4.5. Records retirement
The main problem that is faced however is knowing at what point to retire records from the office or registry to the storeroom or strongroom. The surest mechanism is the assessment of the rate of usage of the file and thus determining the point at which the rate has declined from the frequent to the occasional. This rate can be assessed by looking at the out cards or the mark-out books or whichever will be the system that is used to control the movement and issuance of the records to the users. Research has shown that the active life of any given records is a relatively short one which some estimate to be no more than 90 days. It is however not possible to move records from current to semi-current status using this period as a yardstick simply because these records are filed together and cannot thus be separated on this basis.
For those who are unable to determine the rate of usage of records a second method is the periodic examination of the files to determine the date when last something was put on the file. While this may seem a rough and ready measure it can be used as a reasonably accurate way of retiring records from active to semi active use. In a manual system dominated by use of conventional A4 file folders it is usually possible to discern the following pattern of file activity. At one end there are very active files on which material is regularly received and filed. Such files become full very quickly and require that they be closed. Such files do not pose any problems for they literally close themselves. The problem comes with inactive or thin files on which nothing happens for inordinately long periods of time. Because the files are there and often neat looking, since they are not in much use, the files do not bother anyone and are just left to stay in the cabinets. Such files can be seen to follow a triangular pattern of activity with the majority of the documentation relating to the initial period in which the files were opened.
That they have remained open for such a long period is nothing but a reflection of their inactivity because if they had been active they would have filled up and been closed. The reasons why this happens are many including the discontinuance of the subject and the occasional receiving of a related inquiry. It could also be because the file title is not accurate and therefore related material is finding its way to other files or it could be that the subject has through time changed and new files have along the way been opened to cater for the other material. Whatever the reason it can be seen that such files need to be dealt with and retired accordingly.
The retirement of records from the office or registry to the storeroom or strongroom is an absolute must for the better functioning of any records system. Unless it is done the system becomes burdened and over loaded by information that should not be there. The removal and retirement of this information and its eventual transfer to Records Centres is the pivotal justification behind the Records Centre concept which aims at unburdening offices and registries by receiving and storing in lowcost storage areas records that would otherwise be stored in expensive office accommodation and even more expensive filing equipment. The retention of semi-current and non-current records in offices and registries slows down the rate of retrieval of information. A guiding principle in retrieval is that the more the number of items that must be retrieved from the slower the rate of retrieval. Put simply, it is faster to retrieve a file from a cabinet that has fifteen files than it is to retrieve a file from a cabinet with one hundred and fifty files. Equally it is faster to retrieve from two filing cabinets than from fifty.
The retirement of records from the office and registry to the storeroom or strongroom has important implications for the decision makers. If the transfers are done systematically with appropriate and requisite controls and documentation, then there is no period during which decision makers find difficulties in retrieving information that is needed. The use of such tools as transfer/transmittal lists also means that information is available on what was transferred and is in the storeroom, on what has subsequently been disposed of and on what has been transferred to the Records Centre. The transfer/transmittal lists also serve as the basis for the making of disposal - retention decisions since they will identify and isolate the records coming out of active use thereby requiring decisions as to their disposal or retention. While the disposal and retention of records should be controlled by the archival authority in the country to ensure that records with archival value are identified and preserved, it is nevertheless necessary that after such consultation, mechanisms be introduced for the automatic disposal at creating agency level of records that have outlived their usefulness. it is futile and wasteful to retain records whose usefulness will have expired. There is no sense for instance in transferring to a Records centre running or 3rd copy files or of sending messenger delivery books.
The point that has repeatedly been emphasised above is that it is necessary to have a transitional period between active use and storage of records in offices and registries and their transfer to Records Centres. In this transitional period the records should be transferred and kept in storerooms and strongrooms within the premises of the record creating agency. During this period, the archivist must of course have an interest to ensure that no unauthorised destruction takes place and to ensure that the records are organised. in a way that will make transfer to the Records centre easy. It is interesting to note that of those archival institutions that indicated involvement in the management of semi-current records, 35 said that they had control over records being stored in the strongrooms and storerooms of the creating agencies. Thirty one responded in the negative on this point.
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