Records Management Tip #4: How to Use the Records Retention Schedule

All records created by university employees are public records, as defined by N.C. G.S. 132, the Public Records Law. One of the provisions of the Public Records Law gives authority to the Department of Cultural Resources to authorize the destruction of public records, and the DCR exercises that authority through the municipal, county, and state records-retention schedules it approves, including the UNC General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule (see our post about it here).

Before you continue reading, go ahead and open up the General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule (located here). The first thing you’ll notice is the Table of Contents. There you’ll see eighteen categories. These are the business processes in which the university is involved in fulfilling its mission of educating and accrediting students. The schedule mirrors this model and provides a section for each major functional area of the university.

When it comes time for you to begin to deal with inactive records—records that no longer have any immediate (or even periodic) value for the legal, financial, or administrative processes they support (or used to support)—you’ll need to take a general inventory of what you have, and the functional sections provided in the schedule are a great place to start.

First, take a group of your records and ask, “What function(s) do these records support?” The answer to that question should guide you toward the records series that you’re looking for. Now, many records have fairly standard names, such as Real Estate Records; Contracts, Agreements, and Leases Records; or Student Academic Records. If you’re pretty confident of the name of the records you have, you can just Ctrl+F (or Cmd+F), search for the name, and see if it pops up.

The key is always to keep in mind the business function that the records in question support. You may have financial records in your files dealing with capital improvements across campus, but don’t look in the “Financial Records” section of the schedule. Instead, you’ll want to look in “Facilities Records,” because the function that those records support is the construction of new buildings on campus and not the balancing of the university’s budget or its compliance with certain financial regulations.

Another example: Say you are a member of a committee looking at applicants to the school. Your committee makes decisions about these applicants, and those decisions are documented by the committee’s minutes. Wouldn’t those records fall under series 1.12 “Committee, Council, and Task Force Records?” At first glance, sure. But let’s try to remember the business function that these records serve. The committee does not exist to further a campus unit’s administrative duties, like, say, a Technology Planning Committee would. Instead, the function of the committee has to do with student applicants, especially because applications are being discussed and decisions about potential students are being made. With this in mind, you might go back to the listing of functional sections where you’ll notice section 14, “Student—Academic Records,” and if you turn to that section, you’ll see the second series listed, series 14.2, deals with admissions records. The description provided specifically mentions “committee and review records.”

It’s important to be certain you have the right series and to read the series descriptions carefully before you decide to destroy records, and if you have any questions or you just aren’t sure, contact Records Management Services at 919-962-6402 or Records retention and destruction is a tricky and risky business, so if you’re not sure you have the right series for the records in front of you, don’t hesitate to call. An archivist will talk to you about your records or may want to come to your office to look through them with you. And don’t forget, if you have records that aren’t mentioned in the schedule at all, you are not therefore allowed to destroy them. Again, contact Records Management Services, and we’ll see if we can’t get those records scheduled.