Managing Records: Retention & Disposition

Retention and Disposition:
Frequently Asked Questions

How long do I have to keep records?
How long do I have to keep electronic records?
How can I as a state agency legally throw away records?
How can I dispose of large quantities of paper records?
I'm just starting out. Where should I begin to address records management issues?
Where can I get training in records management and archives?
Are electronic records and digital images legal in court?
Where can I find answers to other Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)?

How long do I have to keep records?
The legal retention period of records depends on the function of the records, legal requirements and the administrative or other use of the records. If you are a local government, check the retention schedule for your specific type of government (county, school district, municipality or miscellaneous) for retention periods for specific records. If you are state agency, check the state general schedule for some retention periods. However, most state agencies will need to work with the State Archives to develop retention schedules for their records. Records in all formats (hardcopy and electronic) must be retained beyond the minimum retention period when they are relevant to a FOIL request, audit, or legal investigation.

Contact the State Archives at (518) 474-6926 or via email at RECMGMT@mail.nysed.gov for more information on scheduling state agency records. For more information on the retention of records, see Publication # 41 Records Retention and Disposition of Records. The Archives also offers a Using State Archives Retention Schedules workshop in the fall. No matter what, be sure to talk to the Records Management Officer for your state agency or local government before you discard any records.

How long do I have to keep electronic records?
The legal retention period for records is not determined by their format. Instead, retention depends on the function of the records and their legal, administrative, and fiscal value. If you are from a local government, check the retention schedule for your type of government (county, school district, municipality or miscellaneous) for the appropriate retention periods for your records.  If you are from a state agency, use the State General Schedule and your agency-specific records schedules to determine how long to keep your records. (If your records are not scheduled, contact your State Archives representative.) Records in all formats (hardcopy and electronic) must be retained beyond the minimum retention period when they are relevant to a FOIL request, audit, or legal investigation.

For more information on the retention of records, see Publication #41, Retention and Disposition of Records. The Archives also offers a workshop on using State Archives retention schedules every fall. Be sure to contact your Records Management Officer or the State Archives if you have any questions concerning the legal disposition of records. You can reach us at (518) 474-6926 or via email at RECMGMT@mail.nysed.gov.

How can I as a state agency legally throw away records?
State agencies can legally dispose of records only if they have approved Records Disposition Authorizations in place for the records. State agencies should work with the State Archives to develop retention schedules for their specific records. Contact the State Archives at (518) 474-6926 or via email at RECMGMT@mail.nysed.gov for more information on scheduling state agency records.

How can I dispose of large quantities of paper records?
Figuring how to destroy large quantities of paper records can be a difficult. One good solution is to use the services of a vendor that recycles paper. Such vendors certify the destruction of records and can make special accommodations for confidential records. Any state or local government agency in New York may now use the services of Yank Waste Company Inc. for secure and environmentally acceptable disposal and recycling of bulk quantities of obsolete paper records at no cost. The services include pick-up, secure handling and, if necessary, shredding. The services are provided under the terms of a statewide contract administered by the State Archives' Records Center Services. For additional information about the contract, contact State Archives Records Center Services at (518) 457-3171 or via email at records@mail.nysed.gov.

I'm just starting out. Where should I begin to address records management issues?
One of the most interesting challenges in records management is getting started. If your government or agency has never tackled records management before there can be a lot of work ahead of you. First, you have to start by getting preliminary control over your records. Many government agencies accomplish this by conducting records inventories, developing or implementing retention schedules, and establishing inactive storage areas. Find out more about our services for local governments, state agencies, or historical records repositories. For more information, see the "Starting a Program" section of the website.

Where can I get training in records management and archives?
The State Archives provides workshops free of charge to local governments and state agencies, and the public. The Archives holds workshops across the state in two different seasons each year (spring/summer and fall/winter). We announce the workshop and webinar schedule via our website. Workshop registration is an easy and free self-service process that you can complete on our website 24 hours a day/7 days a week. The State Archives can also present specialized workshops for individual governments, agencies or associations. For more information or special requests, contact the State Archives Regional Advisory Officer in your region of the state or contact the Training Unit at ARCHTRAIN@mail.nysed.gov or (518) 474-6926.

Are electronic records and digital images legal in court?
Many people believe that electronic records and digital images cannot be used as evidence in court. Actually, electronic records can usually be used as evidence; however, you will need to be able to prove that the system that maintains the records is secure and maintains accurate, authentic records.