Helpful Hints when Drafting a Retention Schedule

As a state agency records analyst, I read dozens and dozens of schedules a week.  Unfortunately, state agency employees do not have the time or the resources to pore through a similar amount.  Typically, when drafting a retention schedule for their division or section, they will just update the language or change the disposition on their existing schedule or, if they are drafting a brand new schedule, they will use existing schedules (possibly from the same branch or agency) as templates, sometimes regardless of their age.

This is certainly no fault of their own; they are working with what they have.  They do not have the luxury of an all-encompassing database or reference spreadsheets containing standard language as my fellow analysts and I do.   Therefore, I hope to contribute a few pointers and hints in today’s post that may assist you in drafting your next retention schedule.  Following these pointers and suggestions should greatly expedite the review process and get your schedule approved that much quicker!

First, take advantage of the program records retention and disposition schedule search engine on our web page:

It contains all active state agency schedules as well as a scanned signature page indicating the date that the respective schedule was approved.  This is very important for a couple of reasons.  If you are unsure about what type of language to use, reference other recent schedules in your agency.  When I say recent, try to find a schedule which has been updated within the past five years, and barring that, anything within the past ten.  Anything older than ten years may have several instances of outdated language or retention methods.  If none of the above is applicable, feel free to contact myself or your records analyst for further assistance.

Another helpful hint, especially if you plan on transferring records to the State Records Center, is to accurately estimate the anticipated volume of transfers and how often you plan on requesting these records.  I have seen many records series where the disposition states that records will be transferred to the records center after 4 years, yet after 10 or 12 years we have received no records.  In many cases, this is because the anticipated volume of transfers was not accurately calculated or not calculated at all!

Additionally, you should consider how often you would need to access these records.  Do you reference these records several times a week or on a daily basis?  If so, you should consider lengthening your in-office retention.  However, if you do access these records often but they are created at a rate which reduces space in your office (for example, a hundred or more boxes a year) then you can use a shorter in-office retention.

One more thing to consider is whether or not to designate your items as archival?  Many people confuse the Archives as just a place where they can permanently store all of their excess records, regardless of their value.  This could not be further from the truth.  Records sent to the archives should be those with historical or evidential value and thereby give an understanding as to the history and operations of the transferring agency (minutes, etc.).  Before you label a records series as archival consider whether or not anyone would want or need to access these records a hundred years from now.  The State Records Center (not the Archives)  is more than willing to store your records for thirty years or more before destroying them.

Finally, if you take the above into consideration and are still stumped or confused, just call me or send me an e-mail!  It is my job to assist you in creating your retention schedule, so please do not hesitate to contact myself or your agency’s analyst.

Agency analysts and contact information: