Filing and indexing as services provided by the Office

1. Filing

Filing is a commonplace feature of clerical work and is given little consideration until a document is urgently needed and cannot be produced: then its importance is recognised. It has been termed ‘the memory of the business’ which is a very apt description.

Filing has two main functions (a) to preserve documents; (b) to provide quick and easy reference to documents.

In order to provide these conditions any system of filing must be properly planned and must have regard to various factors, some of which are conditioned by the actual matter to be filed and some by the circumstances surrounding the need for retention. The factors which require attention when designing a filing system may be put as questions along the following lines:

  1. What kinds of documents are to be filed? Are they simple flat pieces of paper of standard sizes, such as letters, or are they bulky, such as contract documents? Whatever their physical characteristics, the method used must be suitable for them and, relative to this, must be as quick and simple to use as possible.
  2. How important is physical protection of the documents to be filed? Is simple fire protection enough, or is security against other risks such as burglary necessary? The nature of the document itself and the ease with which its contents can be reconstructed have to be considered here. Loss in any way of the monthly lists of outstanding debtors would be inconvenient but not catastrophic because the information is easily obtainable again from the sales ledgers, but the loss of the title deeds to a factory could entail considerable expense and inconve­nience.
  3. What is the acceptable delay between the demand for a document and its production? This will determine where and how the document is filed. Information on a customer is normally required very quickly, but if share certificates in respect of outside investments are called for a day’s delay would not be untoward. Thus, filing in the sales department must be readily accessible, but valuable documents should be stored with a view to security first – with the bank or in the strongroom – even though access will be delayed.
  4. What length of time is it required to retain the documents? Some may be required to be kept permanently and some only for a few weeks. How they are filed will be determined by this factor to some extent.
  5. Who is going to use the files? How are they going to be identified? The answers will have a definite bearing on how the files will be stored. Files handled by the sales manager will frequently be differently kept from those handled by the accounts department.

To the basic factors mentioned above must be added other consider­ations such as the volume of filing to be expected and the manner in which it will flow in, the need for economy in the system, the need for the method to be easily expandable to meet future demands and expansion and, most necessary, the need for the filing in any particular section to be consistent so that there is never any doubt as to where a particular document is located.

2. Classifications

An important aspect of efficient filing is the use of suitable classifications appropriate to the filing problem in hand. Any form of classification should be as simple as possible in any particular circumstances, with its first aim being the rapid location of documents and its second the possibility of misfiling being reduced to the very minimum.

The common classifications are:

  1. Alphabetical. This is probably the most common classification used: it is extremely simple to understand and is completely self- contained – that is, it needs no auxiliary index.

The chief advantage of alphabetical classification is its simplicity: anyone who knows the alphabet can do the filing. Its chief disadvant­age is that the amount of filing space needed for each section has to be forecast so that enough room is available throughout the period when the filing is current. This is not an easy thing to do and when alphabetical filing is used it is frequently found that parts of the system are left under-employed whilst others overcrowd the space allocated, necessitating frequent reorganisation of the filing space.

  1. Numerical This is another popular classification under which all files are numbered consecutively as they are raised and are stored in strict numerical order. This has the advantage that no forecasting of space requirements is necessary except for the overall volume of filing, and filing is quite positive and easy – everyone can count. Its disadvantage lies in the fact that a separate index has to be maintained – normally on an alphabetical basis – in order that the number of any particular file may be known. This slows down the location of files to some extent, though where certain files are constantly referred to memory plays a time-saving role.
  2. Subject. Here the subject matter of the documents filed classifies them. It has specialist uses, such as in the maintenance department where information might be filed under ‘Boilers’, ‘Fire Escapes4 and so on. Within the subject classification filing is usually alphabetical.
  3. Geographical. In this classification files are kept according to geo­graphical district and, whilst of limited application, can be very useful in sales and transport departments. Normally files in divisions and subdivisions are held alphabetically.
  4. Chronological. Filing in date order as a main classification is not a general practice though it is almost always used for the individual documents within particular files. It is useful, however, in certain circumstances where the date is important for triggering off some action. An example is in a sales campaign where enquiries are followed up at specified intervals. Invoices, especially copy sales invoices, are also frequently filed in this manner so that they marry easily with the accounting records. Within the dates storage is usually alphabetical or numerical.

