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College Records: Managing Your E-Mail

What are College records?

All recorded information and data that are created or received in the course of official College business or that document the administrative transactions and activities of any College office or employee constitute College records and are the property of Bowdoin College. Some documents relating to students and faculty, like grade sheets, transcripts, exams, health records, and evaluations also fall into this category.

Are my e-mail messages College records?

Like your personal computer and your telephone, your e-mail system is a basic office tool that facilitates communication. E-mail messages and attachments that you send or receive in conducting the business of the College are official College records and are subject to the College’s records management policies and retention schedules. Your College e-mail should be retained or deleted based on its content, just as is the case for comparable paper-based materials among your files, like reports, plans, or photographs.

Personal e-mail is NOT a College record and should be deleted from your College e-mail system as soon as possible.

Are my e-mail messages really worth saving?

Some are, but many are not. As a general rule, the messages you send represent the “official record” and may require a decision about retention. Junk-mail, personal messages, LISTSERV communications, general announcements, and other informational notices requiring no response should be routinely discarded once their usefulness has passed.

Other examples of messages that may have only transitory value and DO NOT require long-term retention are:

  • Messages received as one of multiple recipients (the sender’s copy of these messages represents the “official record,” and there is no need to save multiple copies)
  • Routine office communications that might equally be handled in person or by telephone (e.g., confirmation of meeting attendance; requests for time off; draft agenda)
  • Drafts and other in-progress materials that ultimately result in a report or some other final presentation
  • Meeting notes for which formal minutes are issued
  • Messages relating to day-to-day routine operations
  • Messages received that are “convenience copies” for you and are being retained by others (a project team leader; a committee chair; a unit coordinator)

Messages may have enduring value and SHOULD BE SAVED when they document substantive:

  • Legal and fiscal matters
  • Student affairs
  • Personnel matters
  • Administrative decision-making
  • Policy formulation
  • Committee work
  • Public programs and events
  • Intra- and extramural relations
  • Significant endeavors of a particular person or office unit
  • Formal minutes
  • Final and annual reports

What should I do if I’m unsure about the value of some of my e-mails?

Because of the enormous volume of records that the College produces each year—both paper and electronic—determining which records to keep, and for how long, is based on factors of content and office function. Designated office managers and academic coordinators throughout the campus, who are in frequent contact with College Archives staff to establish and administer retention schedules for particular groups of records, have a broad knowledge about the filing practices within your unit—consult them first.

College Archives staff are also available to provide guidance and advice about managing your e-mail files. Contact us at scaref@bowdoin.edu, or phone x3288.

How should I save valuable e-mail?

You may choose to print out e-mail and file it among your office records. However, as an increasingly pervasive electronic environment alters how we conduct business, retaining important e-mail and attachments within the College’s e-mail system will also provide for their safekeeping. If you store your e-mail electronically, establish folders (by topic or by year) to organize those messages, and delete personal or unnecessary e-mail regularly to optimize searching your saved e-mail folders.

George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives · Staff · Hours
Bowdoin College Library, 3000 College Station, Brunswick, Maine 04011-8421 · scaref@bowdoin.edu · (207) 725-3288