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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, microfilm, magnetic tape, audiovisual recordings, and optical disks. Work-related records, including email and other born-digital formats, that employees produce in their homes and on their personal home computers or personal email accounts 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.


Materials which are non-records may be destroyed when no longer needed for business purposes. Non-records include extra copies of documents (whether in paper or electronic format), stocks of publications, blank forms, and library or museum material solely for reference or exhibition purposes. Non-records may also include temporary drafts or personal notes that were not circulated, reviewed, or used to make decisions or complete transactions. Likewise, copies of files or extracts of databases created solely to transfer data between systems are not considered records. Emails that are not records include listserv messages, spam, broadcast messages, and personal messages.

Historical records

Historical—or archival—records are those you need to keep forever. In government, historical records are those that are designated as "permanent" or "transfer to archives" in State Archives' records retention and disposition schedules. The process of determining which records are historical is called appraisal

The State Archives is responsible for appraising government records, including those of local governments. These appraisal decisions are reflected on local government schedules with a “permanent” retention designation. There are instances in the retention schedules where there are appraisal notes for local governments to decide whether certain records warrant permanent retention.

For state agencies, an appraisal project will result in a report containing a set of recommendations submitted to the State Archivist for final approval. These recommendations will form the basis of agency-specific retention and disposition items.

Records which are generally considered archival include:

  • Records of government executives, heads of agencies, and program level activities
  • Minutes of governing bodies or transcripts of public hearing
  • Records of special or temporary bodies, commissions, or task forces
  • Documentation of the legislative and regulatory process
  • Records which document an administrative or legal precedent
  • Summary documentation of labor-management relations
  • Records documenting the conveyance of real property, land use, or zoning issues
  • Documentation of the human impact on the environment
  • Records on the formation, reorganization, and dissolution of government entities or public and private corporations
  • Records of public relations activities
  • Documentation of the care and treatment of individuals through government services or custody.

For additional information on issues related to archival records, refer to our historical records topic 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.

A 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.