Records Transfer and Disposal
Transferring Paper Records to ARMS
The Archives and Records Management (ARMS) store inactive records from United Nations offices based at United Nations Headquarters, from Special Panels created by the Secretariat or the Security Council and records from Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Special Political Missions.
The following procedures are intended for UN Staff located at Headquarters. Staff in Peacekeeping Missions or Special Political Missions should refer to the Peacekeeping Records Management Toolkit, section 16 and always contact the Archives and Records Management (ARMS) before shipping records to Headquarters.
Special Panels and bodies created by the UN Secretariat or the Security Council must contact ARMS prior to planning on how records will be organised, archived and/or disposed at the end of their mandate. ARMS will provide record-keeping advisory services for paper and electronic records. These offices should always contact ARMS prior to transferring records, whether they are in paper or electronic format.
Review retention schedules
Retention Schedules should be reviewed prior to transferring records to ARMS, as some records may not be subject to transfer. If your office does not have a retention schedule or you are unsure, contact ARMS.
Substantive records or records that are generated as a result of your Office’s main functions should be separated from the records that are needed for the day-to-day operations of the office or used as reference. The latter records are usually administrative in nature, and are covered by the RCUN retention schedule. In most cases, they should not be transferred to ARMS.
Organise your records
The first step is to organise the records into records series covering a specific date range. Series are groups of records arranged in accordance with a filing system or maintained as a unit because they result from the same accumulation or filing process, or as a result of the same activity. Records series are listed in your retention schedules. Examples of records series include: Official Status Files; contract files; staff medical files; audit files, etc.
Once you have identified and grouped the record series to be transferred, you may proceed and complete the ARMS transfer electronic form. Access to this is available through the UN Intranet site (iSeek) under the Key Tools menu.
Using the electronic form
- Step 1 – Complete the user contact information in the e-form.
- Step 2 Choose “substantive” or “administrative” which will bring you to either your departmental schedule or the RCUN retention schedule.
- Step 3 – Identify the record series that are eligible for transfer.
- Step 4 – Submit the on-line e-form to your departmental Record Coordinator for approval.
- Step 5 - The Record Coordinator approves the transfer of records on-line and submits it to ARMS for approval.
- Step 6 - ARMS processes the request and arranges for the delivery of boxes to the office.
- Step 7 – Pack the boxes according to the instruction below, complete the e-form folder listing of each box and submit the e-form to ARMS.
- Step 8 – ARMS approves the box/file folder listing and makes arrangements for the boxes to be picked up and sent to the Record Centre.
- Step 9 – An Accession Control Report, which includes all record series, box and folder information as well as the accession number will be forwarded to you electronically. The accession number has to be retained to facilitate future records retrieval requests.
How to pack the records for transfer?
- Box Contents. Files belonging to the same series and having the same retention period should be packed together.
- Non-Records, Blank Forms and Personal Items. Blank forms, personal items and printed United Nations documents and publications collected for informational purposes should be weeded and disposed before packing records.
- Filing Supplies. Active records should have been filed in manila or pressboard folders. If they were not, the ring binder should be removed and the records should be placed in labelled manila folders before packing. Excess filing supplies, such as hanging folders, file guides/dividers and binder clips should be removed.
- File Sequence. Files should be arranged in record plan or file list order.
- Box Limit. No more than one foot of records should be placed in a box to prevent the overfilling of boxes.
- Box Numbering. Offices should write their acronyms and a box number on the two sides of the box. Box numbering should include the specific and total box numbers, ex. 1/12, 2/12, 3/12, 4/12 etc.
- Box Label. When the transfer request has been reviewed by ARMS, ARMS will provide and affix Bar Code Labels to the record boxes in order to track location and manage the records.
Transfer of Electronic records
Just like physical records, electronic records need to be actively managed. Throughout their life, they must be managed separately from non-records, they need to be organised in a filing plan and they need to be scheduled according to approved retention and disposal rules.
Unlike paper however, electronic records that are inactive do not typically need to be transferred to ARMS by the originating office if they are stored in UN enterprise systems. It is best practice however to transfer electronic records to a secondary storage repository once they become inactive (provided their retention has not expired). This is normally done by UN ICT provider in coordination with the office.
ARMS plays a role however in appraising the value of the records, particularly if the office has not established processes and practices to manage its electronic records, in a shared drive environment for example.
