Guidelines for Off-Site Storage of Inactive Local Government Records
Archives Technical Information Series #42
This publication provides advice to local governments on establishing effective policies and procedures for off-site storage of their inactive records. In the development of records management programs, it is often helpful to segregate active records -- those that need to be filed for easy retrieval and frequent use -- from inactive records -- those that have served the immediate purpose of their creation and are no longer needed frequently. Local governments lacking sufficient storage space for their inactive records may wish to consider storage in a facility other than space they own or lease, such as storage with a commercial storage facility or with another local government. Such storage is referred to in this publication as off-site storage.
Records stored outside of the government's own premises continue to be the legal responsibility of the local government that produced them. Provision must be made to ensure their preservation, accessibility, and retention. The Local Government Records Law provides that records may be transferred off-site only when such storage meets criteria established by the Commissioner. This publication describes the criteria for off-site storage. In particular, the written agreement outlined below must be prepared and approved by the local government before records are transferred. In addition, SARA, acting for the Commissioner of Education, must grant prior written approval following receipt of a written request from a local government for storage of records outside of the government's own premises and buildings. Please note that the Office of Court Administration has issued a policy statement that governs the off-site storage of court records. The policy statement discusses conditions for off-site storage and provides guidelines. Local governments considering storing court records off-site should follow this policy statement and seek guidance from the Office of Court Administration, 25 Beaver Street, New York, NY 10004.
The Local Government Records Law requires each local government to designate a Records Management Officer (RMO) and support development of a coordinated program to ensure the sound management of its records. Records, like other governmental resources, are best maintained close at hand, where they are easily accessible. Usually, local governments are advised to maintain their records on-premises, in secure government-owned or leased buildings, under the direct responsibility of either the department that produced them or the Records Management Officer.
In the development of records management programs, inactive records are identified through an inventory of all of the government's holdings. As an informal guideline, inactive records are those that are used less than four times per year. Many local governments have set up their own inactive records storage facilities, secure, specially-fitted rooms or buildings, for the systematic storage and management of their inactive records. Such facilities should be secure enough to safeguard the records and equipped with steel shelving for easy storage and retrieval. Responsibility should be assigned to the RMO or a specific designee, who develops guidelines for transfer of records to the facility, withdrawal from the facility by the originating office, and eventual disposition. Disposition means (1) destruction of the majority of the records after they reach the retention periods established on State Archives Disposition Schedules or other legally approved schedules (for instance, those issued by the Office of Court Administration for court records) or (2) in the case of those records with continuing administrative, legal, fiscal, historical or other value, continuing preservation and special management as part of a local government archival program. Continual use of the schedules to guide destruction of obsolete records ensures that the records storage facility does not become full of unneeded records. The RMO also establishes procedures for access to the records, removal and return of the records, and other conditions of their storage.
Information on development of an inactive records program and inactive storage facilities is available from the State Archives, at the address on the last page of this publication. In most cases, inactive records should be maintained in government-owned or rented facilities to ensure easy access, security, and preservation. Sending records for storage with a commercial facility or with another local government carries the risk that the records may not get the care and attention that they would receive if kept at home. Local officials may find it difficult to discharge their records-related responsibilities if the records are distant from their office and outside of their physical custody and, therefore, not readily accessible. The Archives urges local governments to consider the joint development of cooperative records storage facilities. Such facilities store the records of, and provide service to, the participating local governments. Because of economies of scale, such joint ventures may prove to be especially cost-efficient and therefore beneficial to all participants. For instance, a county may develop a joint program with a city, or towns within its boundaries, with a central records center facility to serve all the cooperating governments. A BOCES might develop a program to serve several school districts. The arrangements for joint control can ensure that each participating government's interests are served and that provision is made for the storage and service of each one's inactive records.