Where filing is particularly voluminous, or to overcome the limita­tions of a particular type of classification, sometimes two classifica­tions are combined, the most usual being alphabetical and num- erial – often called alphanumerical. Here the general filing is alpha­betical but within each letter division the folders are stored nume­rically, the index generally being written on guide cards: this obviates the need for a separate index and helps in keeping files in good order.

Frequently quite sophisticated classification systems are offered by manufacturers involving, perhaps, alphabetical, numerical and colour coding combined, but there is always a danger that a complicated system will rapidly fall into disuse because of the effort needed to maintain it. Simplicity should always be the keynote of any installa­tion. Complex systems require more training for the staff and also usually entail purchasing supplies from one particular manufacturer, which has an effect on delivery times and prices.

3. Filing Equipment

The types of filing equipment offered by manufacturers are many and varied, but they can be examined under a few general headings (see also Figure 17.1).

Fig. 17.1 Common filing systems, (a) A typical four-drawer vertical filing cabinet (b) Individual suspension folder with hooks-these are self-supporting (c) Suspension pocket files-folders are inserted into the pockets (d) A lateral filing cabinet with hanging pockets to receive folders (e) Individual lateral filing files-note the splayed corners for labelling.

3.1. Vertical filing

In its original form this consists of cabinets containing four (or sometimes two) drawers accommodating guide-cards labelled according to the classification employed, and between the guide cards plain manilla folders all standing on the long folded edge with the face side of the folder towards the user. The back cover of each folder either protrudes beyond the face side or is cut with a protruding tongue on which the name of the folder is typed or written. Papers to be filed are usually placed in the folders loose, but they can be attached by tags or other means if preferred.

The advantages of this method are that there is reasonable economy of space, folders are readily accessible, they are protected from dirt and dust and, to some extent, against fire; further, rearrangement of files is reasonably easy. In addition, the cabinets are normally equipped with locks to ensure privacy of the contents if required.

Against these benefits there are some disadvantages. The two most important are (a) that folders, especially when nearly empty, can slide down between their neighbours, the bottom edge finding its way underneath the others, so that a file can disappear from view and appear to be lost, and (b) that continual thumbing through the folders in situ causes them to become dog-eared and untidy.

To solve these problems vertical filing has evolved another form, suspension filing.

3.2. Suspension filing

This method uses the same cabinets as standard vertical filing, but instead of the folders standing on edge each one has its long opening edges strengthened with thin metal bars which terminate in small hooks. These hooks engage on rails fitted the length of the filing drawers so that the folders are held suspended, cannot slip down and cannot become dog-eared. Normally, also, each folder is tabbed so that there is less need for guide cards. Whilst these files have the virtues mentioned, they are rather expensive because of the strength of the folders, and less filing capacity is available. The type of folder used also tends to make them less suitable for day-to-day correspondence filing.

To some extent this last objection is overcome by a second form of suspension filing.

3.3. Pocket suspension filing

In this method rails are again used, but the suspension folders are joined together at the top edges one to the other to produce a concertina formation – a series of pockets joined together in fact. The attachments at the top edges are made by box-shaped metal jointing strips, hooked at each end for suspending on the rails, and covered with clear plastic under which indexing strips are slid. Within the pockets themselves filed material is held in normal manilla folders. This method provides the ease and convenience of the standard method of vertical filing with the advantages of suspended filing. The objections to it are expense and the fact that a great amount of drawer space is taken up by the equipment: it is said that filing capacity is reduced by 25 per cent using this system.

