NC General Statute 132-1 provides the baseline definition for public records:
(a) “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. […]
That’s pretty broad, so does it include everything you or I can imagine?
Government offices will have a number of objects, items and emails that look like records but might not actually be records. See what you think about these examples:
- Email from Laura Hensey (that’s me) to Allan Hensey (just an example) with nothing but a URL, and a subject line “reading.”
- A box marked “DO NOT DESTROY” with 120 copies of a brochure.
- A box marked “KEEP!!” with 2000 copies of a standard job application form.
- A plaque presented by a non-profit to a former deputy secretary on the occasion of his retirement.
- A large book bound in red leather, with gold embossing reading “Broughton County Minutes.” All of its pages are blank.
- A poster from a conference hosted by your office in 2002.
- A poster from another office’s conference in 2002 that announces Laura Hensey will be speaking in the Ballroom C.
How many of these items do you think rise to the definition of a “record”?
The purpose of the item is the driving factor. A blank form teaches nothing (much) about the operations of the office. It’s the completed forms that are useful. A blank minutes book is a vehicle for records that was never used.
What about that email from me to Allan? Once you determine that Allan is my husband (in this example), and the URL points to a news article, you can be fairly sure that it’s not a public record. It is worth noting that my supervisor (and possibly my agency’s legal counsel) would be perfectly within their rights to review that email as they evaluate its nature. Once the record is determined not to be a public record, there is a question of whether I was making appropriate use of my email account – but that is a topic for a different post.
The conference posters are just meant to get people into the right room. There are likely more useful records that will provide more details of the conference itself or the instruction that was delivered.
The brochures are certainly a record. An agency may need to submit copies to the State Publications Clearinghouse, but even the library doesn’t need 2000 copies.
So it’s entirely possible to have items in an office that do not meet the definition of public record. That’s part of why everyone working in an office should be familiar with the provisions of the records retention and disposition schedules. Working with a supervisor, legal counsel, or records analyst, you will be able to determine the best course of action when faced with similar decisions.