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Athabasca University

Records Management Handbook

Q. What is records management?

A. The goal of the Records Management Program at Athabasca University is to make sure that information is captured, maintained, organized, retained and disposed of in compliance with legislation and policy requirements.

Records management helps to ensure that quality information is created, that program and service delivery is efficient, and that information is protected and securely disposed of.

Athabasca University cannot meet its accountability and performance standards without the active assistance of all University staff to apply records management principles and practices to their work on a daily basis.

Q. What is a record?

A. A record is

  • recorded information, in any form (paper, electronic, email) that is created or received by the University in the course of transacting its business, and
  • is retained as evidence of that business or activity

Records support Athabasca University’s business operations and can be used to prove that an event or decision took place.

Records include, but are not limited to: correspondence, minutes, research files, reports, maps, photographs, financial documents, legal documents, work plans, performance documents, policies and procedures, computer tapes and disks, email, microfilm, and records in electronic systems including NAS and C drives.

Types of records

Primary (official): a single copy of a document, often the original, which is designated as the as the authoritative official record for preservation.

Secondary (copy): duplicate non-record copies of documents kept solely for reference or convenience.

Administrative: records that facilitate the management of the University, but which do not relate directly to the programs that help the university to achieve its mission and mandate.

Operational: records that relate to the substantive activities that the University undertakes to accomplish its mission and mandate (program).

Active: records needed to perform current operations, subject to frequent use and usually stored in offices.

Semi-active: records that are infrequently referenced but that must be maintained for a specified retention period due to fiscal, legal, or operational requirements. These records are generally maintained in the Athabasca University Records Centre (AURC).

Transitory: routine records with short term value that are approved for destruction either immediately or after a short specified retention period.

Archival: records of enduring value that are permanently preserved for research purposes.

Vital: records that are essential to the continued functioning or reconstitution of the University during or after a disaster, or that are essential to protect the rights and interests of the University.

How to identify a transitory record

Transitory records are routine records with short term value that are approved for destruction either immediately or after a short specified retention period.

Examples of transitory records include but are not limited to:

  • duplicate copies used for convenience or reference that are originally maintained by another office
  • information received as part of a distribution list
  • miscellaneous ‘fyi’ notices about meetings, holidays, or other routine administrative events
  • photocopies of departmental publications
  • draft documents where all critical content changes have been incorporated into a final document
  • blank forms
  • books, magazines or other reference material
  • informal correspondence, emails, or instant messages about routine administrative tasks

Examples of transitory emails include but are not limited to:

  • The email is personal and is not related to AU business
  • The email is from outside of the AU community and is used for only reference purposes (e.g. non AU listservs or aliases)
  • The email is cc’d or bcc’d to you (e.g. it originates in another office, including emails from AU listservs or aliases)
  • The email is an fyi and no action or decision is required
  • The email is about routine administrative tasks, e.g. setting up meetings, notices of events, etc.

If you are not sure if the record is Transitory or not, use our Transitory Decision Tree to help you to decide.

File naming

Implementing a system of consistently named documents fosters collaboration within departments and supports the following objectives

  • Facilitates better access and retrieval
  • Allows sorting of documents in logical sequence
  • Helps staff to easily identify the folders or documents they need
  • Helps keep track of versions of documents

Wherever possible, departments should develop a taxonomy that includes standardized naming conventions for shared documents. The naming conventions should apply to paper as well as electronic documents, including those on NAS drives, email, and in other electronic systems.

File name elements

There are a number of common elements that can be included in file names. The order of these elements in the file should be standardized according to a department’s business needs for sorting or retrieval. Some examples include:

  • Date*
  • Student number
  • Student names
  • Creator
  • Department/Program name
  • Version (e.g. V01)
  • Type
  • Title

Date (*mandatory)

Dates should be formatted as Year-Month-Day (or, at a minimum, the Year) to allow for consistency, sorting and to provide retention information. The date used should be defined by the business needs of the department, e.g. what is the most useful date for retrieval purposes. Some examples are the date the document is received, or the date of the document, or the calendar year.

*Dates should be mandatory on all documents to allow for easy calculation of the retention and disposition of the document and, wherever possible, the date should be the first item in the file name.

Student Number

Documents pertaining to current students should contain the student number.

Student Name

Documents pertaining to current students may have the name attached. In order to keep file names short, only the Last name can be used, but if departments require both First and Last name, then the name should be applied as Last/First.