3.4. Lateral filing

A drawback to all methods of vertical filing so far described is that they are extravagant of floor space because they require a free area in front of the cabinets to allow for pulling out the drawers (nearly the same depth as the cabinets themselves) and floor space is expensive. In addition, it is not really practicable to have the cabinets more than four drawers high because it would be an unsafe procedure to pull out drawers at a high level with the clerk standing on steps or other similar device. This, again, means that extra floor space is required for additional cabinets as the filing requirement grows.

Lateral filing has been developed to overcome these objections. In this method the folders, still vertical, are held at ninety degrees to the normal manner of vertical filing, that is, the folders have their edges facing the user instead of the top covers. Normally they are suspended on rails by means of hooks built into the long open edges, but they may be stood on their folded edges, especially if purpose-made shelves or cabinets are used.

The folders may be had in a variety of designs from simple types to large pockets, and those joined together at their top edges to produce a concertina formation. Depending upon the design of the folders, papers may be inserted loose or may be held in additional plain manilla folders. File titles are normally shown on labels attached to the tops of the leading edges of the files, which are cut splayed for this purpose and they usually incorporate a plastic slide into which an indexing strip can be inserted.

Lateral filing has increased in popularity very considerably, because of two distinct advantages:

  1. It gives a significant saving in floor space because the cabinets need only be a fraction deeper than the length of the folders and can also be built very much higher (to the ceiling if necessary) without danger to the user.
  2. Provision for expansion is easy, with the space not currently used for filing being equipped with shelving for other purposes.

There is also the safety factor. No drawers have to be pulled out and, therefore, there is never the danger of one being left open for someone to bump into – a not uncommon experience with standard filing cabi­nets, especially with bottom drawers.

The foregoing are the normal methods of what may be termed standard filing, and are most suitable for letters, reports and any matter which does not have considerable bulk and which can be fitted into normal folders. There is, however, much other filing equipment which is in use quite successfully for both permanent and temporary filing, which must not be overlooked.

3.5. Box files

These are shallow fibreboard boxes with hinged lids, usually equipped with index leaves, having a capacity of about 500 sheets. Papers are filed loose, under the relevant index sections if required, and are held in by a spring flap that presses on the top of the stack of documents. The box files are stored vertically on edge.

They are very useful for specialised classifications, subject filing for example, and for bulky documents such as contracts and insurance policies. They are especially advantageous where strongroom security is needed overnight because they are, naturally, quite portable even when full. They lend themselves well to filing that is transient and if used as temporary chronological files are convenient for any procedure requiring follow-ups – say a sales campaign.

3.6. Lever arch files

These are really a large form of ring binder, capacity about 500 sheets, in which the two binding rings are in the form of arches which are opened and closed by the action of a lever. Normally supplied with an index, they are used in a similar fashion to box files, but where it is considered advisable to have papers secured in the file. The documents have to be punched and thus lever arch files are not suitable for bulky documents. A common use is for storing copy sales invoices, which are kept in chronological/numerical order, the arch files being changed each month.

The main advantages are that papers are easy to insert in the correct places, are secure and cannot easily become lost or out of order and the binders themselves are portable. They should always be kept in dust covers (open-ended fireboard boxes) but frequently they are not, when they accumulate dirt and dust and become misshapen.

So far only normal office filing in connection with ordinary commercial documents and papers has been considered, but filing is also a problem in respect of other kinds of records, the most common being large drawings. It is preferable that drawings, especially those on tracing material for the production of further copies by dyeline, should not be folded, and special filing arrangements are therefore required. In such cases there are two or three solutions which allow drawings and similar large papers to be stored in an easily accessible manner without folding.

A common method is to use large chests of shallow drawers which will accept the papers unfolded. These are called plans chests. The use of shallow drawers prevents too many drawings being packed together and helps to keep them in sections. In addition, the top of the chest is used to lay out drawings for reference. The usual classification is by subject supported by a numerical index within each subject division, but there is a variety of ways of classifying and indexing according to the complexity of the job and the individual preferences of the office or drawing office manager. Plans chests, however, take up a fair amount of floor space and as an alternative special cabinets are available in which the drawings are suspended flat and vertical from clips or from spikes, indexing in these cases often being purely numerical.

