History of words: Final Disposition

In archival science, the final disposition is historically linked to several major concepts, including the retention period and the records life-cycle theory.
Read on to discover the history behind this important records management term.

In 1947, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Hoover Commission developed the records life-cycle theory to determine  the fate of the overwhelming mass of administrative documents produced during World War II. The theory supposes that documents have a lifecycle similar to that of living organisms: they are born (creation), they live (maintenance and use), and they ultimately die (final disposition).

This theory was rapidly adopted and adapted in several countries, including France, and soon became one of the fundamental principles of records management. Another fundamental principle, also from the records life-cycle theory, is the retention period, which specifies the length of time an institution must keep its documents. In France, for example, it’s five years for salary slips, contracts (from expiry date), and unsuccessful public contract applications; and ten years for financial documents (invoices, purchase orders, warrants), etc.


From the retention period to the final disposition

The disposition plan is closely linked to the retention period. It indicates what will happen to a document at the end of its retention period. There are three options: final preservation (appropriate for town planning documents, civil status records, minutes of civil and criminal judgments, statistics); destruction (appropriate for certain accounting documents, administrative files with no historical value, supply contracts); and sorting the documents into sets. Sets of historical value are preserved indefinitely while the remaining sets are destroyed.

In the original French texts on final disposition, letters of the alphabet were used to indicate which action should be taken for each document: V for versement (deposit), D for destruction (destruction), T for tri (sorting). Over time, other letters were used, such as E for elimination (elimination) and C for conservation définitive (final preservation with a deposit slip).

In most cases, the meaning of each letter can be found in the introductory part of the document, usually known as the Management Table.

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