Frequently Asked Questions

As Head of Government Record, I get the privilege of reviewing and editing the various products (i.e. retention schedules, guidelines, workshops, etc.) created to assist state and local officials in the management of their public records. 

 One of my current projects is to review the content of our current Government Records Branch website and update it in preparation for a major website redesign that we hope will be complete by the end of the year. 

 This past week I pulled together some “Frequently Asked Questions” that are asked by state and local officials.  I thought it would be beneficial for our readers to share our responses to a few of these questions in a blog.    

 Here they are:

 What are considered public records in North Carolina?

The General Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter §132, provides this definition of public records:

“Public record” or “public records” shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data- processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (State or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.

 As you can see from above North Carolina has a very inclusive public records law.  You can ready all of G.S.  §132 at the N. C. General Statutes website.

What makes a public record confidential?

Not all government records (i.e. public records) are open to public inspection.  Exceptions to the access requirements in G.S. §132-6 and the definition of public records in G.S. §132-1 are found throughout the General Statutes.  You must be able to cite a specific provision in the General Statutes or federal law when you restrict or deny access to a particular record.

 There is an excellent publication available that can assist in identifying which records are confidential by N. C. General Statute.  It’s entitled, “Laws Relating to Confidential Record Held by North Carolina Government,” and is available online on our website.

May I store our unused records in the basement (attic, outdoor shed)?

Public records are public property.  While we encourage offices to find places to store records that do not take up too much valuable office space, the selected space should be dry, secured, and free from pests and mold.  Your office must ensure that records stored away from your main office area are well protected from natural and man-made problems, while remaining readily available to your staff and the public.

For state agency records, some of your inactive records may be eligible to be stored at the StateRecordCenter.  Your retention and disposition schedule will designate which record series can utilize this service.

 I have found some really old records.  What should I do with them?

Call the Records Management Analyst assigned to your state or local agency.  We will help you examine the records and assess their historical value.  If we determine that these records have significant historical value we will request that you transfer the records to the State Archives of North Carolina for permanent preservation.

Can I give my old records to the historical society or public library?

Records created by your office are public records and subject to established retention and disposition schedules.  Before you offer any record to a historical society, public library, or any other entity, you must contact the Records Management Analyst assigned to your local government.  Permanent records must be kept either in your offices or at the State Archives of North Carolina.

 What film services do you provide to local governments?

The State Archives of North Carolina provides microfilming of minutes of major decision-making boards and commissions in a municipality.  Once those records are filmed, we will store the silver original in our security vault. There is a nominal fee for filming and duplicate film.  Contact the Records Management Analyst assigned to your local government for the most current information.

 When can I destroy records?

According to G.S. §121-5 and G.S. §132-3, you may only destroy public records with the consent of the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR).  The Division of Archives and Records is the division in DCR charged with administering a records management program. This schedule is the primary way the DCR gives its consent.  Without approving your schedule, your office is obligated to obtain DCR’s permission to destroy any record, no matter how insignificant.

Once you have signed and approved your records retention and disposition schedule, records should be destroyed in one of the following ways:

a)     burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance;

b)     shredded, or torn up so as to destroy the record content of the documents or material concerned;

c)      placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the documents or materials concerned;

d)     buried under such conditions that the record nature of the documents or materials will be terminated;

e)     sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold as documents or records.

— N.C. Administrative Code, Title 7, Chapter 4, Subchapter M, Section .0510

Confidential records must be destroyed in a secure manner so that the information contained in them cannot be used.

 For Local Officials: Which Records Retention and Disposition Schedule am I supposed to use?

 If you work for a municipality, use the Municipal Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, located on our web page here:

Many basic functions of County Government (ex. Human Resources, Planning and Zoning, Parks and Recreation) are covered in the County Management Retention and Disposition Schedule. Some county offices such as Sheriff, Register of Deeds, Health Department, Tax Department, and Social Services have their own separate schedules. A complete list of the current County Government Schedules are on our website here:

 Contact the Local Records Management Analyst assigned to your county if you are still unsure of which you should be using.

For State Agency Officials:  What is difference between the General Schedule for State Agency Records and a program-specific schedule?

The General Schedule is a tool for state agency employees to use when managing the routine records in their office.  The General Schedule addresses records commonly found in agencies throughout state government, provides uniform descriptions and disposition instructions, and indicates minimum retention periods.  An example of a record series in the General Schedule is item# G18: Equipment Maintenance File.  Use of the General Schedule for State Agency Records does not require further authorization to dispose of records listed in this schedule.  You can locate the General Schedule on our website.

Your program records retention and disposition schedule lists those program-specific records maintained in your office as reported to the Division of Archives and Records.  It lists only those records that are unique to your office, whether they are to be destroyed in your office or transferred to the State Records Center and in some cases, ultimately to the State Archives of North Carolina.  We have a database of current program records schedule that can assist you in determining the retention period for the records in your office.  It’s available on our website.

The Government Records Branch offers several workshops on-site or by request.  We are happy to deliver these workshops at your location.  Visit the workshops page for the workshop schedule, or contact your analyst for more information.

In addition, we have several online tutorials available for your review on the same website.