A third method of filing large papers such as plans that may not be folded is by rolling them and keeping them in suitable cardboard tubes. The tubes are labelled at one end and stored in pigeon holes under any classification that is convenient. A commerical application of this method provides special plastic caps for the ends of the rolled drawings with provision for labelling. When a drawing is taken out of the rack the cap is taken off and reinserted in the pigeon hole but revolved by ninety degrees so that there is immediate visual indication when a drawing is out.

4. Filing Control

Filing is an important matter and as such should be under the general control of a senior member of staff. Very often, especially in small organisations, this is not so, resulting in inefficiency and misfiled papers. Proper rules should be laid down for filing procedures and supervision given so that these are adhered to. Control must be exercised over the withdrawal of files and their return and only in exceptional circumstances should individual papers be taken out of folders.

Even in the smallest system the actual files should be in the charge of one designated clerk, who will issue and follow up the return of folders. An effective method of control is for ‘out’ cards to be inserted in place of folders when they are withdrawn, with the name of the person taking the folder and the date being entered on the card. When the file is returned the ‘out’ card is withdrawn and the name deleted. By this means it is easy to see whether files are out and, if so, who has them.

Where the flow of papers to be filed is heavy and frequent it is sometimes preferable to employ ‘out’ folders instead of cards so that filing coming in when the folders are out can be temporarily located in the ‘out’ folders. This simplifies filing when the proper files are returned and avoids papers accumulating whilst awaiting filing.

More elaborate procedures are often introduced requiring requisition and signatures and in some circumstances these may be justified. However, delays are likely to occur through too much of this kind of paperwork and it must be remembered that the simpler the control the more effective it is likely to be and the less likelihood there is of its falling into disuse.

Part of filing control is document retention – that is, how long papers should be kept. This is a problem to be answered by the filing controller after consultation with a senior administrative officer such as the company secretary. Some papers need to be kept only weeks and others must be kept permanently. Decisions on this are not always easy depending, as they do, upon the nature of the document, the nature of the business and how easy it is to reconstruct the information.

As a guide to this problem the following general rules can be applied:

  1. Permanent retention: Documents of title such as deeds of land and share certificates; insurance policies whilst in force; drawings of premises, and so on.
  2. Semi-permanent retention (up to six years): Documents relating to transactions which are subject to the Statute of Limitations, such as invoices, receipts and similar documents.
  3. Retention for twelve months: Current correspondence, quotations and so on. These are then usually transferred from the current filing into transfer files where they may be retained for as long as considered necessary, but in a less accessible place. They may then ultimately be destroyed after, say, two or three years.
  4. Temporary retention: Such filing may be kept only a few months, weeks or even days, depending upon circumstances. An example is enquiries in a mail order business. If these do not mature into orders within two or three weeks very often it is pointless to retain them.

One thing is certain: papers should be kept only for the shortest length of time that is considered prudent. If a proper policy is laid down with this in mind the following advantages will accrue:

  1. Only the minimum amount of equipment and space will be required for filing.
  2. Reference to current papers will be quicker and easier.
  3. It ensures that a system of weeding out old papers will be followed.

Where retention of documents seldom referred to is necessary they should be kept out of the current filing and this refers particularly to permanent and semi-permanent retention. Items for permanent reten­tion would, in any case, normally be security-filed.

5. Microfilming

As the amount of filing becomes more voluminous and floor space more expensive the question of keeping or destroying filed papers becomes more difficult to answer, and some other means of information retention may therefore be necessary. The solution is, very often, microfilming, which allows information to be stored in large quantities within a very small space but also allows the destruction of the bulky original docu­ments if they need not be retained for legal or other purposes.

Essentially, microfilming equipment consists of a camera, a film processing unit and a reader. Recording on to microfilm is not particu­larly difficult because modern camera equipment is very largely auto­matic, as is the apparatus needed for processing the exposed film.

