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Guideline for Managing E-mail.

TITLE: Guideline for Managing E-mail

AUTHOR: ARMA International E-mail Guideline Task Force

PUBLISHER: ARMA International


ISBN: 0-933887-91-4

LENGTH: 44 pages

PRICE: $33/$22 for ARMA members

SOURCE: ARMA International Bookstore, or 888/241-0598

Internal company e-mails were among the most damaging evidence used by the U.S. Department of Justice in its antitrust case against Microsoft. In other lawsuits, harassing or obscene messages, copyright violations, or libel and slander have all been found to be "smoking guns" in court battles.

Private and public organizations are scrambling to establish policies and procedures for managing the burgeoning volume of e-mail messages. ARMA International's guideline on e-mail explains what organizations must do to ensure that information contained in e-mail is created, received, maintained, identifiable, accessible, retrievable, protected, and dispositioned properly. One strength of the guideline is the participation of more than 100 individuals who volunteered their time, talents, and state-of-the-practice knowledge as participants on a special ARMA task force. In addition, the guideline underwent two extensive public review and comment periods, through which many other people participated and consensus about its content was gained.

The guideline emphasizes that retention periods for e-mail records must be based on the content and value of the information contained in the e-mail, not the medium. As such, the information contained in e-mail messages -- and their attachments -- must be evaluated in the same way as information contained in other media. Determining the potential value of e-mail should be part of the organization's overall planning process for information technology. This guideline provides an eight-point appraisal strategy to assist in assessing information value.

A positive feature is that it recognizes the importance of each organization having a formal policy for e-mail management, and it identifies key issues and considerations to be addressed in establishing such a policy. However, readers may be disappointed that no generic model policy is included. It would be helpful to have an appendix containing a policy template that organizations can customize in the guideline's next edition.

The guideline stresses that the end-user manages e-mail because e-mail is managed at the users' desktop rather than being centralized. Certainly such an approach requires extensive and ongoing staff training so that all employees manage their e-mail usage within consistent guidelines. The next edition might address the private and public research efforts on e-mail management that focus on a more centralized approach. For example, commercial products such as Autonomy ( and Bytequest ( automatically categorize and tag electronic documents such as e-mail for retention and disposition. Research and development projects that the National Archives and Records Administration is conducting in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and others show promise in providing solutions to long-term preservation of and access to electronic records including e-mail (

Because this guideline was developed with the intention of submitting it to the American National Standards Institute as a candidate for adoption as an American national standard, it has a specific focus on U.S. public and private business organizations. Legal and regulatory requirements in other countries will vary, so readers who are looking for an international standard will need to realize that this guideline does not provide that, but it does provide a better understanding of the management and operational issues to be considered in a responsible e-mail policy. In the future, a broader focus on international law would give a more universal appeal to the guideline.

In summary, Guideline for Managing E-Mail makes a solid business case for an organization to invest in a system to manage e-mail messages as records. There is consensus that what is needed is a method to

* identify e-mail messages that have administrative, legal, archival, or other value

* destroy what is not useful

* move valuable e-mail messages into a recordkeeping/repository system

Records management functional requirements for such a recordkeeping /repository system are emerging from the U. S. DoD 5015.2 standard (, and vendors are certifying their products against that standard. Nonetheless, management of e-mail is still in its infancy. With this guideline, records and information management (RIM) professionals are playing a significant role in the advancement of the practice of e-mail records management. Other opportunities for RIM professionals include working with vendors in developing new products and in assisting researchers in documenting progress.

Susan L. Cisco, Ph.D., CRM, is assistant director of information management services in the Oil and Gas Division of the Railroad Commission of Texas. She is also a lecturer at The University of Texas Graduate School of Library and Information Science, where she teaches records management and document imaging. She can be reached at
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Information Management Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Previous Article:Authentic Electronic Records: Strategies for Long-Term Access.
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