Librarians and archivists have myriad obstacles to surmount when organizing their collections. Books and other paper documents are media that age and deteriorate. Yet they are meant to be handled, read, borrowed, transported. They are meant to be used. It’s difficult enough to manage the articles themselves, and organizing the corresponding records (or digital copies of the books) is an added stumbling block. Not only are there strict statewide (sometimes nationwide) recordkeeping policies to attend, but document safety, information security, data organization, and file storage can add to the burden. Problems stack on top of problems like books in the arms of a precocious student. Library record keeping soon seems like an impossible task!
We’ve written about the hurdles librarians face before. Readers were shocked to find how many other organizational and technological skills a librarian relies on to maintain their files. We have compiled some steps both for record keepers fresh from college and for those who have been archiving data for decades.
Start with a logical filing structure
In your digital solution for library record keeping, whether that is an ECM, DMS, or other digital filing system, organization is key. You wouldn’t put books on the shelf willy nilly, so don’t put files on their digital shelves without some sort of system. When using a content management solution, like Contentverse, you can create separate rooms in the program. Each room can represent a different department, or a different library. And each cabinet within the room can be a different section.
Should your records be broken down by media before you begin to explore deeper? Perhaps you have books and movies completely separate. Or your microfiche is in a different area completely. Some libraries have a mix, however. Many university libraries choose to shelve DVDs alongside books so that students can find all of their relevant resources in the same location.
The best way to organize individual records for library media may be to structure the folder hierarchy similar to the library layout. Have a digital cabinet for DVDs, a cabinet for the children’s section, a cabinet for adult non-fiction. And then organize the folders within cabinets in a similar breakdown. However, you likely will have different software and filing procedures for cataloguing books than for cataloguing patrons, employees, email correspondence, etc. The most important thing is to keep library administrative records separate. You don’t want employee records and W2s in the same cabinet as the checkout record for Walt Whitman’s collected works. If you organize your administrative records along similarly rigid guidelines as the library itself, you will have an easier time locating files, folders, and individual data points.
How do I secure and organize files in transit?
Books get checked out. With the right document management solution, library records can get checked out too. Say that the libraries in your district or county (or university) all use the same software and are on the same network. If each library is a room in Contentverse, each room can have a cabinet for employee records. If another library’s director has access to your library’s room, they can check out an employee’s file, perhaps in advance of hiring them as a transfer.
Knowledge management should always be a safe affair for the library’s private data and for the patrons’ information. Files can also go through a secure workflow, within the DMS environment. Transporting a shipping manifest to another library can take place securely in Contentverse. Library A sends out the shipment and puts the corresponding documentation (manifest, shipping form, etc.) into a designated workflow. Then, Library B checks the shipment when it arrives, reviews the manifest, and signs off. The workflow sends the documentation to a folder of completed shipments. All of the shuffling and filing of paperwork is handled in the knowledge management solution, and the record of the shipment is never lost in transit.
Staff handling documents
Library staff of every level are trained to properly handle books, microfiche, blu-rays, and other forms of media. We get it, you know what you’re doing. However, even with the rise of ebook programs at local libraries, digital file management is still new ground for many institutions. With the culture clash of older staff and new hires, and the confidentiality disconnect between clerks and librarians, it is right to worry that your employees are always one human error away from deleting the wrong file or editing the wrong document.
Luckily, a digital management solution for library records has simple, built-in ways to combat accidents like this. With individual user permissions at the file, folder, cabinet, and even room level, your designated security administrator can easily decide who can see which files. Maybe transfer slips need to be reviewed and scanned in by a member of the floor staff, like a clerk or a shipping manager. The security admin can give them access to the necessary folder while keeping all other records invisible or read-only to that user.
In addition, there is no chance of documents being accessed by a user who shouldn’t be able to see them. You have control over checkout protocols for any files. And, all files are protected with double layered encryption. Only the correct users can see what’s inside the document management system.
Managing retention policies
How long do you need to keep your records for? Much like maintaining a book collection, some files will stick around for decades while others are only necessary for this week, or perhaps a month. A program like Contentverse has functionality for setting up document lifecycles ahead of time. Perhaps you need to keep all patron statements of concern regarding library materials for three years and then destroy them. You can assign a retention schedule for the “statement of concern” document type. Then, when a patron logs onto the library website and fills out a concern form, the pdf will enter Contentverse and be filed to the appropriate folder. After three years, the document will be automatically purged from the system. You can also set a notification to be sent to your record keeper before the purge. A content management system can handle all of this without any additional action beyond setting up the original retention policy.
Can I prevent the inevitable?
Natural disasters aren’t preventable for the average library director. Theft of library property occurs on occasion. Fires, storms, floods, and even earthquakes can significantly damage or even destroy the premises. While your library is insured for its media property, data on a server cannot be recovered with mere monetary compensation. We recommend backing up all of your data with redundancy. It is wise to maintain local versions of files as well as remote (cloud) copies, or copies on portable external drives. While you can’t prevent disasters, you can prevent the resulting file loss.
Careful security policies to complement the secure records management solution will safeguard your documents from theft. Ensure that passwords follow strict guidelines. Employees are to memorize their passwords, no matter how complex. Writing them down is not an option, especially since many staff members interact with the public daily. Avoid frequent password changes, as this encourages employees to practice unsafe memorization techniques. Designate a manager or clerk who has access to the server room or the security administration account. This role does not have to be filled by the library director and may fit an IT-savvy employee better. A library record keeping program makes all of these practices much easier and safer.
Accelerating business to stay in business
Even if the system an institution uses is on-par for book management, many libraries still need a major overhaul in their records department. It is essential that these files can be easily located and employed. The more smoothly the system runs, the better of an experience users will have with it. This means easier work for employees, more donations and votes for referendums, and more funding to continue improving the way people get the books they need and love. If you want your library to stay alive and thrive, you need to digitize, automate, and navigate your records without the age-old hassle.