The documents are copied on to 16 mm or 35 mm negative film (more occasionally on to 8 mm stock) and as many as 8 000 A4 size letters can be recorded on a 30 metre length of 16 mm film. The actual quantities, of course, depend upon the amount of reduction made to the original image and it must be remembered that, generally speaking, the smaller the copy the less sharp will be the reproduction.

After processing the film is left in negative form and for normal reference purposes is put through a reader which is, basically, a photographic enlarger which projects the frames selected on to a ground-glass screen, in the majority of cases reference in this manner is perfectly adequate, but should copies of documents be required there are many reading units that will also produce an enlarged photocopy of the negative quite automatically on pressing a button. Where a large number of frames have to be printed this can be quickly and economically done on an electrostatic photocopying machine which has been specially developed to give enlarged prints from microfilm negatives.

The apparatus for microfilming tends to be expensive and is justified only where there is a high volume of work to be done. Where it is desired to use microfilm but to reduce capital outlay to the minimum, use can be made of outside service bureaux for either the processing of the exposed film, both a camera unit and a reader being purchased, or for both the exposing and processing of the film in which case only a reader has to be acquired. Naturally, in any event the user will have to acquire one or more reading units.

What are the benefits of microfilming? They may be given as follows:

  1. Saving in the space occupied by the normal documents and their filing equipment. This saving can be quite considerable.
  2. Saving in expenditure on conventional filing equipment (offset by the expenditure on microfilming apparatus).
  3. Rapid reference to information contained in security-filed documents which need not, themselves, be disturbed.
  4. Removing the need to take carbon copies in some systems work which, again, results in a saving of space and filing equipment and of time spent on filing.

Against these advantages must be set the disadvantages that stem from microfilming.

  1. Capital outlay on costly equipment, which may be mitigated, of course, by the use of service bureaux for recording and processing.
  2. Where films are kept in spools the need for a complex indexing system and the time taken to locate individual frames.
  3. The need for a reader which means that unless several are purchased, only one person at a time can consult the microfilm records.
  4. The possibility of deterioration of the images if processing is done carelessly, especially in the over-working of the solutions. Unfortu­nately this defect does not become apparent until after a lapse of time, when the original documents may have been destroyed.
  5. The time taken to pre-sort documents into some logical order prior to commiting them to film.

The difficulties experienced under 2 have had considerable attention from manufacturers and rapid indexing and frame location devices have been developed. A particularly efficient system is that where the negative frames are held individually in apertures in cards which can be filed easily as a card index. In advanced designs these frame holders are actually punched cards that can be sorted oivpunched card equipment. As the negatives are initially taken on spools of microfilm an additional machine is required to cut and mount the frames in the aperture cards but, here again, it is possible to have this work done by a service bureau.

COM has already been described in Chapter 13 in regard to micro­filming. As a development of this system, to speed up individual frame retrieval, CAR (computer assisted retrieval) has been evolved. This is a highly technical system but, put simply, it is a method, using a device called an IMT (intelligent microimage terminal), which enables search­ing to be done extremely rapidly by the computer, when the selected frame is displayed on the screen of the IMT.

Another answer to the location and indexing problem is microfiche, in which sheet film about 100 x 150 mm is used instead of spools of film. Between 15 and 100 images can be recorded on each sheet of film, depending upon the ratio of reduction required and the apparatus in use, and the sheets are filed (in envelopes) in the manner of card indexes. A microfiche reader enables the user to locate the desired document very quickly.

