The life of a dance work extends beyond the rise and fall of the stage curtain.As an active company or choreographer, you constantly generate new records and materials crucial to your continued creative output, organizational functions, and legacy. By instating an effective organizational system to ensure that these materials are easy to locate and use when you need them, you are able to better create and promote your work, apply for funding, and build your legacy.
Records management is the ongoing process of establishing and using organizational systems to retain control over your records during their creation, use, maintenance and disposition. The resources in this guide are meant as suggestions for you to consider when establishing your own standards for organizing and describing your materials; before you develop your own systems, consider the ways in which you use your records, and adapt these guides to suite your unique needs.
Records are documents or materials that were created as a result of your company’s activities. These types of materials range from recordings of rehearsals and performances, publicity materials, photographs, and music scores to administrative and outreach documents like budgets, calendars, correspondence, and mailing lists.
Not all of the records you create need to be saved. If a record does not show evidence of the following characteristics you do not need to save it:
It’s not as overwhelming as it sounds. You probably already have some kind of organizational system in place, however provisional. Rather than creating a new system, identify and refine what you already have in place. What you come up with will be more sustainable for you if it’s based on what you were doing before. Before you start thinking “systematically,” write down or collect your answers to these questions:
Use the following chart to identify the types of records your company creates, how they are used, and how they are currently organized. This outline will give you a sense of whether your current organizational systems meet your needs.
When creating a system for organizing your physical records (programs, posters, photographs, videotapes, contracts, tax forms, etc.) consider the ways in which you use these records. For example, you will probably look for creative records such as choreographic notes, rehearsal videos, set designs, etc. first by work and then by date. The table below outlines suggestions for ways in which you might want to organize your records.
Separate materials by format (i.e. group all programs together, all tapes together, etc.). This will help both with consistency in organization and description, and also in preservation. By keeping like materials together, you can better control the conditions in which they are stored. The table below outlines best practices for storing your records.
The following table provides suggestions for how you might want to organize your records. The first column lists types of materials you may choose to group together, and the second and third columns provide options for how you may want to organize those materials.
These are just a few ways you may choose to organize your materials; the most important aspect of an organizational system is that it makes sense for the organization and is simple to maintain. Use the Record Identification Chart above to see how you are currently organizing your records and how you can expand or refine those systems to better meet your needs.
The following table provides suggestions for terms you might want to use to describe your records. Using a consistent set of terms will help you to avoid labeling and filing items related to the same topic in different ways, thus making it difficult to locate materials.
For many individuals or small companies, systems for managing digital records were developed haphazardly as electronic record keeping and communication became increasingly prevalent. As greater numbers of digital records are created and accumulated, more people begin to interact with the system, and file formats and hardware become obsolete, informal organizational systems are no longer sufficient. Implementing a formal records management program for your digital records, either from scratch or restructuring a current system, may seem daunting. In the long run, by implementing a simple organizational structure and standardizing file names you will be able to increase efficiency in administration, find the records you need to promote your work, and ensure that your legacy is not erased with a crashed hard drive or obsolete file formats.
Use the suggestions in the guide to create a records management system that is tailored to your own needs.
Developing a structure:
The organizational systems that you use for filing your paper materials may not be the best system for filing electronic records. Quantity, duplication, alterability, and differing file types are only a few of the ways electronic records differ from paper records and therefore demand differing systems of organization and identification.
Filing structures should reflect your organization’s activities and how you use your files, so that most records will have a clear home. It is important to develop a system that is simple and intuitive so that you and your staff are inclined to use it! Before you create your filing system, create a list of your organization’s departments and/or functions. Some examples of this could be:
After you have established your top level of folders based on departments or functions, create a second level of folders based on activity or project. Some examples of this could be:
Save your records within the activity or project folders, not in the higher level folders.
Establishing a standard format and set of guidelines for naming electronic files will aid organization and identifying the content of the document without opening it. While it is helpful to determine a shared system that everyone follows, it is more important that the titles be clear, consistent, and meaningful rather than overly prescriptive and formalized. It will be helpful to establish a standard set of names and phrases to describe works, document types, and creators. (This is called a controlled vocabulary.) This will help you to avoid labeling and filing items related to the same topic in different ways, thus making it difficult to locate materials. An example of a controlled vocabulary is included below.
Email is often viewed as different from other types of electronic records, and is subject to highly individualized systems of organization and not incorporated into shared filing systems. Not all emails need to be saved outside of the email client and into the filing system, however many relevant records and correspondence are rendered inaccessible when they remain only in email. Developing a shared understanding of what constitutes an email that is important to save will ensure that important organizational decisions and transactions will remain accessible to everyone even after the current staff members move on or in the event of a malfunction with the email client. Be sure to download important attachments and back them up.
- Need to be forwarded for information purposes
- Contain discussions relevant to internal operational systems
- Contain information about business transactions
- Contain information about hiring or firing staff or volunteers
- Contain information about or discussions with funders or donors
- For internal messages, the sender of the email
- For messages sent externally, the sender of the email
- For external messages received by one person, the receiver of the email
- For external messages received by more than one person, the person responsible for the area of work related to the message
Cloud computing is a technology that allows you to store and access digital records on multiple servers and through the Internet. Cloud computing is a useful tool when working collaboratively, working from home or on the road, and sharing documents and files with others. While this freedom to share and collaborate on documents is can be conducive to productivity, it also means that files can be easily changed, removed, or deleted by others. It is important to implement a records management plan within these cloud computing environments so that you are able to maintain control over the documents that are important to your organization.
The most important thing you can do to protect your digital records is to regularly backup your hard drive. An external hard drive is the most reliable format for creating your back-ups. Store these hard drives in as diverse of geographic areas as possible. For example, consider sending a backup hard drive to a board member located in a different city or state. CDs, flash drives, and online services can be used as temporary forms of back-up, but do not rely on these types of media for long term storage as they may become obsolete or inaccessible.
Keep these materials in a cool and dry location away from dust and water pipes. Be sure to save one copy of the hard drive that you do not use to access files on a regular basis.
An inventory is a way to get an overview of all materials and set priorities for improving organizational systems. It is a crucial first step, especially for organizations that have existed for several decades, have had staff turnover, and may have materials stored in different locations.
Creating an inventory for your AV materials will help you to keep track of the content and condition of your recordings. Your inventory can range from the most basic, providing minimal information identifying the content and format of the recording, to a more comprehensive inventory that will allow you to track the people involved in the production as well as any copyright or licensing notes.
An inventory not only helps you locate your materials, but it is vital when calculating insurance, applying for funding to work on collections, transferring your files to another organization, or developing a disaster plan. Listed below are sample fields to choose from when you are creating your inventory. By selecting the fields that are relevant to your needs you have the flexibility to develop an inventory only as detailed as you need. Think about how items are already labeled and how that information can be transferred to a spreadsheet as you develop your inventory template.
Before you start, decide how detailed you want the inventory to be: consider both your needs for access and what will be feasible to complete. Audiovisual items should be inventoried at the item level (i.e. make an entry in the spreadsheet for every item, with some exceptions for multiple duplicates). For paper materials, you might inventory at the folder level or box level. You may make different choices for different parts of the collection, but be sure decisions are consistent and clearly documented.
First steps: Checklist
Tips for AV materials
Once you determine what records your institution has, you can use that information to develop a records retention schedule. The following document is intended to provide guidance in developing your organization’s document retention and destruction schedule. Statutes of limitations and state and government agency requirements vary from state to state, therefore each organization should carefully consider its requirements and consult with legal counsel before adopting a Document Retention and Destruction Policy.