Research is one of the University’s core activities. It is therefore also important for both administrative and scientific reasons that the documentation of our research is properly archived. At the same time, for these types of documents, the National Archives regulations gives the University more autonomy to make a selection on its own than for many other types of documents.
Who owns the research material?
The research at a university is a public authority activity, and the documents produced in research, therefore, belong to the University. This also applies if you as a researcher receive external financing. As a researcher, you may not bring your research documents from the University with you when you change jobs or retire, for instance. You do, however, own the copyright of your results and conclusions, and therefore, you are free to bring this with you, but not the physical, original documents themselves (analogue or digital).
Who is responsible for managing research documents?
As with records management in general, the formal responsibility lies with the head of department (or equivalent manager in other parts of the organisation). In practice, however, it is often researchers like yourself who handle much of their own research material, and therefore, there is a risk that it will not be managed in accordance with the department’s general record management practices. An ongoing dialogue between administrators and researchers is important to establish procedures for the management of research documents.
Because you as a researcher will generally always be the one who understands your material best, it is also important that you describe, sort, label and name your material in a way that is understandable even to an outsider. For digital materials, it is important to use system documentation and metadata.
What can you dispose of?
The Swedish National Archives has issued a special regulation on what government research documents are to be preserved and what may be disposed of (RA-FS 1999: 1). At Lund University, the details of how research documents shall be managed can be found particularly under area of activity 4 of our record management plan. Generally speaking, you are never permitted to dispose of documents containing “essential information about the purpose, methods and results” of a research project.
As for documents of more general administrative nature – financial and staff documents, documentation on decision-making etc. – the same rules apply as for the University’s other activities. Keep in mind that many of these documents may need to be registered.
The type of document which may require a judgement call by you as a researcher or the relevant Head of Department on whether or not to destroy, will mainly involve various types of primary materials. For ethical reasons, these materials must always be stored for at least 10 years (within medical research 15 years), to allow critical reviews of the research results. However, once this time has passed, the University has considerable freedom to decide on whether the material is to be disposed of or not. As guidance, the National Archives does, however, state that there are some exceptions which should not be destroyed, such as primary materials that have
- continued scientific value,
- value for another field of research,
- science history value,
- cultural heritage value,
- personal history value,
- great public interest.
This is naturally an assessment that needs to be made by a research expert to help determine the future value of the material.
Lund University has set down a local set of rules regarding who may decide on the disposal of research material.
Note that the Faculties of Humanities and Theology, Medicine and Social sciences have their own specific regulations, which override the general regulations above.
What do you need to especially consider when disposing of documents linked to EU projects?
Research is an area in which EU funding may frequently occur. If you as a researcher have received EU funding, you need to bear in mind that parts of your material may need to be stored longer than specified by Swedish national rules, due to EU auditing requirements. We generally recommend that these documents not be disposed of until after 17 years. Negligence in this regard could lead to the University having to repay the funds received.
universitetsarkivet [at] legal [dot] lu [dot] se
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Records Management and Archives
221 00 Lund
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224 78 Lund