WWU Records Management History!

WWU Records Management History!

March, 2019
University Archives and Records Management

Few people may know it, but April is National Records and Information Management Month. Happy NRIMM (in advance), everybody! To celebrate, University Archives and Records Management is reaching back for a bit of WWU history, thanks in no small part to the deliberate implementation of records management in our institution. 

In 1957, the Washington state legislature passed RCW 40.14, which codifies the framework for public records management and archives, and still governs those responsibilities for all state and local government entities. While public agencies like Western took basic steps to comply with this law beginning around 1960, it wasn't until 1973 that things really ramped up. This is because, in November of 1972, Washington voters approved Initiative 276, which became the state's Public Records Disclosure law (currently RCW 42.56). This new law included penalties for non-compliance, and, as a result, public agencies moved quickly to meet its requirements. 

While the public records disclosure law does not incorporate records management requirements per se, it does require that public agencies provide the public with information about what records they have, and this provision fits hand-in-glove with state records management requirements, which, among other things, require agencies to inventory all of their records and assign them retention periods. Almost overnight, many public officials became records management evangelicals. 

And that brings us to our selection of the month. The documents here—which come from the records of the President's office—illustrate the top-down effort to bring the institution into compliance with both records management and public disclosure laws. Note President Flora's statement to his deans and business manager in a March 7, 1973, memo: "I urge you to read these rules carefully." So began a veritable golden age of records management! 

For the past 46 years, University Archives and Records Management staff, in partnership with administrators, faculty, staff, and students across the organization, have worked within the framework of these laws to support not only Western's accountability to the citizens of Washington, but also the documentation of our own institutional history.  

All documents courtesy of University Archives and Records Management.

Tony Kurtz, University Archivist