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Project Background : Introduction & Goals

Ubiquitous, diversified, distributed, networked computing is an omnipresent feature of academic life today. Such desktop computing is a two-edged sword. It allows users to gather, create, and transmit large numbers and a wide variety of documents and other information with a few keystrokes, but it does very little to help users name and organize their materials, retrieve them easily in the future, or identify those items that should be maintained for specific lengths of time or archived for posterity, even when records management schedules exist.

The ease with which users can create, copy, and distribute electronic information to others exacerbates the traditional challenges of records management. Digitally transmitted documents - electronic mail (e-mail) and all manner of associated attachments stand as a particularly problematic area. Even people who have great skill in organizing the files they create, may have difficulty with the daily flow of e-mail and saving attachments in appropriate locations that others have created and named. Indeed, none of the typical desktop applications such as word processing, e-mail, or presentation software, have electronic records management (ERM) features so users lacking any records management training or even instruction in filing are left to their own devices.

Much like former Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill's dictum, "All politics is local," the success of desktop records management and subsequent archiving of material from the university environment presently depends on the individual and his or her specific information management behaviors. At this point very little is known about these behaviors and even less about how to optimize them to serve the historical, legal, financial, instructional and scholarly requirements of higher education.

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Project Goals
This project has four goals around which all proposed activities and expenses revolve:

1. Document how faculty, administrators, and staff use and manage files and records from electronic mail and other desktop applications at UNC-CH, throughout the 16-campus UNC system, and by extension, across academia.

2. Based on the analysis of user needs and practices, as well as the North Carolina Public Records Act, develop optimized e-mail and desktop management policies and "best practice" guidelines to serve higher education in North Carolina and provide an adaptable model of practice for other states;

3. Develop educational opportunities (workshops, handbook, exercises, web-based courses, etc.) to optimize faculty, administrator, and staff use and management of desktop electronic documents; &

4. Develop user profiles necessary for a strategic consideration of electronic records management systems - this includes more fully identifying and specifying business functions of faculty and administrators heretofore termed "teaching, research, and service," and use these to evaluate the potential appropriateness of ERMSs for the UNC-CH campus.

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Origin of Project within the UNC System Context and Potential Influence
This project has arisen out of an awareness by the Records Management staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that few, if any, university administrators, faculty, and staff are consistently retaining and disposing of electronic mail messages and associated attachments in a manner compliant with the North Carolina Public Records Law.

The University Records Committee has discussed this issue at length and created university-wide e-mail guidelines that were disseminated by the Provost, but we are doubtful of their effect. Our suspicion is that almost all state employees are handling electronic mail and documents attached to these messages, in a non-compliant, "criminal" fashion each and every day.

This is not only true at UNC-CH, but on all of the sixteen university system campuses, throughout the state community college system, and most likely in all N.C. state agencies. Indeed, this situation undoubtedly prevails in all state agencies in all states wherein electronic mail messages are considered to be public records that must be retained and disposed of in a proscribed fashion according to law.

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Lasting Benefits of the Project
We foresee the outcome of this project providing UNC-CH, the 16-campus UNC System, North Carolina state government, and other states and institutions of higher education with benefits for some time to come. All these organizations are grappling with how best to manage electronic mail and desktop electronic documents and records, and how to reconcile electronic records management practices with state records laws. This research project will allow us to build on the UNC-CH Records Management Program begun with an NHPRC grant in the early 1990s. Specifically, it will allow data collection analysis, otherwise unattainable due to lack of staff resources, that will provide a firm foundation for a widely disseminated recommended practices manual and teaching modules that can be employed across the university system. The resulting products of this research, including training modules and guidelines, will address human information behaviors in light of campus information technology (infrastructure and support) and state records law, and should have applicability well beyond the life of this grant. What we learn from this project concerning how university faculty, administrators, and staff use electronic mail and manage desktop electronic files will lay the necessary basis for future study and eventual customization & implementation of an electronic records management system.

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Managing the Digital University Desktop / University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill / School of Information and Library Science / 100 Manning Hall, CB 3360 / Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3360