Some people are hoarders and some people are chuckers.
"Contrary to popular belief, archivists love to chuck things out," said archivist Justine McDermott, Associate Director, Archives and Records Management.
But there are university policies, state regulations and legal requirements that govern what must be kept and for how long. It is a complex issue for universities, made even more complicated by the fact that each of WA 's public universities had, until recently, different disposal policies.
For example, at UWA , student records were kept for 10 years, at Curtin University they were kept for 25 years, and at Murdoch University, they were disposed of after just five years.
"We're talking about student records such as study plans, all sort of forms, enrolment information, not their academic record: that is kept for ever," Ms McDermott said.
She and her colleague, Narelle Crichton, decided four years ago to turn what was a 24-page disposal schedule into a Disposal Authority that covered all of UWA 's records. When Michelle Lillico, now a project manager in UWA Archives and Records, but then working at Curtin University, heard about Ms Crichton's project, she asked if they could build on UWA 's work to create one definitive disposal authority for all WA Public Universities.
"We ended up working together with all four universities to develop a very comprehensive disposal policy, one that is consistent across all the universities and which has been nominated for a national award," Ms McDermott said.
The project required commitment in time and a high degree of collaboration and compromise. So dedicated to the cause were the university archivists that they went to Muresk together for a week long live in workshop at the beginning of the four-year project, then again towards the end.
"We worked together day and night," Ms Lillico said. "We would find ourselves sitting in our pyjamas late at night nutting out another problem." The spirit of collaboration will continue into the future as the authority will now be reviewed and updated collectively by all WA Universities.
"Even though the functioning of the universities is much the same, there was still a lot of research needed," Ms McDermott said. "It was a huge project, led brilliantly by Michelle."
The university archivists used three criteria to determine how long each type of University record needed to be retained; research, administrative and evidential value. The 163-page document that is the Western Australian University Sector Disposal Authority has now been approved for use by the State Records Commission and covers advice, agreements, appeals, acquisitions, academic records ... and that is just a few of headings under A.
It includes guidelines for disposal of records of planning, standards, donations, exhibitions, publications, event planning, media relations, energy management, maps and signs, fees and charges, clubs and societies, grievances and complaints, intellectual property, corporate identity, professional development leave, honouring and naming and, if you can believe it, much more.
"The biggest change is that each University now retains all records relating to individual research projects for the same period of time depending on the significance of that project, Ms McDermott said. "We seek advice on how important a piece of research is likely to be and flag it for later confirmation. The minimum period for keeping minor research records is seven years after publication. However, all records relating to research that is deemed of significance could be kept for anywhere between 50 years and forever."
"The original architectural plans for Winthrop Hall are an example of records which are kept for administrative use. Those plans are still referred to for plumbing and other maintenance and refurbishment work.
"The evidence criteria covers records documenting major decisions and reasons we have invested in, researched or taught different things. The records of research into, discussions about and implementation of the New Courses would be included in this."
Ms McDermott said there were legal requirements about retention of all University records. "So if you have any questions, please get in touch with us, before you start chucking things out."
Published in UWA News, 23 July 2012