If multiple people are creating versions of the same document and departments include the creator name in the title, it should be a standardized format. Some examples are the first initial and last name (sjones) or their AU ID (samanthaj) or initials (SJ).

Department/Program Name

If a document will be circulated among multiple departments, it may be useful to indicate the authoring department. Acronyms for departments should be taken from the Organization by Division list supplied by Financial Services so that a University-wide standard is recognized.

Departments may use program names in addition to department names, or in substitute of department names if they wish to narrow the scope of the authoring area. Program names should be taken from the online Calendar so that a University-wide standard is recognized.


If multiple versions of the same document are needed, adding a version number allows changes to be tracked. Version numbers should be included at the end of the filename and should be based on two digit numbers to allow easy sorting. For example V01.


Including an abbreviation of the type of the document can help reduce the length of the title. A short list of the most commonly used abbreviations can be maintained by the department. Always use the acronym near the end of the file name.

Some examples include:

  • AGD – Agenda
  • AGR – Agreement
  • ARS – Action Request
  • APX - Appendix
  • CPA – Cover Page
  • CON – Contract
  • DFT – Draft
  • EXA – Example
  • FRM – Form
  • GRA – Grant
  • IDX – Index
  • LTR – Letter
  • LST – List
  • MEM – Memo
  • MIN – Minutes
  • MTG – Meeting
  • NTS – Notes
  • PLN – Plan
  • PAP – Paper
  • POL – Policy
  • PRS – Presentation
  • PRC – Procedures
  • RPT – Report
  • SCH – Schedule
  • SPE – Speech
  • SUM – Summary
  • SUP – Supplement


Titles of documents should be based upon the function and content of the document if there is no proper title already assigned to the document (e.g. Application for Admission). The file name should allow any staff member to determine the contents of the document based upon the title.

Some examples of file naming are:

Not Good Better
Simon Fraser University Business program 2015 Simon Fraser University Business Program collaboration
Student satisfaction surveys (draft) samantha 2014-01-26 student satisfaction survey statistics RPT DFT sjones V01
OVP Advancement budget 4th quarter 13/14 2013-2014 OVPAD Budget 4th quarter RPT
Dean letter January 2013 2013-01 GCDE to Arcadia University re: student recruitment
Minutes July-14 2014-07 Ad Hoc Committee MIN
Reference for jim douglas 2012-03-05 Douglas, Jim recruitment reference
ARM proposal 2014 Association of Records Managers joint certificate proposal
Karen notes September 2013-09 retention requirements of legal records NTS karenl

Mass deleting emails

These procedures are applicable to all staff at Athabasca University, including executive, faculty, tutors, academic experts, support staff, professional staff, excluded staff, and any temporary contractors who currently have an AU email address.

Some email messages can be mass deleted, and the steps below outline the process. Please be sure to follow Steps 1-3 before starting to mass delete messages.

IMPORTANT: If the email is currently part of, or has been part of a FOIP access request in the past year, you must keep the email until the FOIP Coordinator advises that you may delete it.

Step 1. Delete as many Transitory emails from your inbox and folders as possible first

  1. See How to identify a transitory record on our website for more information

Step 2. KEEP any emails that contain archival information (these are permanent records), regardless of the date of the email, for example, the following records would be considered archival:

  1. If you are the Primary Recordkeeper (originating office) and you have minutes, policies, business plans, final contracts/agreements or other strategic documents that are not kept elsewhere – KEEP IT
  2. If you are the Primary Recordkeeper (originating office) and the email contains substantive program or operational information or decisions that is not kept elsewhere – KEEP IT
  3. If you are the Primary Recordkeeper (originating office) and the email relates to staff employment or benefits and is not kept elsewhere – KEEP IT

Step 3. Transfer any KEEP IT emails older than 2 years to the *Athabasca University Records Centre (AURC) before the migration of your email to the new email system.

*IMPORTANT: Any records transferred to AURC will be secure and password protected, and departments will continue to have the ability to access them.

Procedures for transferring records can be found here.

Step 4. Sort your emails by date

  1. Click on the RECEIVED column in your Zimbra email window, it will sort your email from the OLDEST date to the NEWEST date

Step 5. Once you have made sure you have flagged any archival records for keeping (see Step 2) you may delete any records that are left that are 11 years or older, e.g. anything from 2004 or the previous years

If you are unsure about which emails are appropriate to delete, please contact your Department Head or Karen Langley for more information before proceeding with a mass deletion.

Updated June 13 2017 by Student & Academic Services

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