The purpose of the appraisal is primarily to assess:
- The value of the records. This is primarily informed by approved retention schedules (when they exist) and determines if the records should be retained or disposed;
- The uniqueness of the records. Prior to acceptance, it is important to determine that the content proposed for transfer is unique – i.e. the records are not from another office, duplicates, copies of official documents, or otherwise non-record copies;
- The completeness and integrity of the records. If careful record-keeping practices have not been followed, records may have been separated from other records arising from the same business process, in other words the context of the records may have been lost.
- The accessibility of the records, and whether the formats of the records are still readable and the manner in which records are presented or rendered. Records are susceptible to changes in content and format unless they are held in a robust record-keeping environment. For example, some formats may no longer be readable or an old version of software may display the structure of the records radically different from when it was created.
It is only by using all criteria together that ARMS will be able to assess the full value of the records, as they will be understandable and readable. ARMS will also advise the office on the separation of records from non-records (i.e. working drafts, transitory records, personal records, etc.) if the records have not been appropriately segregated.Once the appraisal is completed and records have been identified as having evidentiary, informational or historical value, ARMS will liaise with ICT service provider to identify the most appropriate storage repository, in coordination with the originating office, particularly if the records have enduring value.
Whether records are in the custody of the originating office and/or in the custody of ARMS, most records are eventually destroyed. Some records are destroyed after two years, while others, such as personnel or medical records are retained for a much longer period because of their historical or informational value. ARMS describes and catalogues these records and the information is then used to provide guides for future researchers
All United Nations records, whether paper or electronic, must be disposed in accordance with approved retention schedules. While records should not be destroyed when there is still a need for them, it is also important not to keep records longer than is necessary, to minimise storage costs and enhance retrieval efficiency. If a decision is made to retain records longer than the minimum retention period a record of the reasons for the decision should be documented to assist disposal at a later date.
Disposal of paper in United Nations offices
Records with retention less than two years must be disposed in-situ. If an office has an approved retention schedule and the records retention period has expired, the staff designated to dispose of the records must:
- Provide basic documentation of the records to be destroyed. A high level description of the records series to be destroyed with the date range (e.g. travel arrangements files, 2012-2014) is sufficient to document the destruction of the records for transparency and accountability. Records destruction logs must be filed along with other records management files, such as the list of records that have been transferred to ARMS for storage, etc.
- Based on the high level description of the records eligible for disposal, Managers will authorise the disposal. No authorisation from ARMS is required.
- To physically dispose the records, offices at Headquarters should request secure records disposal bins through a work order, through iNeed. Depending on the Department and the nature of the records, sensitive records may also be shredded ‘in-situ’.
Records should always be disposed of with the same level of security that was applied during their lifetime. Please note that extra care should be given to records containing sensitive personal information. Please refer to ST/SGB/2007/6 for further information.
United Nations offices are encouraged to conduct an annual clean-up of their records, preferably in January of each year, as calendar year is the most frequent retention trigger.
Disposal of paper records by ARMS
For records that have been transferred to ARMS repositories, two levels of authorization are required for the destruction of the records.
- ARMS will follow the approved retention schedule and send a list of records due for disposal to a Senior Official from the office which owns the records, for approval.
- Once the approval is received from the originating office, the Chief of ARMS will give final authorization for the destruction. ARMS does not dispose of records without the consent of the relevant office.
Disposal of Electronic records
- Enterprises systems and networks
In record-keeping systems such as Unitedocs, all records are assigned to retention schedules at the point of creation. When the records are eligible for destruction, system administrators effect the destruction of the records; this task is not performed by individual users.
On United Nations shared drives, offices are responsible for deleting their working files and other non-records material on a regular basis. ARMS Guidelines on managing records on shared drive recommends that office do not retain non-record material beyond two years. If the office uses the share drive in lieu of a record-keeping system, the disposal of the records must be in keeping with approved retention schedules. The Office of Information and Communication Technology (OICT) is responsible for the sanitization of shared drives when required by the office.
- Stand-alone devices
To permanently delete electronic records stored on external media such as key drives or external hard drives, etc. it is not sufficient to delete the records because data can easily be recovered. It is particularly important to use the appropriate sanitization techniques to ensure that sensitive content is appropriately removed from the device. Please refer to OICT media sanitization guideline for guidance.