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Guidelines for Electronic Mail Retention, Back-Up, & Archiving

Guidelines for Electronic Mail Retention, Back-Up, & Archiving 

Electronic mail (e-mail) messages are not a record series or category as those terms are used in University Policy 93.002, "Records Management and Archiving." Instead, e-mail is a means of transmission of messages or information, similar to letters, phone messages, and faxes. E-mail messages that meet the Ohio Revised Code definition of a "record" should be retained in accordance with Ohio University Policy on Records Retention or according to the general or department records retention schedules that apply to non-electronic records of similar subject and content. This is the case regardless of whether the e-mail message is sent from or received at a university or a personal e-mail account. 

The Ohio Revised Code defines a "record" as "any document, device, or item, regardless of physical form or characteristic, including an electronic record . . ., created or received by or coming under the jurisdiction of any public office of the state or its political subdivisions, which serves to document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office." 

Some types of e-mail messages do not typically meet the definition of a record. Examples include personal correspondence and messages received from interest-group listservs. E-mail messages not meeting the definition of a record may be deleted at any time. 

Many e-mail messages, while meeting the definition of a record, qualify as a transitory record. Transitory records do not set policy, establish guidelines or procedures, certify a transaction or become a receipt. Examples of transitory records include telephone messages, drafts, and in the case of e-mail, an e-mail message setting up a meeting. E-mail messages qualifying as transitory records may be deleted as soon as they are no longer of administrative value. 

All other e-mails messages that document the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the office, as noted above, should be retained in accordance with the general or department records retention schedules that apply to non-electronic records of similar subject and content. 

Responsible management of e-mail messages, including determining which e-mail messages constitute important university records and which do not, must be the responsibility of the account user. The University Archivist and Records Manager will provide advice and support on how to make these decisions, but it is the department and its employees that will be held responsible in the event of a record being inappropriately retained or prematurely destroyed. 

Responsible management of e-mail messages includes prompt deletion of e-mail messages not meeting the definition of a record and deletion of transitory e-mail messages at the earliest appropriate time. All other e-mail messages should be filed in a way that both enhances their accessibility and facilitates records management tasks. One filing option is to simply print a hard copy of an e-mail message and include it with other similar paper records. Most e-mail messages may instead be filed electronically. While the university's Office of Information Technology can assist with developing electronic filing solutions, the department and its employees bear the responsibility for appropriate management of e-mail message records retention. 

As employees leave the university, e-mail accounts remain active for one month after the termination date before being deleted. Before a staff member leaves the unit, a supervisor should confer with the account owner to determine what e-mail must be retained, who within the unit should keep it, and to ensure that the e-mail is transferred to the proper recipient(s) for appropriate retention. If that person also manages an e-mail service account, arrangements should be made to transfer control of the account to another person within the unit. If there are questions about what records should be retained and what may be deleted, please contact the University Archivist and Records Manager. If there are other questions concerning the management of e-mail accounts or other electronic resources, please contact the Office of Information Technology. 

E-mail stored on official University systems will generally be preserved for no longer than 30 days after deletion by the e-mail user. Log files associated with e-mail messages, which provide a record of actual e-mail transactions, but not the e-mail content, are generally preserved for no longer than 90 days. 

E-mail users storing messages on Ohio University servers often have the capacity to "archive" e-mails to files. This effectively allows users to save any e-mail messages for any length of time. The retention and disposal guidelines of the prior paragraph do not apply to e-mail archives and backups done by individuals. 

Users may at their discretion configure their official Ohio University e-mail accounts to forward all e-mail to an external e-mail address. Forwarding to an external address prevents messages from being stored at Ohio University, but a record of the forwarding transaction is stored on University E-mail facilities in system logs. Forwarding of email is planned to be the subject a future policy and procedure. 

E-mail correspondence and associated documents sent as attachments may be considered official University records, and, as such, may need to be retained longer than the established policy guidelines for e-mail retention and disposal. It is the responsibility of the sender and recipient of these e-mail messages to determine the required retention period, to comply with applicable University policies and procedures, and to preserve these e-mail records either electronically or in printed form with all associated header and transmission information.