Managing University Records

Transferring Digital Records

In order to preserve the digital records for the long term and to make them accessible to our researchers, here are some strategies on how to prepare your records for transfer to the University Archives. If you are interested in learning more about identifying and preserving records of enduring value, please contact


Initial survey

In taking responsibility for archiving digital records, it is important for us to allocate sufficient storage space and to be aware of potential problems (such as obsolete or uncommon formats). Before we can take custody of the records, please provide the following information:

  1. Estimated total size of digital assets or gross size estimate (MBs, GBs, etc.
  2. Record types (including operating system, software and file formats)
    • MS Office documents (e.g. MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access etc. files)
    • PDF files
    • Other word-processing documents (e.g. OpenOffice, WordPerfect, etc.)
    • Spreadsheets and databases (e.g. Lotus, MySQL or FileMaker files)
    • Still images and/or photographs (e.g. tiff or jpeg files)
    • Video (e.g. AVI or MPEG files)
    • Audio (e.g. mp3 or WAV files)
    • Email (i.e. MS Outlook, Gmail)
    • Website(s) and weblogs (URLs)
    • Online groups (e.g. Google or Yahoo groups)
    • Social networks (e.g. Facebook)
    • Microblogging tools (e.g. Twitter)
    • Photo/Video sharing sites (e.g. Flickr, YouTube)

Preparing for transfer

We prefer for files to arrive on hard drives, USB drives, DVDs/CDs or cloud transfers. Please make sure that the hard drive or removable media used for transporting archival content to the University Archives is either new or has been reformatted to remove all previous deleted files. If the hard drive is not new or reformatted, many deleted files will continue to be present on the hard drive and transferred inadvertently to the digital archive. Deleting files in most programs generally only removes pointers to the files and leaves the original file intact on the disk and available for retrieval by specialized software. The long-term archiving process will generally require creating and preserving a complete "disk image" of the transported disk. Even though deleted files will not be made part of the online archive, those files will nonetheless be preserved into the future as part of the original disk. The University Archives reserves the right not to keep deleted files captured during the forensic disk reading.


Organizing documents

The value of the document is determined by its function, not by its format. Electronic documents should be weeded, similarly to paper records of similar content. (For more information on weeding or purging documents, see our Record Packing Tips.)

File name and location within a file directory (the name of the filepath, for example) and/or how a file is managed in an electronic records management system (the directories, groups, or tags attached to a file) constitute key descriptive and structural information (metadata) that is generated by the records creator. In addition, some metadata, such as file type and creation date, are usually saved automatically.

If the hard drive used for transporting archival content to the University Archives includes materials from multiple computers/accounts, please retain their provenance, by keeping files from each creator in separate directory, i.e.:

OfficeFiles/Editors/JohnSmith/…[files from John Smith’s computer]
OfficeFiles/Editors/MaryBrown/…[files from Mary Brown’s computer]
Email/Editors/JohnSmith/…[email account of John Smith]

Electronic document folders should be organized in a manner similar to your paper files. A simple file directory that reflects the actual functions of an office or organization is the best place to manage your records. In most cases, the files will not be individually read and manually re-arranged by the archivist after the transfer. It should not be necessary to engage in a wholesale reorganization of the local filing system – if it worked for you, it should work for the archives.


University Archives policies

For all internal transfers of Columbia University records or materials, the donor should complete and return the Records Transmittal Form prior to transferring any files to the University Archives. 

The University Archives restricts access to non-public administrative records for 25 years since their date of creation and to Trustee materials for 50 years. Records including information related to individual faculty members and students are closed for 75 years. All other materials are available to researchers.

When using analog materials in our reading room, researchers have a right to order a limited number of photocopies, or take unlimited digital photographs for their personal research use. Unless specified otherwise, digital materials accessible in the reading room are treated in a similar way.

The University Archives reserves the right to de-accession files if they are obsolete, superseded, duplicated elsewhere, or otherwise irrelevant to the collection. For more information, see our Collection Policy.