Microfilming has found many applications – all, basically, filing pro­blems apart from the normal one of recording long-term data. Some examples are:

  1. Some department stores microfilm customers’ accounts instead of filing copy invoices. When accounts are rendered at the end of the month a statement is raised from the invoices made out and signed at the time of each purchase. This set is microfilmed and the documents themselves sent to the customer. A great saving is made in filing space requirements in the accounts department and the customers are sent signed evidence of their purchases.
  2. Many libraries microfilm borrowers’ library tickets and the borrowed books’ identities, instead of retaining the tickets and book accession cards as in the usual system. This not only saves filing space at the library but avoids the necessity to search for readers’ tickets at the time books are returned, thus reducing bottlenecks at the counter at rush periods.
  3. Drawings, particularly in engineering works where a very large number may be needed for any project, are now microfilmed and the frames held in aperture cards. This removes the need for large plans chests or other large-size filing equipment. Enlarged copies can easily be made as and when required but for ordinary reference viewing in the reader is generally sufficient. In these cases it is usual to use 70 mm film to provide a larger image than in the normal microfilm system, as the larger frame gives better definition.
  4. Microfiche is used very extensively where constant reference to documents is required, such as in stockholding departments, where it replaces conventional catalogues and card indexes, and in building societies which maintain investors’ and borrowers’ accounts in this form for visual reference, the actual accounts being maintained on computer. Many libraries also keep book catalogues on microfiche instead of on the usual card indexes.

Reference throughout this section on microfilm has been to negative images. However, it is quite possible to have positive images (that is, black print on white ground). This entails copying the negative microfilm and microfiche and thus increases the cost. It is, of course, common where more than one copy is required of the original microfilm.

6. Optical Discs

A newly developed system of recording high volume filing is that utilising optical discs. This is an extremely expensive system employing sensitised plastic discs. Writing is done by laser which burns minute signals into the sensitised coating and reading is carried out by a second laser. These discs are used in conjunction with a computer which checks the records for accuracy by immediately reading back the entries to prove parity. It is estimated that one disc can store more than 100 000 A4-size documents.

7. Centralised and Departmental Filing

It is possible to maintain files either centrally or departmentally and it will be advantageous to examine both methods.

7.1. Centralised filing

This provides many advantages, among which may be mentioned the following:

  1. All filing is kept in one place and all documents relating to a particular matter are together. This may be of some consequence when a rapid study has to be made of a subject, and there is little likelihood that some of the information required is elsewhere.
  2. One copy only is needed, generally speaking, for all purposes.
  3. There is economy of equipment and space.
  4. Expert supervision of the filing is provided with better control of records and folders.
  5. The correct grade of staff can be employed with the consequent effect on salary costs.
  6. Codings and indexing can be made uniform throughout the organis­ation’s filing, facilitating reference by all departments to any particu­lar matter.
  7. The benefits of specialisation can be realised.
  8. Better training can be given to filing staff.

Against these advantages must be set the following disadvantages:

  1. Centralised filing almost always results in delays in locating and handing over files: frequently the simple fact of the distance to the filing department can mean a wait when a document is needed.
  2. More records are needed for the administration of the filing system – frequently requisitions for folders, records of withdrawals and returns and so on have to be kept.
  3. Inconvenience can be caused if one department retains files for long periods when they are needed elsewhere.
  4. Arising out of 3 there may be a tendency for departments to make their own duplicate records.
  5. The general view that filing is not a task needing much intelligence or experience may result in a low job grading with the inevitable result of inefficiency in the system.

7.2. Departmental filing

This method involves keeping files and documents in the departments concerned and leads to certain advantages that may be listed as follows:

  1. Papers are kept where they are used and thus no time is lost in transferring them from a central department.
  2. The volume of filing in any one department is much less than the total for all departments, which means that handling is easier than if centralised filing is used.
  3. The most suitable system and classification for the department concerned are most likely to be developed.
  4. Greater familiarity with the department’s work should lead to more efficient filing by those responsible.
  5. Because the volume of filing is relatively small there is less likelihood of documents being lost or misfiled.

Against these advantages must be set the following disadvantages:

  1. Where the same matter is dealt with in more than one department additional copies of documents may have to be made.
  2. Frequently the papers relating to any one particular matter are spread over several departments.
  3. There is a tendency for each department to treat its files as sacrosanct and to be unwilling to lend them to other departments, if necessary.
  4. There is, usually, less control over the withdrawal and return of folders.
  5. Often filing is done by staff in high-grade jobs, which means that a higher rate is paid than the job of filing warrants.

