Selecting a File System for College Records

Records management in a local government has one main goal: systematic control of recorded information from creation to ultimate disposition. Key to achieving this goal is establishing efficient and effective procedures for filing and retrieving information.1

Organizing and managing records helps expedite file access, reduce document redundancy, and assist in record disposition. 

Practice Good Filing Practices:

  • use standardized file names;
  • file only what needs to be retained; 
  • use a method that facilitates access and disposition; and 
  • do it consistently. 

There is no single best filing system for every situation. The following information from the Records Management Division of the Texas State Library1 offers criteria and recommendations for selecting, implementing, and maintaining different filing systems.

View Filing System Characteristics for more information about choosing a filing system.

Identifying Needs

When determining the best type of filing system for your needs, ask yourself the following.

Is the system logical? 

Logic speeds learning, so staff members do not have to rely on memory alone. The method behind the system should be clear and should follow a definable line of reasoning.

Is the system practical?

Does it do what you want it to do? The system should not be so complex that it fails to serve the purpose for which it was designed.

Is the system simple?

The system should be easy to learn and as straightforward as possible, with little (or preferably no) room for interpretation.

Is the system functional?

Does it relate to the function of the records it addresses? An alphabetical system would be ill-suited to records called for buying number, and a numeric system would be inappropriate for records requested by name alone.

Is the system retention-conscious?

A filing system should be linked to your records control schedule in a way that allows you to remove records for active to inactive storage, and to remove those with expired retention periods. These activities should be done according to your government’s approved record control schedule.

Is the system flexible?

You should be able to expand as needed. Additional or different classifications might be needed in the future or your office may experience unforeseen growth. Your filing system should be able to accommodate growth as well.

Is the system standardized?

The terms used in the general classification plan should be standardized; using different terms to describe the same record or subject can cause confusion. Filing personnel should follow written rules that can prevent lost files, misfiles, and unplanned duplication of records and filing locations. For instance, one person should not file correspondence under the name of the sender if your office rule is to file under the topic of the document.

File Access

When selecting a filing system, you should also consider access.1 Two types of access are direct and indirect. When deciding which method is best suited for your needs, consider the features of each.

Direct Access

With a direct access system, staff can locate a particular record by going directly to the files and looking under the name of the record. Alphabetical systems are generally designed to be direct access. Other features:

  • Records can be located by going directly to the files.
  • Time is saved in both filing and retrieving records.
  • File guides that show names commonly referred to can speed up the filing and retrieving processes.
  • The system is cumbersome to use when storing a large volume records.
  • Frequent confusion and congestion can occur when dealing with files with common, similar, or identical names.
  • Duplication of records is a common problem; there is no index to show whether a file already exist under a particular name.

Indirect Access

In an indirect access system, an index or authority file must first be consulted to determine the special code assigned to a record. Numeric and alphanumeric filing systems and alphabetic systems are often indirect access. Other features:

  • Use of an index is required to obtain the code assigned to a record; the index must be consulted before record can be located.
  • Security is provided for all records in the files. Individuals unfamiliar with the coding system cannot gain access to specific records.
  • The system is most efficient when storing a large volume of records.
  • Duplication of records can be avoided because each code is used only once.
  • Greater accuracy in filing and retrieving is generally provided.
  • Several different sets of files and indexes are necessary to maintain control.
  • Misfiled records can be difficult to locate.
  • Considerable time is often needed to train new staff in the use of the system.

1  Records Management Division of the Texas State Library, The Local Record, Summer 1990.

Back to Top