Clean & Go Green: Preparing Your Records for the Shredding Event

Clean & Go Green makes its much-anticipated return on December 2-3, 2021 so now is a great time to consider the records in our workspaces: our own records and those which have been long-ignored or were abandoned in file drawers. Here are some tips to get you ready for the big shredding event.

University Records

Admissions file room, 1949. Photo by Manny Warman. Scan 4923. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

You probably create records at Columbia almost every day. Those that apply to your job or to the University are “University records.” These records may be paper, email, word processing documents, spreadsheets, photographs, or in other forms or formats. You probably keep them in your own desk, local file cabinets, on your local computer drive, shared drive or Google drive. However, these records are still University property and are subject to the University’s records policies. According to Columbia’s records retention policy, University records “are documents and parts of documents contained on any media and in any format that: are made or received by the organization; provide evidence of its operations; document business decisions; and/or have value requiring their retention for a specific period of time.”

First: Spaces and Usage

Take a look at your work space: drawers, shelves, file cabinets. Now take a wider look at what’s around you. Note that even though they are not eligible for physical shredding, this also applies to shared drives, personal drives, removable hard drives, cloud-storage solutions, thumb drives, etc.

  • Do you know what is where? Are there files that you have no idea what they are??
  • Next, sort what you need and use from what you don’t. Do you need/use what you have? What is in active use and what is rarely, if ever, consulted?

Now that you know what you have and what you need, you are in pretty good shape. It’s time to deal with the rest.

Next: Unknowns and Underused

  • Is this record a copy? Does this record come from a different department or from some outside source?

If the record is from another office or department, you are not the “office of record.” You are not responsible for maintaining this record. What you have is a copy and copies can be disposed of at the discretion of the user.

  • Is this record from my unit or department but not my function or role?

When employees leave, their records are often left behind. Find out who currently creates this kind of record in your office and pass these records along. To ensure smooth, continued operation, records need to be transferred to the employee who performs that role or to their supervisor.

  • Is it an original or unique record, and/or is it yours?

If you are the “office of record,” you are the department that is fully responsible for the “official” University record for the duration of the retention period. In this case, you get to apply the University’s records retention rules.

Finally: Apply the Rules

The rules let you know what you can take to the shredding event and what you still need to hold on to and for how much longer. The University’s records retention policy is “intended to assist the University in properly protecting and managing the records it needs to maintain, while eliminating the records that are no longer legally or operationally required.” You can find these rules in the University Policy Library.

  • If you need help determining how long to keep a record, contact We are here to help you comply with the University policies, follow best practices, and keep your records in order.
  • If you find records that document the history of the University, please reach out to the University Archives so staff can assess what you have for possible long term preservation.

For more detailed information on University records, visit Managing University Records. There you can find out more about the University’s records retention policies (how long to keep records and how to dispose of records); how to organize shared drives; and how to better manage email.