Carrying Out a Records Survey and Information Audit

When starting from scratch the first step is to undertake a
records survey. This is literally taking stock of what archives
exist, so you get a feel for the quantity and quality of your
archive collection. This should include an information audit of
your electronic records and records systems as they are likely to
form part of your business archive collection. You can outsource
the survey work to an archive or records management consultant or
can undertake this work in-house:

How to survey – physical records

Make a rough list of what record types you have, the quantity,
and if possible approximate date range. Archives are not just paper
records. They can be photographs, films, microfilms, printed
material, maps and plans. Use common sense on how much detail you
go into at this stage, bearing in mind that the cataloguing
process will give more detailed information of records content. The
size and age of your company may well determine how much material
has survived. The survey list could be broken down by location (at
site level – office storeroom, warehouse, basement etc), or it may
be more appropriate to look at all departments or functions in the
company and list the archives held by each one. Click here to see examples
of location and survey lists prepared by the Business Archives
Council of Scotland’s Surveying Officer.

How to survey – electronic records

An information audit uses the same techniques as the audit of
physical records and can be done simultaneously although you will
need the guidance and support of users to understand the records
systems (e.g. file structure, database content) and need to build
in more time to survey. A typical inventory will list the following
elements for each record collection:

  • the business function that the records represent
  • the groups who create, use and manage the records
  • retention, scheduling and disposal decisions
  • classification/filing, access modes and protective
  • physical software, hardware and media characteristics