Who to ask when you want records

The North Carolina Public Records law does not care whether you are a North Carolina resident or not. You don’t have to identify yourself, or tell us why you want the records. The first hurdle, though, is figuring out who to ask.

North Carolina does not have a centralized process for records requests. Each request should be addressed to the legal custodian of the record. The custodian is “The public official in charge of an office having public records shall be the custodian thereof.” In other words, the custodian is the agency that created, uses, or maintains the records. The North Carolina Administrative Code elaborates the point:

Public records transferred to and physically stored in the State Records Center in accordance with the provisions of an approved records retention and disposition schedule or standard, or in accordance with any other agreement between the Department of Cultural Resources and the originating agency or department, are considered to remain in the legal and official custody of the agency that created the records and that transferred them to the State Records Center.  A request for access to, or inspection of, paper or microfilm records in the physical custody of the State Records Center by a person other than an authorized employee of the legal custodian will not be honored until authority in writing has been granted by an appropriate official of the agency having legal custody.


Requests to review air quality permits  go to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Insurance rate inquiries would go to the Department of Insurance.

Requests for the email records of a mayor should be addressed to the mayor or the city’s manager, clerk, or attorney. It is also important to understand that counties and municipalities are responsible for maintaining their own records, and do not use the State Records Center.

Many public records from state agencies are formally accessioned into the custody of the State Archives. They are then available to any researcher, subject to confidentiality restrictions.

One group of records that has been created in North Carolina since the late 19th century are the dockets of what is now called the NC Utilities Commission. (The commission provides a synopsis of its history.) Records created since 1968 are in the custody of the agency, whether they are physically located in the agency’s offices or at the State Records Center. Any request to review the records should be directed to their docket information staff. For records 1967 and older, however, you are invited to visit the Search Room and view the records in person.


2 thoughts on “Who to ask when you want records

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