In filing, as in many other aspects of office services, it is seldom that complete centralisation or complete departmentalisation is the ideal method. Usually a combination of the two is best, routine matters being kept in central files and specialist filing being maintained in the depart­ments concerned. Especially is this so where confidential or highly technical information is on file.

8. Indexing

Indexing can be an adjunct to filing or may be self-contained, and may be installed as (a) an index separate from the relevant records, in which case it is used to facilitate the location of the records (as in a numerical filing classification) or (b) as part of the records themselves, in which case the records are self-indexing (a telephone directory, for example).

Classifications

Generally speaking, indexes are kept alphabetically, especially if they form a guide to the location of other records, but where circumstances demand they may also be maintained in any of the classifications mentioned under filing. Thus a customer index in the sales office might be kept geographically whilst a supplier index in the buying department might be by product or service. Ease of reference and who is to use the index have a great bearing on what classification to adopt.

9. Indexing Equipment

There are many types of equipment available for keeping indexes and a careful choice, bearing in mind the precise purpose for which the equipment is required, will do much to provide an efficient system.

9.1. Card indexes (blind indexes)

These consist of small cards maintained vertically in drawers, the classifications being divided by guide cards, a common method used in libraries. The cards may be used as separate indexes or may combine the records with the indexing feature, an example being card ledgers. They are very popular, inexpensive and easy to understand.

9.2. Visible card indexes

These consist of cards held horizontally in shallow trays in such a fashion that the bottom edge of one card protrudes slightly beyond the bottom edge of the card on top of it, this protruding strip being used to form the actual index. Usually these strips are protected by clear plastic covers and the cards themselves are slipped into card holders that are hinged so that the cards may be flapped upwards for recording and for inspection of the records. The shallow trays are housed in cabinets and form shallow drawers which, when withdrawn, permit the indexed edges of the cards to be at view all at once (hence the term ‘visible index’).

This type of index is always used to keep records in the self-indexing manner and is employed for such records as ledger accounts (particularly hire purchase accounts), store keeping records and the like. Visible card indexes have many advantages among which are:

  1. Records can be seen at a glance.
  2. Movable coloured signals for various purposes may be clipped to the indexing edges to draw attention to various facts without the necessity to peruse the cards themselves. This is done by designating positions along the bottom edges of the cards for different purposes. Thus in a stock record system a signal in the right-hand corner might indicate ‘reorder’. When the stock falls to a predetermined level a signal is moved to this position and it is thus immediately obvious that action has to be taken to replenish stock, without the need to inspect the figures on the records.
  3. Arrangement and rearrangement of the cards is simple and easy: this facilitates their maintenance in proper order. In addition, new cards can easily be inserted in the correct places and dead cards just as easily removed.
  4. The cards are quickly removed for typing and entries can easily be made by hand without removal.

There are, of course, some disadvantages to visible card indexes. First, where signalling is used it must be kept up to date, otherwise the results can be worse than no signals at all (and signalling can so easily be overlooked), and second, it is an expensive form of indexing.

9.3. Vertical visible card indexes

This method has the same virtues as normal visible card indexes in that the indexed edges of the cards are visible at all times (in this case the top edges) but the cards are held vertically instead of horizontally and they are not inserted in frame holders. Cards have to be abstracted for making entries and the common use for this method is for ledger cards.

9.4. Staggered vertical card indexes

This is another form of vertical visible card index. In this method vertical cards are employed stacked in rows, one top corner being cut at an angle. By means of notches in the bottoms of the cards and thin rods in the cabinets the cards are so located that an indexing edge on the splayed corner is visible for each card. Again, cards must be abstracted for use but usually in this method an ‘out’ signal is incorporated beside the index edge of the cards, which is covered whilst the cards are all filed but which is apparent when a card is withdrawn. Hence it is always obvious when a card is out – sometimes a most useful attribute of the system.

