Looking to Go Paperless? Use these tips to get your project off the ground! pt. 1

By , April 10, 2013

Overwhelmed by the piles of paper in your office? Going paperless can be a solution, but first consider your goals.

We’re all looking to reduce the piles of paper in our office and the never ending build up of documents across our desks. However, striving for a paperless office isn’t just about buying a scanner and scanning everything in sight; you’ll need to plan your project (small or large) carefully, taking into consideration the cost, storage, and access to records in both paper and electronic format.  Above all, make sure that the end result will improve access to the information you need, not just reduce the amount of paper in your office. Here at HMS it is also important to make sure that you are following the University guidelines and retention schedules that apply to your records.

This blog post is the first in a five part series on how to start and manage a paperless office project. If your office is considering such a project, please use this as a guide to your planning discussions. The Archives and Records Management staff at the Countway Library has assisted with many paperless office projects around HMS and would be happy to address questions, concerns, and share what we have learned. Please contact us for an initial conversation about achieving a paperless office at: arm@hms.harvard.edu.

Where Should I Start?

It is important to start your project with a solid understanding of your goals for going paperless. Consider who needs to access the information and if moving all of your records to an electronic format really makes the most sense. In very few cases is it necessary to scan every scrap of paper both in your office and in your records storage account. You can even commit to a paperless office without retroactively converting everything to an electronic file right away; consider “going paperless” starting from today onwards.

You may find it helpful to assess and document your current internal records management processes before evaluating how a paperless strategy would impact those processes. At any rate, you’ll still need to decide what to do with the paper you still have. As the custodian of institutional records it is your responsibility to make sure you are maintaining these records in compliance with the Harvard University General Records Schedule–this means keeping records as long as necessary (and no longer!) or maintaining records of long term value to the University and eventually transferring them to the Archives. Shredding isn’t always the answer for those piles of paper. Storage for paper stored off-site is relatively inexpensive, and there may be reasons why it wouldn’t make sense to scan paper records under retention policies that may call for destruction in just a few years. Paper archival records are still accepted (and in some cases preferred) by the Archives. Consider being in touch with your local archivist about archival records that you wish to scan, but are still in paper format. Contact us at arm@hms.harvard.edu for more information on archiving or applying retention schedules to your records.

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