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Taking records management to next level

[Records Management and Privacy Office]
Members of the Records Management and Privacy Office and campus partners recently visited Iron Mountain’s newly-opened records storage facility in the north end of Kingston, where Queen’s University’s records will be stored. (University Communications)

Records management at Queen’s University is a monumental task. 

Universities are information-intensive environments and a continual flow of records are created, shared, stored and retrieved every day. There are countless transactions and decisions, student records, employment records and health and safety information and as a public institution the university must ensure that it is meeting its legal requirements in a transparent and accountable fashion. 

Working to ensure the entire process is organized, efficient, secure and accessible is the Records Management and Privacy Office, which is responsible for the records management system.

It's a vitally important process for Queen’s, affecting all offices across the university, says Carolyn Heald, Director, University Records Management and Chief Privacy Officer. 

“Part of the importance of records management is to be organized and efficient, to be able to put your hands on the information you need when you need it,” she says. “You certainly need to have things documented for transactional purposes or our own legal rights and entitlement. What we would do if we couldn’t lay our hands on a lease for example, or some sort of contract or be able to prove that this student graduated at this particular time?”

Guiding the process is the Queen’s University Records Management Policy, which defines the purposes and scope of the program and includes 11 principles that provide clear standards and practices.

The Records Management and Privacy Office is also responsible for the administration of Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) at Queen’s. FIPPA and records management go hand-in-hand: you can’t provide access to information and protect the personal information without good record keeping practices. 

Over the years records management has changed, Ms. Heald points out. Increasingly, records are being maintained digitally, mirroring the rise in digital platforms in the workplace. She also sees a greater awareness of the importance of effective record keeping.

“I find that, even though they might not call it records management, people are very interested and aware of it, more so than in the past because they deal with it in their private lives too,” she says. “We all spend lots of time on our computers at home now. Everyone has lots of electronic records and digital photographs and thousands of emails in their inbox. They deal with it at work, they deal with it at home, and I think they do have a sense that there is value in being organized.”

While record keeping is increasingly becoming digital there still is a massive amount of paperwork being produced. These files need to be stored safely and securely and in 2014 Queen’s signed a 10-year agreement with Iron Mountain for this purpose. The university has already stored more than 9,000 boxes of records. Iron Mountain recently opened a facility in Kingston and, starting in June, Queen’s records currently stored in Ottawa will be moved to the new facility.

Having the records nearby will have a number of positive effects, Ms. Heald explains, including quicker and easier access to records when needed. 

More than 30 units at Queen’s are currently involved in the Iron Mountain program and can access their records through an online portal called Iron Mountain Connect. The Records Management and Privacy Office has also set up a records management contacts network for staff to make connections and talk about best practices and will be launching a training program to address a range of needs through online videos or in-person meetings.

“As much as possible we are trying to empower units to manage and handle their own records,” says Jordan Phoenix, Records Manager. “They are able to send records for storage themselves and recall them and manage them at Iron Mountain. There are certain things they can’t do without central approval, so the final removal and destruction of records will always pass through the Records Management and Privacy Office to confirm that, yes, these records have timed out and are allowed to go.”

The vast majority of records – up to 95 per cent – will be destroyed but exactly when depends on the type of records they are. For example, financial records must be kept for seven years, while some workplace health and safety records must be kept for 40. Records that have historical value are transferred to Queen’s Archives for permanent preservation. Queen’s Archives also plays a key role in the records management process, writing the records retention schedules with the cooperation of the various units across the university.

Iron Mountain is also a corporate sponsor of the Queen’s Gaels. Through a separate contract, the company also provides shredding services for Queen’s.

For more information, visit the Records Management and Privacy Office website.