Records Management 101: What to Keep and How to Keep it

19 Dec 2021 10:30 AM | Digital Initiatives, AMA (Administrator)

The Association for Manitoba Archives (AMA) offers educational programming on a variety of topics.  Digital Archivist & Oral Historian Sarah Story, with contributions from Carole Pelchat (Archivist, Information Security Officer & Privacy Office Coordinator) and Al Thorleifson (Archivist at Pembina Manitou Archives), wrote the following blog post on the records management workshop organized by the AMA’s Education and Advisory Committee.

The central role of the Association for Manitoba Archives (AMA) Education and Advisory Committee is to provide workshops and webinar training to its members. In November, the AMA hosted a 4-part webinar series on records management. 28 people attended these zoom teachings, doubling the AMA’s usual workshop enrollment for a workshop.

The webinar series was instructed by Carole Pelchat and organized by Sarah Story with logistical support provided by Kathy Kushpel and Chris Zaste. The time and resources for Carole to create and deliver the webinar series were contributed (free of charge) to the AMA by l’Université de Saint-Boniface (USB). This enabled the AMA to offer a very affordable and accessible records management series. We are grateful to Carole Pelchat and the USB for this generous contribution to our members and the wider community!

Why a Records Management Workshop for Archivists?

In working with small archives, community organizations and non-archives that create, store and care for the business and historical records of their organization, Sarah Story has come to learn that one of the primary challenges across organizations of all types and sizes is often ineffective or absent official record keeping or records management.

This results in the loss of significant organizational records, the piling up of unimportant documents in closets, desk drawers and servers, and elevated frustration among staff who experience difficulty finding records in a timely manner. Without effective systems in place, staff end up making their own decisions about what gets kept and destroyed. This results in inconsistency, loss of records of enduring value (archives!), overkeeping, and it even gets some organizations into legal hot water.

Records Management (RM) ensures that an organization’s records of historical, legal, and fiscal value are identified, classified and preserved for as long as they are required. It also ensures that non-essential records are disposed of securely. Having an approved “retention and disposition schedule” with policies and procedures for departments and staff to guide them on what to keep, how long to keep it, and how to keep, transfer or dispose of it, can be a boon for any organization.

Increasingly, archivists and other staff without formal training in records management find the responsibility for recordkeeping falling on their shoulders. However, training in RM can be cost-prohibitive and similar to archives, there is professional jargon that can be intimidating to even well-trained archivists. We wanted to make this available to this crowd of Manitoban’s working with archives and experiencing firsthand the impacts of poor recordkeeping in their organization on their work and archives, so we planned a “records management for the rest of us” approach to offering this series.

Carole’s Experience and Approach

We were delighted that Carole Pelchat accepted our committee’s invitation to create and deliver this series. In her own words she explains her personal RM experience:

“I have been an archivist for over 25 years and in my experience, records management has always helped me better explain the need to preserve records. I started taking courses to familiarize myself with the concepts and theories in RM. The first few workshops and classes were quite overwhelming, and I would go home saying, “I will never be able to use this stuff!” However, the more I learned about records management, the more I liked it. The idea that we can manage records from its creation was quite a new concept and gave me a different perspective.”

Carole also highlights the importance of archivists sharing their firsthand knowledge with others in the field and encourages further learning,

“I have given records management workshops in the past for the francophone community and when the AMA asked me to do the workshop, I was more than happy to share my knowledge. I figure the best way to learn is from one’s peers. I hope participants were able to see the difference between the world of records management and the world of archives. I hope the participants will not give up and continue learning about records management. I myself learn new things every time I participate in workshops!”

Pembina Manitou Archives

Al Thorleifson of the Pembina Manitoba Archives really appreciated Carole’s attention to detail. He plans to take her advice and RM protocols and put them into action, Al says:

“Carole’s presentation overall put the role of archives in the context of records management. This was especially interesting given the tendency of local businessmen to just dump off boxes while saying they do not know what is good to keep and what is not. Although I have developed a protocol to help them to sort the personal from the archival, Carole’s guidelines will encourage me to be more precise and to ask them to do more before they bring in the boxes.

Also, Carole dealt with one problem which I have struggled with. As an archive which has over the past five years received thousands of documents, our naming of files has been less ordered than it should have been. Carole’s suggestions for ensuring predictable, consistent naming of files in fonds was very helpful. It will mean I WILL HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO to sort out the files named imprecisely; I am glad to do it because I know it will make it easier for our users to search the records in upcoming years. Thank you, Carole, for a job well done.”

Offering Workshops That Matter

The AMA is a volunteer-run organization so our offerings are based on our volunteer’s capacity to serve our community. Our goal is to learn from our members what classes would be of most value, especially for those archivists working in smaller archives and community-based or project-based settings.

We want to highlight that AMA webinars and workshops do not need to be taught by “experts” or those working in large archives within post-secondary and governmental  institutions – your firsthand experience or knowledge from your rural, lone arranger or small archives setting matters. It is worth sharing your strategies with others working in similar settings, often on a very small to non-existent budgets.

If you have an idea for a workshop or webinar, archival knowledge and experience that you want to share, or want to help us create educational opportunities for members by volunteering, please reach out to us at:

We would love to hear from you!

As always, thank you for your time, participation and support,


Sarah Story
On behalf of the AMA Education & Advisory Services Committee

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