Every organization or institution that generate or receive records in their day to day activities are keen to manage those records. The first purpose of managing records is to meet the business or operational needs of the organization, allowing it to function efficiently. Other purposes include, serving as a cooperate memory, meeting legal and regulatory requirements, aiding decision making, enabling accountability amongst others.

Traditionally, most organizations, institutions and individuals keep their own records in an in-house records center or archives. However, in recent times, third party archival institutions have emerged, encouraging companies and organizations to focus on their core business activities in order to deliver to their clients the best services and solutions whilst they, the third-party archival institution take responsibility for the proper management and control of their documents.

This has led to heads of various organizations and institutions asking whether it is best to store with a third-party archival institution or maintain their records inhouse. To answer, it is important to know and understand the kind of records or archives centre your organization or institution currently maintains, know the cost of maintaining an ideal setup, understand what it means to store with a third-party archival institution and required standard operating procedures and equipment a third party archival institution must possess.

 From experience, I will group the inhouse archives that exist in most African countries into three categories. The ideal inhouse archives, the average inhouse archives and the bad inhouse archives

The ideal inhouse archives  – The ideal inhouse archives have appropriate shelves and well classified documents stored in acid free boxes with tracking systems to aid retrievals and refiling as well as the appropriate security proposed by ISO27001.This type of inhouse archives also has an operational archives policy in place that includes a records retention schedule, a disaster preparedness plan and  takes into consideration all other archives and records management principles and practices while innovating to keep abreast with the times and ensure quick and easy access to information/document requests.

In most cases, staff of these type of records or archives centers are professionals with a background in archives administration, information management, knowledge management or other related fields. These kinds of archives are few especially if they are inhouse. Largely because most organizations and institutions these days do not see the need to spend on non-revenue generating activities.

The average inhouse archives – In the best of cases, most average inhouse archives also have appropriate shelves and well classified documents in acid free boxes and sometimes a system to track retrieval and refiling but these are usually seen at the entry point. In other words, upon entry, you are likely to see a sizeable square meter within the building where everything seems perfectly arranged until you do a thorough tour to realize the overflows sitting on the floors or tied in sacs at corners or elsewhere in the building.

These categories may also have an archives policy or disaster preparedness plan that may not be operational. But most of the times, there are hardworking and sometimes professional records staff working in these institutions who do their best to innovate only to have their efforts thwarted by those who resist change or suffer trying to draw the attention of management to fund the department. A majority of inhouse archives in various organizations in Africa are in this category.

The Bad inhouse archives – This is the worst kind of archives and lacks all the things stated above. The bad inhouse archive have lost control over the management of semi-active and inactive records, thus bringing to the fore an ugliest sight of backlogs of confused records that limit access to relevant information. I believe many of us are familiar with that sight; A basement filled with unclassified records that is mixed up with broken-down air-conditioning systems and other broken equipment, records half covered in dust or tied in sacs or stored in damaged boxes.

Records keeping practices across such organization or institutions usually take place in a policy vacuum and the nature of a record, its value and retention periods are not clarified. Most importantly, finding information takes a considerable number of times, if not days. If your institution is in the first category, you do not need a third-party archival institution as continuous support to the department will always get you the information you require in every instance.

However, if you are in the second and third category, you may either resource the department financially or consider outsourcing either part or all of the management of your semi-active or inactive records to a third-party archival institution.

Care must be taken when choosing a third-party archival institution. The institution is going to hold your valuable information and must therefore possess the following features:

  • A proven experience of five or more years in a records or archives management with the minimum   required   experience of at least one key Personnel having a bachelor’s degree in Archives or Records Management.
  • A building or facility located at a 0% flood prone area, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency of your country. The entire facility must also be raised above ground level to prevent sudden floods, with the ceiling insulated to maintain the repository and documents at an average room temperature to keep documents safe and prolong their lifespan. High temperatures and high relative humidity speed up chemical changes in the materials stored in an archive.
  • Restricted facility protected by a biometric access control, an uninterrupted CCTV surveillance, motion detectors or intruder alarms systems,
  • Automatic smoke and fire detection and suppression system
  • physical onsite security
  • Disaster Recovery Plan
  • Appropriate ventilation; pest monitoring; screening of windows to avoid ultra violet rays and structural improvements to buffer changes in temperature and relative humidity.
  • Ability to provide easy access to documents in custody requested by your organization or institution with a turnaround time not exceeding two days.

Assess these features with a professional and ensure that there is a records manager/officer working for your institution to liaise with the third-party archival institution in your organization’s interest and also ensure that the third-party archival institution follows best practices in the management of your documents.

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The writer is an Information/Knowledge Management Consultant who can be reached via email: mirekuahb@gmail.com

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