Center for Archival Resources On Legislatures (CAROL)
Foundations: Record Retention and Disposition
Record Retention and Disposition
Record retention and disposition policies are an integral part of a records management program. Knowing what records your organization has, why they are important, and for how long they need to be kept will assist with records management procedures. Business needs should drive policy decisions.
Retention periods and schedules assist government agencies by setting legal requirements for the disposal of records. State legislative records are often retained permanently according to a state's legislative mandate and/or a state's collection policy or historical practice; however, many states legislatures are exempt from state records laws and often do not have record retention schedules to guide the retention and disposition of legislative records.
Following retention schedules can help you save space by allowing disposal/destruction of unnecessary documents and will enhance the preservation of records that have permanent value. Retention schedules will need to be reviewed and updated as new record series are created, the business environment or needs change, and as laws are created or modified. Retention schedule policies may include a timeframe for review.
Ensuring the preservation of legislative content, in whatever form, requires cooperation among the staffs of the state's library, archives, legislature, and information technology organization.
As more and more permanent records are being created and retained in electronic format, retention schedules must be adjusted to account for this. Electronic document management systems have various ways of treating records; some systems automatically follow retention schedules by purging documents based on settings while others prohibit deletion of content.
Electronic records may also be spread across a variety of systems including shared drives, servers, backup tapes, and other media, possibly making it hard to compile complete record series.
Electronic records should be organized as much as possible by record series to make following retention schedules easier, especially when automated processes can be applied. Make sure your retention schedules will be able to be followed, that there are no technological stumbling blocks within a system.
Following schedules also helps avoid legal troubles because records are held for only as long as needed; keeping records longer than necessary may be a legal liability as they are discoverable in legal actions. The legal requirements section of this resource center includes details on how legislation and retention schedules are related. If records become part of a litigation, or if you think records may be called in future litigation, you are also required to save them.
In addition, the use of legislative content for legislative intent purposes (litigation, lobbying, etc.) is not always expressly allowed in all states.
Each state has its own policies on the creation and use of record retention schedules. For a sampling of state retention periods for selected legislative records including acts, bills, and audio recordings, review the following chart as compiled by the Minnesota Historical Society with information gathered from its NDIIPP state partners in 2008.
To assist government entities within its state, the Minnesota State Archives has posted selected records retention schedule information for state, county, city, township, school districts, and district courts on its website. In addition to state archive websites, the information technology department for your state, and records management professional societies are also resources for learning more about retention schedules and disposition. The Council of State Archivists' Resource List includes a Record Scheduling and Disposition section for general records, state records, and local records.
In addition to consulting online federal and state resources you can consult local law libraries when researching applicable laws for your business needs.
The Glossary of Record Keeping Terms from the Archives and Records Management Section of the United Nations is one resource to consult for record management definitions.
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Links to the main sections of CAROL are provided below.
February 21, 2012; links updated March 29, 2013.