August 9, 2012

The beginning of an archival collection?

Filed under: found in the archives, interesting or noteworthy archival material — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 11:59 am

Theory and discussion of best practices abound in virtually any field or profession, whether it is social work, mortuary science, customer service, botany, or, yes, even records management.

Within the setting of an institution, agency, organization or corporation, it is the responsibility of the records manager(s) to ensure that the records of his/her respective organization can be retrieved for reference and use and, then, retained for an established duration of time, according to applicable laws and/or the retention schedule of the organization.

Typically, records (or documents) have what can be described as a life cycle: records are created, they are actively and heavily used or referenced; then there is a stage of inactivity where applicable records may need to be retained by law or for potential future use; then, after an established duration of time, records may be converted to another format, donated to an archival repository, or destroyed.

In a riveting white paper, prepared for the Association of Information and Image Management in 1997, William Saffady discuss the life cycle of records:

In corporations, government agencies, and other organizations, the life spans of documents are defined by record retention policies and procedures. Such policies and procedures are based on legal, fiscal, administrative, or other requirements. From creation or receipt through destruction or permanent preservation, documents are subject to changing requirements for timely retrieval, convenient distribution, and reliable, cost-effective storage.

While the life cycle and disposition of records is a familiar concept to a records manager, it is fascinating to see the realization of an organization’s records retention schedule from active use and retrieval to the retention of inactive records and storage to, when applicable, the disposition of organizational records to an archival repository.

The link between records management and archival science is most evident in instances where inactive records are donated (or sold) to an archival repository for future preservation and access to researchers. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to suggest that an organization’s retention schedule of today can lead to the archival collection of tomorrow. An illustration of the connection between an organization’s retention schedule and an archival repository, specifically the American Jewish Historical Society, can be cited with the September 22, 1970 memorandum from Samuel Rosenthal to Federation Directors, Assistant Directors, and Department Heads.

Rosenthal explains that “[in] order to insure a more effective and efficient control of our records in our Archives (located on the second floor) the attached procedure are to be adhered to immediately.” Rosenthal describes the process of transferring records to the archives, temporarily removing records from their archives, returning records to their archives, and the destruction of records according to the Federation’s retention schedule.

First page of the Federations's Archives Control Procedure

From a memorandum from Samuel Rosenthal to Directors, Assistant Directors, and Department Heads of the Federation, September 22, 1970

Notice the type of material marked “permanent.” Many of the records marked with that designation (e.g. Board of Trustees and Committee Minutes, Budget Material) have been transferred to the custody of the American Jewish Historical Society. These records have been or soon will be processed, arranged, described, and made available to researchers.

FJP Retention Schedule

Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York Retention Schedule, September 22, 1970

Now, to be clear, the second floor archives mentioned in Rosenthal’s memorandum was probably not a climate and humidity controlled archival repository filled with acid-free folders. However, without the foresight of the Federation’s retention schedule and their diligence in adhering to that schedule, these important and historically noteworthy records might not be here today in an archival repository.

1 Comment »

  1. Recently processed Federation staff correspondence with Executive VP Sanford Solender reveals that Samuel Rosenthal worked at FJP for 31 years, from 1946 until his retirement in 1977. We don’t currently know what responsibilities he shouldered there in the beginning of his tenure, but most likely he worked at some point in the Budget and Administration Departments. As of 1974 his responsibilities included overall responsibility for the Administration Department, as well as the management of the budgetary affairs of FJP. Details of these responsibilities include: a consultative relationship regarding Federation’s Joint Purchasing Corporation’s fiscal affairs, the FJP insurance and pension departments, union affairs, building operations and security. He also worked directly with the lay leadership on the Administration and Office Committees of the Board of Trustees. In 1974-1975 he was additionally the Controller for the UJA-Federation Joint Campaign. From 1975-1977 Rosenthal served as the Assistant Secretary of the Board of Trustees, and Comptroller. He retired for reasons of health as of February 1, 1977.

    No doubt Rosenthal’s interest in records management procedures and the maintaining of a consistent order to FJP’s voluminous records arose once he became responsible for the Office Department. As Eric notes in his post above, the 4 of us working on the UJA-Federation of NY collection have many people to thank for holding on to some files permanently as well as holding other files for years beyond their retention dates; Samuel Rosenthal is certainly one of the people we should thank. Although his goal was access to active records, the by-product of his procedures is the files that survived long enough to become a large and valuable archives collection. The parts of that collection I am working on right now, the papers of the Executive Vice-Presidents, should, according to the retention schedule above, have been destroyed after 5 years. Because no one followed up on the destruction dates of many of these records, we are left holding hundreds of feet of files that help document the work of Federation over more than 50 years.


    Comment by susanwoodland — August 9, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

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