Selecting a Filing System
Choosing the correct filing system can be difficult. All filing systems have advantages and disadvantages, and the information presented here offers guidelines and recommendations for the selection and use of different types of filing systems. Each University office and program must choose a filing system that is easy to use and meets the office’s particular needs. If you require further information or would like to schedule an appointment with the archivist for more direct assistance, please call x1225 or email email@example.com.
First, you should arrange your files according to the established records retention and disposition schedules established for your office. Your filing system should be linked to your records retention schedule in a way that allows you to move records to inactive storage in an easy and efficient manner, and to remove files with expired retention periods. These activities should be done according to your office's approved records retention schedule.
If you do not have a set of schedules or those you do have are out of date, please contact the University Archivist at x1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Consider the following four general questions
2. Evaluate Potential Filing Systems
Here are some questions to ask about any system you are considering. These same questions can also be used to evaluate an existing system.
3. Filing System Access
There are two types of access used in filing systems: direct access and indirect access. Direct access allows a person to find a record by going directly to the files and looking under the name of the record. Alphabetic systems are usually direct access systems.
Indirect access requires the use of an index or authority file to determine the code assigned to a record. Alphanumeric and numeric systems are usually indirect access systems. In deciding which access system is best for your agency, consider the following features.
Direct access system features:
Indirect access system features:
Step 2: Select an Appropriate Filing System
All filing systems fall into three general classification categories: subject, numeric, and alphanumeric. There are several common filing systems in each of these general categories:
1. Subject Filing System organizes names or subjects by letters of the alphabet.
A. Topical (direct access) systems (also known as dictionary systems) one file follows another in alphabetical order. Related subjects are not grouped. Usually labeled folders are placed behind simple alphabetic guides. Topical systems are usually used for small numbers of files, since numerous subjects would require the use of an index to navigate the files.
A typical topical filing system might look like this:
· Accounts Payable
· Accounts Receivable
· Capital Improvement Projects
· Office Supplies
B. Encyclopediasystems are ideal for large volumes of records arranged by subject and easily conform to an office’s records retention schedules. Subjects are grouped under broad categories. These are then broken down alphabetically into more precise subjects. Major subject headings appear on dividers and secondary headings as well as major headings appear on individual folders.
A typical encyclopedia filing system might look like this:
The “Program Records” tab is the title of the record series identified by the office’s records retention and disposition schedules. v The “Family History Program” tab identifies the specific function, and the “Participant Lists” are the specific files or record types. This type of filing system is flexible and can accommodate and change with a minimum number of revisions to the filing system.
The advantage to the encyclopedia system is that members of the office staff do not need to remember specific names and subjects, but rather the record series identified by the retention schedule. A good example is found in "Committees--Non-Smoking Policy Committee". If simply placed alphabetically, without the category "Committees", one may not be able to remember the name of such a committee.
C. Structured – Functional systems are based on the organizational structure and functions of the office. The filing system is similar to the encyclopedic model, except that the files are organized around the major functions of the office.
Such a filing system also works very well with office records retention and disposition schedules, since these are usually established to document the various functions an office carries out to accomplish its mission. A structured – functional system might look like this:
· First Level: Organizational Unit
Example: Office of Admissions
· Second Level: Function Performed
Example: Freshman Applications
· Third Level: Processes required to complete the function
Examples: Application Forms Management
High School Transcripts
1. Numeric classifications use numbers or dates to arrange information.
A. Straight numeric systems simply number files consecutively and arrange them in sequence. Straight numeric systems are simple to use, simple to manage, and simple to expand. There are problems with straight numeric systems, however. High activity files are often grouped, leading to congestion. It is also difficult to assign blocks of files to individuals for filing and retrieving. Finally, there is no real way to handle miscellaneous records, they usually require a separate filing system or the use of an index to retrieve.
B. Duplex numeric system consists of two or more number segments used to classify numeric codes assigned to files. Files are arranged numerically based on combinations of these segments. For example, middle-digit systems use the middle number sequence as the major file heading, terminal digit systems use the final segment, and primary digit systems use the initial number segment. Duplex systems are usually used for large volumes of records. They allow high activity files to be evenly distributed throughout the records and support the assignment of blocks of files to individuals for filing and retrieving.
Numeric Classification: Middle Digit Duplex System
C. Decimal systems use ten general divisions, which can be subdivided by groups of ten as often as needed. The most famous decimal system is the Dewey Decimal System, developed in 1873, and used in ninety percent of the world's libraries. Decimal systems allow for unlimited expansion and the grouping of similar subjects (allowing browsing) in the same location. But they are also inflexible and limited to ten general classification areas.
D. Chronologic systems arrange files by date. Correspondence, "tickler," and suspense files are commonly arranged using a chronological system.
2. Alphanumeric classification uses combinations of letters and numbers.
Figure 3. Alphanumeric Classification: Soundex Phonetic System
A. Subject-numeric systems use numbers and letters to represent subjects. A good example of a subject-numeric system is the Library of Congress classification system. Most subject-numeric systems require the use of an index.