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WAAL09: Public Records in E-Mail and Winning Strategies for Managing Them

Posted by on Thursday, April 23, 2009 in WLA Blog Archive

"Public Records in e-Mail and Winning Strategies for Managing Them"
Amy Moran, WI Dept. Administration
Nancy Kunde, retired UW-Madison Records Officer - starting as adjunct professor for SJSU in Fall

  • Open Records/Sunshine Law: "...all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs..."
  • What needs to be retained? Public record = documentation of public decisions and transactions.
  • Gets into area of "appraisal" - setting value of records
  • Why save? Administrative, legal, financial, historic, and research reasons
  • May only be disposed when authorized by an approved RDA (Records Disposition Authorization)
  • Most public records now generated electronically
  • Program area determines retention needs - IT has custodial responsibility
  • Content determines record status:
  • does it: interpret or execute policy? record important meetings? document accountability? facilitate department actions/processes? convey an action? support a transaction? support or convey a decision?

Email in the workplace:

  • Continues to grow
  • Attachments getting larger
  • ~93% of all incoming email is unsolicited
  • Most may not be public records - can be deleted right away
  • In the past, every department had a "file room" managed by the secretary
  • Now, we're all data managers / records custodians - everyone's business
  • Focus on major functions of the department (communicating with faculty? students?)

Legal considerations:

  • Email retention is the same as for hard copy (public records, FERPA, HIPAA, other privacy acts, etc.)
  • May be an overall appropriate use policy for organization - differs from one to another
  • Subject to open records requests
  • Subject to discovery - federal rules changed recently
  • California is the state pushing the bubble
  • Legal world just starting to consider metadata (largely invisible)
  • For authenticating, metadata are critical (to/from/subject/less visible parts)
  • Harder to tell when electronic materials have been tempered with

Saving too little:

  • violation of public trust/responsibility,
  • not available when needed,
  • opposition has copies that we don't,
  • embarassment

Saving too much:

  • Davy Jones' locker
  • cost for storage/migration/retrieval/redaction - CD degradation after 5 years
  • "Working in the cloud" - online repository = helps with migration problems
  • "Smoking gun" - $2.2 million in damages awarded to women suing for sexual discrimination, when found "10 reasons why beer is better than women"
  • Not everyone who receives an email needs to save - sender should always save if meets criteria; receiver should receive if it is actionable
  • Delete: transitory material, unsolicited, personal, copies, captured in later messages - weekly

Decision tree:

  • Personal? Delete
  • Work related? Reply or Retain or Delete
  • Outgoing? Retain or Delete
  • Retained? For current use, Archive, or Delete


  • Appropriately named folders
  • Either within or outside the client - not both; ex: Thunderbird allows setting # of days to keep
  • File related records in the same folder
  • Each year, close old folder and start new
  • May be able to incorporate retention schedule into metadata
  • Administrative Rule 12 - protect access to e-only records over retention life (retrieval/redaction/etc.)
  • Xythos - pilot project to use; UW-Madison has records module
  • Maximize use of email software "folders" - instead of using "inbox" as a catchall
  • Online storage isn't appropriate for secure access
  • "Near line"
  • Offline - printing to paper, or print to PDF file (still manipulatable, except for PDFa)

Information Life Cycle:

  • Designing > Record created > Use of record > Dormant > Long-term storage
  • Must maintain accuracy, accessibility, retrievability, reliability throughout life cycle
  • Conflicting life cycles of information vs. media

More resources:


  • who can make requests? Answer: Anyone; federal open records/sunshine law was modelled on Wisconsin's - you don't have to say who you are, or why you want it - ex: WI State Journal requested salaries of all employees
  • Another example: all the email from one of our deans - you can petition for this to be narrowed, but have to respond in timely manner. "All" might really be "all."
  • does this affect non-UW System institutions? Answer: Yes, not just issue for biggest schools.
  • other technologies? Answer: Some say "don't use IM for official communications" - but this may not be possible. Some gadgets allow synching, backup, etc. - don't want people walking around with records. Could summarize chat in email or print for offical record. Telephone conversations aren't normally recorded, but exceptions: calling in for unemployment benefits.
  • Disintermediation - very few secretaries anymore; no one training and overseeing records management responsibility
  • can we ask IT to be responsible? Answer: Backup isn't record retention - they have a role, but can't be the sole managers.
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