9.5. Wheel indexes

A disadvantage of the normal blind card index is the amount of space required because of the need to pull out drawers. One answer to this is the wheel (or rotary) index in which, by means of special slots, the cards are held on the periphery of a ‘wheel’ and cards are selected by merely revolving the ‘wheel’. In other respects it is used in the same manner as a normal card index. However, the saving in space is considerable and when used in specially constructed desks this method permits thousands of records to be within arm’s reach of the clerk. Small units are usually arranged so that the cards turn over vertically but some large installations have the cards revolving laterally.

9.6. Visible loose-leaf index books

This method is really a visible card index in book form. It consists of a multi-ring binder and narrow pages with matching holes punched down one edge. By this means several pages can be assembled in the binder in rows with the edge of one page protruding beyond the edge of the next. This method is common for plant records, stock records in small stores and so on. One of its chief advantages is that the binders are portable and can be kept on shelving in the same manner as normal books.

9.7. Loose-leaf index books

These are simple loose-leaf binders with sets of pages separated by guide sheets. They are useful for plant registers, catalogues where specifica­tions are subject to much change and similar usages, as the sheets are easily inserted and removed when changes take place. The binders are always up to date with their contents in the correct order provided they are properly managed.

So far the indexing methods described have served the dual purposes of index and record. Where simple indexing is required without informa­tion records being maintained with the index, two other methods can be used.

9.8. Index books

These are simply books in which locating entries are made under any determined classification, usually alphabetical. Bound books are some­times used – for private telephone indexes, for example – but they have the disadvantage that out-of-date information has to be left in and, also, some estimate has to be made of the space needed for future use under each letter. An improvement on the bound book is the loose-leaf book, where sheets can be added and abstracted as need arises, though even here much rewriting may be required from time to time as the amount of stale information on current sheets grows. An alternative is the strip index.

9.9. Strip index

This is a very much improved version of the simple index, entries being made on separate narrow strips of card or paper, one for each entry. There are various forms of this type of index depending upon the maker and purpose. Essentially, however, a strip is made for each line of information and these are held in the required order in panels or wallets. The strips are easily inserted or withdrawn and so rearrangement, deletion of stale information and insertion of new is very easily done. Strips of different colours can be used to indicate different conditions. Thus in a strip index of customers colours could indicate credit limits, thus giving at a glance the total credit allowable to a customer.

Inevitably, there comes a stage where record indexing and pure indexing meet and it is in the strip index where this happens, equipment using wider ‘keyed’ strips being available and used in such procedures as production control.

10. Applications

The applications of record indexes of all kinds are almost limitless and cover such areas as ledger accounts, hire purchase accounts, stock control, staff and plant records, companies’ registers of members and so on. Strip indexes have a more limited use but are widely employed for private telephone directories, lists of customers and suppliers, price lists (especially where these are subject to constant change), spare parts lists and so on.

Where such strip index records as price lists are maintained, when alterations occur it is often the practice to photocopy the amended indexes for distribution to the necessary departments and to customers. This avoids the necessity of retyping the whole price list and, of course, the chore of checking the typed lists in case of copying errors.

It should be mentioned here that modern developments in microfilm­ing (especially microfiche) and computer systems using VDU’s are rapidly making manual indexing systems obsolete.

Finally, two notes on filing. In large organisations the problems of filing and retrieving documents can be very daunting simply because of the sheer volume of paper. There are two approaches to this problem.

First, if constant and rapid retrieval of documents is important there are systems available that use mechanised equipment enabling the user to retrieve a document at the touch of a button in a very few seconds.

Only the requirement of speedy retrieval combined with a high volume of filing can justify the expensive equipment involved.

Second, where reference is not required to be rapid it is possible to contract out the filing and storage of paperwork to a specialist firm. This method saves a great deal of home office space and minimises the staff required for filing. However, against these benefits must be set the fact that retrieval is slower than when files are kept on the premises. There is a possibility, though slight, of a loss of confidentiality. Specifically confidential documents would not, of course, be put out for filing in this way.

Source: Eyre E. C. (1989), Office Administration, Palgrave Macmillan.

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