hanging file folders make it difficult to close a box's lid.
- A label should be firmly affixed to a small end (an end with a handle hole) that details:
It is critical that the label information be correct in order to prevent permanent records from being destroyed, or time-limited records from being destroyed too early, and to facilitate location and retrieval of records when needed.
- The name of the office that created the records
- The name of the records in the box (e.g. minutes from xyz, birth certificates from Logan County), as it would be stated in a retention schedule, if applicable
- The dates of the records (e.g. 1972-1975)
- The record series number, as it is stated in a retention schedule, if applicable
- Records with the same retention period should be put together in a box. Permanent and non-permanent records should not be housed in the same box. The State Archives does not accept non-permanent records.
- Records that may need to be reformatted should be filed into separate boxes.
- Care should be taken not to send non-record materials to the State Archives. Blank forms, duplicate publications, or publications that were not created by or for the office of origin should not be sent.
- A Request to Transfer to the State Archives Form should be completed and sent to:The West Virginia State Archives
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston, WV 25305-0300
Fax: (304) 558-4193
The State Archives will act upon each request, respond, and provide the details for transfer and transport.
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Records Management and Preservation Board