In a previous post, we looked at the Library of Virginia’s guidelines on electronic records. Those guidelines cover both the records themselves and their management. In that post, though we only looked at what the guidelines said about the records themselves. Here, we will cover another section of the guidelines regarding records management.
The Library of Virginia electronic records guidelines’ section on record management mostly discusses creating a filename policy. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all document management systems (those that automatically name files) but for those that do, there are some good tips.
Primarily, the guidelines argue that creating a solid, organization-wide file naming convention is extremely important. Naming files in an explicit, standard way ensures that they are easier to find, manage, and process. To that end, the guidelines suggest that filenames should include some information like:
- Department name/number
- Creator name
- Creation/Release/Publication date
- Target audience
- Content description
- Project number
- Version number
A note about numbers: because filenames will be sorted alphabetically, it is wise to use numbers that have all the same number of digits and just set the left most digits to zero for low numbers. E.g., the version numbers 1, 2, 10, 100 would sort alphabetically as: 1, 10, 100, 2. Therefore, it would be better if they were represented like 001, 002, 010, 100. This way, the numbers will be sorted as expected both numerically and alphabetically.
Some other considerations the guidelines suggest are:
- Versioning – how will you indicate the version of a file, and more specifically, what’s the current version and which are defunct or outdated versions.
- Scalability – how well will your naming convention hold up when you have thousands or millions of files (if there’s potential for that)? Consider that when adding number placeholders to filenames.
- Accessibility – how easy will it be for users that are unfamiliar with the system to find what they need?
- Uniqueness – don’t rely on a file’s location to help define it, because it may get moved. If all of the files were dumped into a single directory, they should still be uniquely identifiable.
If you are implementing a document management system that requires you to define a file-naming standard, take some of these points into consideration. Hopefully they will make your life easier down the road and the number of documents expands.