Brandeis Library & Technology Services

Filtering the Brandeis Records Life Cycle

October 3rd, 2017 · No Comments

Brandeis University’s records management program (URM) was established in 2013 and charged with establishing intellectual control over university records. The lack of a unified records policy in the previous six decades had allowed files to accumulate in dozens of basements across campus.

Shiffman Humanities Center—Before

Shiffman Humanities Center contained one of the largest collections of basement records, comprised of hundreds of boxes and file cabinets.

Sixty years at any university, especially one as committed to innovation as Brandeis, spans untold creations, mergers and reorganizations of academic and administrative departments. Organizational and process change accompanies institutional maturation, and as a result, some of the basement record collections were orphaned and effectively abandoned–sometimes for decades.

Shiffman Humanities Center contained one of the largest collections of basement records, comprised of hundreds of boxes and file cabinets. Most of the contents were beyond their retention lifecycle. In some cases, as with financial aid applications, continued retention could only present a danger to privacy.

But Shiffman also held unique, irreplaceable pieces of Brandeisian history: memoranda and deliberations from its earliest years, documentation and photographs of ceremonies, and the university’s responses to events such as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Shiffman Humanities Center—After

Ultimately all records were removed, leaving the basement ready to be reclaimed for other uses.

Other highlights include extensive correspondence from founding President Abram Sachar and the celebrated philosopher Herbert Marcuse. Some of the most valuable files were those documenting student activism during the 1950s, including charters listing founding members who sometimes became prominent in their later careers.

In collaboration with the Archives & Special Collections—the final destination of historically valuable materials—Records Management began to identify and disposition all records in Shiffman basement. After gaining intellectual control over the basement contents, URM collaborated with relevant offices or their nearest functional successors to plan the responsible removal of all materials.

Some few had a continued business use that would justify continued retention, and these were sent to long-term storage. Most were obsolete administrative records scheduled for destruction; more than 4,000 gallons, filling two trailer trucks, were deemed confidential and securely shredded.

Another 450 boxes containing about 700 linear feet were selected for long-term preservation by the university archivist. Ultimately all records were removed, leaving the basement ready to be reclaimed for other uses.

University Records Management continues its work in basements across campus. They also collaborate with many departments to better manage their records throughout their entire lifecycle—creation, use and destruction—so that something like the gradual abandonment of records in basements will not occur today.

As Brandeis continues its transition from paper-based processes to electronic ones, records management may be more important than ever before: a digital “Shiffman basement” could contribute to the online leaking of sensitive data. Establishing responsible data practices now lowers risk, preserves what is valuable, and prepares the institution for its inevitable future.

Contact records@brandeis.edu for more information about our Brandeis records services.

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