Records Management Program Development

The 1947 legislation that created the State Archives included several records management responsibilities. The State Archivist served as an advisor to the Board of Control with respect to authorizing the destruction of state records. Counties were required to seek advice and consent from the State Archivist before destroying records. Moreover, both state agencies and counties could seek assistance from the State Archives about records management problems.

Streamlining the process of records destruction was an early goal. The existing system required numerous letters to authorize destruction: the agency wrote to the Board of Control; the Board wrote to the State Archivist and to the Supervisor of Audits for advice; they wrote back to the Board of Control; and the Board wrote to the agency. This cumbersome series of letters was replaced with one form that circulated through the system and became a single record of all transactions.18

Records management for state government took a step forward in 1951 with the creation of the State Department of Finance and Administration. This department had broad responsibilities to manage state government more efficiently. And since records management had traditionally been a function of reacting to storage crises caused by decades of records accumulation, it was seen as a perfect place to show results. The department soon implemented a statewide records management program with the objective to "provide an integrated, statewide system for controlling and improving forms and records used in state government, and the methods employed in their processing, filing, storage, and destruction or permanent retention."19 Program elements included the designation of agency records officers, instructional seminars; records inventories; and a centralized records center. The State Archivist was to "assist in the direction of the overall program" as well as "provide technical services such as appraisal, cataloging, and microfilming."20

While the program proved to be overly optimistic and drifted into intermittent lulls of inactivity, it did lay an important foundation for later records management efforts. The creation of the state records center in 1958 led to reductions in the costs of storing records and freed up valuable office space. The introduction of the "Records Management Manual" in 1959 provided state employees with a fundamental, consolidated source of information on general topics such as the life cycle of a record as well as technical duties such as how to fill out a records inventory form. Subsequent updates helped to further systematize the management of state records.

Much work remained, however, to further streamline the process of deciding how long to keep various state records. A survey in the mid-1960s indicated that one-half of state records had not been inventoried or scheduled for disposition. In response to this the Executive Committee on the Study of the Retention and Destruction of Public Records in Oregon issued findings calling for the development of "general schedules." These schedules were developed to provide continuing authority to state agencies to destroy certain common fiscal and operational records. The goal was to reduce the necessity of individual applications for authorizations to destroy records. The Department of Finance and Administration, the Supervisor of Audits, and the State Archivist cooperated in the development of these schedules.21

By the late 1960s the organizational problems associated with several agencies sharing records management responsibilities led to strong calls for change. Although some records retention schedules for state agencies were drafted by the State Archivist, Board of Control administrative rules gave the responsibility to individual agencies. This led to a confusing tangle of practices, terminology, and levels of quality. In response, the State Library called for the unification of the records management program for both state and local government under the State Archives.22 The 1971 Legislative Assembly responded by making the State Archivist responsible for authorizing the retention and destruction of state records.

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