April 09, 2024

Years of Docs Don’t Belong on Your Website: When It’s OK to Let Things Go

Does your agency's website ever feel like a storage unit full of outdated information? If so, you’re not alone. It's a common challenge: adhering to a content strategy that allows constituents to find necessary information without the clutter.

Contrary to popular belief, your site doesn't have to serve as an indefinite storage space for every piece of content ever created. Let's explore how balancing records retention with a strategic approach to content can significantly enhance your agency's online presence.

Librarians to the Rescue

A misconception persists that digital permanence is required for all agency materials due to specific legal mandates. However, this overlooks the practical solution provided by the University of Georgia Libraries, a designated repository for safeguarding public records. This partnership not only ensures compliance but also aids in decluttering your website, focusing efforts on managing content that the majority of your site visitors are actively searching for.

By law (O.C.G.A. § 20-5-2)  all  agencies and departments within the executive branch of the Georgia state government must deposit four print copies and one electronic copy of publications intended for public distribution in the University of Georgia Libraries.

UGA’s Map and Government Information Library manages the collection by applying metadata to these state publications, ensuring that they’re findable by keywords, agency ownership, date ranges, locations, and other information. The collection is called the Georgia Government Publications database, and is a joint project between UGA and the Digital Library of Georgia. It contains official state records dating back to 1994, with a majority of the documents searchable by their full text.

Records Retention Mandates

Georgia's records retention schedule provides the required retention periods for common records created by state agencies. Whether your agency has a Records Management Officer or not, understanding the complexities of records retention is essential for any state agency.

All agencies must follow retention schedules for certain common records, such as budgets and accounting. These documents help maintain transparency, ensure accountability, and provide historical context for the agency's operations and decisions. 

The Georgia Government Publications database, managed by UGA and the Digital Library of Georgia, may be your records compliance solution.

However, the retention landscape is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Agency-specific records reflect the unique responsibilities and activities of each entity. For instance, an environmental agency might retain records of site inspections and environmental impact assessments, whereas a health department might focus on public health reports and disease surveillance data. The retention schedules all depend on your agency's mission and legal obligations.

For us at GTA, the retention requirements reflect our unique role in managing the state's information technology infrastructure. Records that we must retain include technology project plans, service agreements, and cybersecurity policies. These documents not only serve as a record of the GTA's activities and initiatives but also as a resource for guiding the state's technology strategy and ensuring the security and efficiency of its digital resources.

By understanding these distinctions and requirements, along with measuring the behavior and analytics of website visitors, agencies can better decide what needs to be kept on their websites and what can be archived, ensuring that their website remains uncluttered and focused on current, actionable content.

For an in-depth look at retention schedules and best practices, the Georgia Archives offers extensive resources, from state guidelines to specialized agency schedules, providing a well-organized, compliant approach to information management. See your state agency’s specific retention schedules.

Where Content Strategy Comes In

By prioritizing content that drives engagement, facilitates user interaction, and delivers value, your site becomes more than just a repository of information; it becomes a focused resource that truly serves the public's needs. In practice, this means regularly analyzing user data to pinpoint which sections of your site are attracting the most interest and interaction, then doubling down on those areas with updated information, improved usability, and targeted communications.

Transitioning your agency's website from a document warehouse to a streamlined, strategic platform is more than a compliance exercise; it's an opportunity to enhance public access, accountability, and service delivery. By prioritizing a focused content strategy and leveraging archival resources judiciously, your digital presence can better serve your constituents and your agency's mission.