You have a responsibility to provide reasonable and timely access to your records while at the same time ensuring they are maintained and preserved. You and your organization are the primary users of your records, but you must also work with a wide variety of other researchers, including taxpayers, teachers, students, historians, genealogists, lawyers, and journalists. For all of these, develop resources and strategies to make your records more accessible. For a good overview, attend our workshop on Providing Access to Your Records.
Organizing your records
Think about how to make your records accessible from the moment you create them:
- set up a filing system based on how people will search for information
- file electronic records in a manner that mirrors your paper filing system
- allocate adequate space
- purchase appropriate filing equipment
- develop a file plan and detailed procedures for retrieval and refiling
When you no longer use them everyday
Inactive records are those you must still retain but use infrequently or not at all. Before setting up a storage area for inactive records, consider how you will provide security, arrange shelving, and locate and retrieve records. For guidance, see the following State Archives publications:
- #48, Developing an Inactive Records Storage Facility
- #49, Administration of Inactive Records
- #65, Recommendations for Shelving for Inactive Records Storage
Finding your records
Either purchase records management software or customize generic database software to help you track your records. See our guidelines for choosing records management software and for more information.
The State Archives has also designed a simple Microsoft Access database for inactive records which you can use as is or adapt to meet your needs.
Use database software to index records such as meeting minutes, case files, or birth, death, and marriage records. For more information, see our web resource about indexing.
Develop use policies
Develop policies to regulate how you serve researchers:
- dedicate an area to research use
- set and post specific hours during which researchers can request access to records
- do not allow researchers access to your records room; bring records to them
- develop a registration form for researchers to sign before using records
- prohibit eating, drinking, smoking, and use of pens
- limit the use of fragile and confidential records
- monitor your records when in use to prevent misuse or theft
You can refuse use of your records to those who disregard the rules.
For an example of an archives use policy, see the State Archives access guidelines.
Attend our general workshop about records policies, Developing Policies and Procedures.
Options for making records available
If you don't have the resources to provide direct services for researchers, consider:
- making and distributing microfilm copies of records
- scanning records for publication on a website
- using kiosks to get information to the public
- putting public use computer terminals in your office lobby
Attend our workshop on Providing Access to Your Records for ideas.
If you are from a local government, with permission from the State Archives you can deposit records with organizations who are better able to care for them. For more information on establishing a deposit agreement with another organization, contact us at (518) 474-6926 or via email.
Freedom of Information Law (FOIL)
FOIL pertains to the public's right to government records. For information about FOIL, visit the Committee on Open Government website.
Promoting your records
Develop resources for researchers to know whether your records will answer their questions. To find out what other organizations are doing to get maximum use of their historical records, see our online model projects.
We encourage records repositories across New York State to provide electronic descriptions of their records to the Historical Documents Inventory (HDI). For more information, contact the State Archives Archival Services unit at (518) 474-6926 or via email.
The State Archives has two grant programs that fund projects to enhance access to records.