Weeding Files

The Smithsonian Institution Archives recommends that files be weeded on a regular basis. Weeding is the act of removing unnecessary files from the active records. The result is significant savings in storage space and faster and more efficient retrieval of information for research purposes. Extensive weeding is necessary when the records contain large numbers of reference materials or duplicate copies of documents. The Smithsonian-wide and unit-specific (staff only) records disposition schedules often outline additional record types that can be weeded and should be used in conjunction with these guidelines.

The records listed below can be weeded from the active records when no longer necessary for administrative or reference purposes and must be removed from permanent records prior to transfer to the Archives. These weeding guidelines apply to records in all formats, including paper, image, audiovisual, email, and other electronic records.

  1. Drafts: Only final copies and drafts containing significant annotations should be transferred to the Archives.
  2. Routine Correspondence: Including letters/emails of transmittal or cover letters that merely forward an enclosure/attachment and add nothing to the content of the item transmitted; meeting announcements; logistical information; invitations; acknowledgments; reservations; confirmations; travel itineraries; and routine requests for general information, such as brochures and catalogs.
  3. Memoranda: Including memoranda concerning routine matters and those written by other units. Only those memoranda sent by the unit bearing on its programmatic responsibility, such as those concerning policies, procedures, or collections, should be transferred to the Archives.
  4. Routine Administrative Records: Including copies and printouts of standard forms or reports from the Smithsonian's centralized databases. This does not apply to original records.
  5. Duplicates: Including photocopies, extra copies, documents that exist in multiple formats, and documents that have been saved in multiple locations. Units should save either the original (for documents found only in paper format) or the copy that is filed with the most complete set of records (for documents in multiple or electronic format).
  6. Research Material: Including clippings, photocopies of published materials, and photocopies of archival materials collected as background, informational, or research material. This does not apply to materials created as the result of original research by staff.
  7. Object Photographs: Original and copies of images of objects in a museum collection, objects borrowed from other collections, and objects considered for use in exhibitions. Consult with the museum registrar before discarding object photographs.
  8. Miscellaneous: Including supply and vendor catalogs; envelopes (unless annotated); blank forms; advertisements and promotional materials from other Smithsonian units and external organizations; and equipment manuals and warranties.

The unique nature of email results in file types not found in other formats. While email messages tend to grow exponentially, most can be weeded (deleted). In addition to the guidance above, the following types of email messages can be weeded when no longer needed for administrative or reference purposes. Unless noted otherwise, these guidelines apply to both the sender and the recipient.

  1. Messages received via a distribution list or listserv (recipient only), including Smithsonian Email Announcements.
  2. Messages received from another Smithsonian staff person to which no reply is required (recipient only).
  3. Messages on which the recipient was copied (copied recipient only).
  4. Calendar items.
  5. Messages forwarding a link with no additional substantive content.
  6. Messages captured in threads of later messages.
  7. Personal email, jokes, advertisements, spam, and other email unrelated to work should be deleted as soon as possible.

Remember that deleting email is a two-step process. After deleting the email, the "Deleted Items" folder must be emptied.

If there is any uncertainty as to whether records can be weeded or must be kept, contact the unit's Archives liaison.