Do it Like Dewey!

Part one of A Records Management Veteran’s Approach to Getting and Staying Organized series.

Organize your files library-style

You may think that the Dewey Decimal System (DDS) is complicated and daunting to understand. But you have to admit that it works. Any time you’ve needed a book (or any other media) in your school, college or public library, Dewey directed you to its location pretty quickly.

Developed in 1876, the DDS doesn’t quite enjoy universal acceptance (hey, not everyone uses MS Windows, either), it’s nonetheless one of the world’s most–if not the most–respected, accepted and utilized classification system. It’s efficient, specific, repeatable and expandable–all characteristics of the most effective business records management systems. Let me explain….

Use these six Dewey Decimal techniques to store and find your files.

Before I begin, let me clarify: I’m not recommending that you literally make the DDS your business’s records management system. However, you can put several of its fundamental concepts to work pretty quickly.


Group like items together and organize them chronologically.

Start by thinking about how your company uses archived records, then visualize what it would be like to access them efficiently. Examples of logical groupings are “Monthly Revenue Reports,” “Weekly Regional Sales Reports,” “Property Management Expenses” or whatever categories apply to your business.

How you use chronology is up to you. You may wish to file all records together by calendar year, fiscal year or quarter. Or you may prefer to group all files of the same type together, sorted chronologically.


Log the key data points for each item.

What little bits of information can help you get to a file quicker? Leveraging database software, you can enter data like department, time period, file type, author/owner, sequence range, type of transaction–anything you think is relevant. (It’s sort of like how you use keywords to search the Web.)


Use specific, repeatable and consistent categories and subcategories.

Be diligent about creating and maintaining a consistent naming and numbering system for your documents, files and boxes. Searching, exporting, sorting and reporting will be a million times easier!


Use unique numbering.

No two books in your library have the same DDS number. No two boxes in your archive can have the same number. EVER. Even starting each new year with a “Box #1” is asking for trouble. One solution: Incorporate the year into your numbering system. Your 2011 boxes would then be labeled, “11-001,” “11-002,” etc.


Leave room for the next wave.

If you asked Mr. Dewey for a book on Web design, he’d have sent you to 595.4 and you could read all about the handiwork of spiders. But if you go to your library today, you’ll find what you need in 005.13, “Programming languages (Computers).”


“Where” matters as much as “how.” (This item isn’t Dewey-related, but librarians care about efficiency in their daily tasks.)

Not all records are created equal. Balancing cost, convenience and effectiveness are key. Some you need to access with some regularity. Others you keep, for instance, in order to fulfill certain legal or regulatory requirements–you may never open those boxes, but heaven forbid you can’t find them if you need them! Real estate expense for each choice is always vital to these decisions.

So, within the system you’ve created, look for ways to keep the more-frequently accessed boxes within easier reach. Meanwhile, park those “must keep, but never opened” boxes out of the way where they won’t get shuffled around, but are safe, secure and accessible when you need them. And of course, log the locations of all your boxes.

Taking Control of Inactive Records with Corodata

Properly labeling and tracking inactive files, and moving them safely offsite, can save your company space, time and money; remove the threat of losing documents; providing easy retrieval of files when needed, and set your reputation as a secure company.

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