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Identifying Records


Records are information your organization creates and maintains in the course of doing business. Records can be in any media, including paper, magnetic tape, and optical disks. Work-related records, including email, that employees produce in their homes and on their personal home computers are still the property of your organization. Publications are not records, except for a single copy of any publication your organization produces. Your records are unique to your organization, and are evidence of who you are and what you do.

The most effective way to know what records you have is to conduct a comprehensive inventory, making sure to include records in electronic systems and in all locations. Consult Publication #76, Inventory and Planning: The First Steps in Records Management or attend one of our inventory workshops to learn more about how to identify your records. An inventory is the first step in developing a formal records management program.

Historical records

Historical—or archival—records are those you need to keep forever. In government, historical records are those that are designated as "permanent" in a State Archives records retention and disposition schedule. They are also materials you decide to keep beyond the legal retention period because they have continuing research value.

The process of determining which records are historical is called appraisal. For a general understanding of how to appraise records effectively, see Publication #50, Appraisal of Local Government Records for Historical Value. For more information, refer to our historical records page.

Collecting policy

Historical societies and other organizations that collect non-government records should develop a collecting policy that outlines in detail the geographical, chronological, and topical scope of your collection. Use this policy to appraise records before accepting or refusing them. For more information on developing a collecting policy, see our publication, Strengthening New York's Historical Records Programs: A Self-Study Guide.

documentation project can be part of the process of developing a collecting policy. The goal of a documentation project is to identify specific records you want to collect, possible sources of those primary materials, and methods for acquiring them. For more information about planning, building support for, and implementing a documentation project, see Publication #79, Documentation Basics: A Guide to Planning and Managing Documentation Projects.

Locating and indexing

A database is an effective tool for locating and tracking records. We have developed guidelines for records management software to help you identify useful records management software characteristics, locate an appropriate software vendor, and customize an indexing database we've developed.

Databases are often useful for finding information in important groups of records such as meeting minutes, building permit files, and birth, death, and marriage records. The State Archives has developed a web resource about indexing, as well as a workshop on how to implement an indexing project.