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Archives Home >UWM Records Management: Guidelines, Laws, and Policies > Guideline #10

Guideline #10: E-Mail Management

E-mail is the electronic record created in the greatest quantity and used by the most people, but it is also one of the hardest formats to deal with from a records management perspective. This page will attempt to provide some guidance for dealing with e-mail issues.

UW-System General Records Schedules for Business Communications

In August 2008, the Public Records Board passed a records schedule for business communications, providing retention and disposition guidance applying across all University of Wisconsin campuses. The schedule covers all forms of communications, including voice mail, text messages, instant message logs, and e-mail. If a form of communication is already part of a scheduled record series, it derives its retention period from that schedule. The full text of the schedule may be viewed here. Following is a summary of the two categories covered by the general record schedule, with retention periods.

Business Communication: Transitory

Transitory Communications are messages with no business value after the information contained in the message has been conveyed or superseded, or the event to which the message is related has occurred. Examples include scheduling e-mail, courtesy copies, superseded drafts of a project, and routine information requests (e.g., "What hours are you open?"). Retention: Destroy after 7 days.

Business Communication: Routine

Routine Communications comprise the normal communication that occurs when university employees, and sometimes their colleagues who are not university employees, work together to transact public business on behalf of the University of Wisconsin System. Examples include routine decision-making e-mail, sent copies of reports for review and comment, detailed information requests requiring research, and correspondence between students and professors. Retention: Destroy after 6 months.

Historically-significant E-mail

The vast majority of e-mail sent and received by most users falls into one of the categories with temporary retention, above. However, a very small amount of e-mail is historically significant and should be preserved for eventual transfer to the Archives. Historically-significant e-mail generally sets or interprets policy, formalizes business processes, documents decision-making, or provides evidence of the activities of an office or department. The Archives can help you identify these types of e-mail. When in doubt, hold onto it!

E-mail Management and Filing

As with other electronic records, you should pick a file structure that suits the needs of your office and consistently use that structure. There are, however, some considerations that may help you with managing your e-mail as records.

  • Use information-rich subjects. Using detailed subjects helps with both searching and visible identification of relevant e-mail.
    • Poor Example: "Minutes"
    • Better Example: "Executive Committee Minutes for 11/6/08"
  • Include a date component in whatever file structure you use. This helps you determine at a glance when a group of e-mail were created, which can assist in applying proper disposition. An example of such a component might look like the following:
      • Graduate Research Initiative
        • Committee Minutes
          • FY 2008
            • January
            • February
            • March
  • Consider filing by retention schedule, particularly in conjunction with date folders. This level of filing will further simplify your retention decision by giving you a visual reminder of when you should be destroying or transferring a particular kind of record. If you prefer filing by subject or project name, remember that the nature of electronic filing systems means that you can still sort by retention schedule at the next level down.
  • Keep personal and transitory e-mail in separate folders from record e-mail. In addition to being good business and organization practice, keeping personal e-mail away from your records lessens the likelihood that it will be produced by electronic discovery for public records requests or subpoenas.

Storing and Transferring E-mail to the Archives

The three types of storage for e-mail are referred to as On-Line, Near-Line, and Off-Line.

  • On-Line: E-mail is maintained in your PantherLink account. This method of storage preserves metadata and allows you to re-send e-mail as needed, but it does not guarantee access in the case of a down server or network and puts strain on the network as a whole. Additionally, the UWM Archives has no current feasible means of accepting transfers for e-mail stored in this manner.
  • Near-Line: E-mail is exported to another file system, e.g. PantherFile or your departmental server, and saved there until needed or deleted. This is the recommended solution, as it creates fixity and preserves metadata while also allowing you to send a form of the e-mail via attachment or PantherFile share.
  •  

    To export an e-mail folder from PantherLink, follow these steps:

  1. Select "Preferences" on the main page.
  2. Select "Import/Export" on the side bar in the preference menu
  3. Set Type to "Account."
  4. Under Source, press the button reading "All folders" and select the folders from which you would like to export your e-mail.
  5. Click the "Export" button on the lower right-hand corner of the page.

     

    Using this method will create a "tarball" zip file with all of that folder's messages included as *.eml files inside. The UWM Archives will accept transfers for e-mail stored in this manner, using the procedures described on the electronic records page.

  • Off-Line: E-mail are printed and stored in the office's filing cabinets (or elsewhere). This solution creates fixity and is easiest for most offices to carry out, but it does not preserve metadata, including tags and attachments, and it creates a large amount of paper. If you utilize this solution, be sure to transfer your filing system to the physical world for ease of access. The UWM Archives will accept transfers for e-mail stored in this manner.

Questions about anything on this site? Email the Records Officer or call Records Management at (414)-229-6979.

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