Definitions of Statutory and Records Management Terms


Notably under Wisconsin law, there are two statutory definitions of the term “record” that define what is, and is not, a record–both definitions are provided in the next paragraph. The first definition appears within the Wisconsin statute relevant to records management requirements for state agencies, and the other definition appears within the Wisconsin statute relevant to public records requests, which may be submitted to state agencies by members of the public, in response to which agencies allow access to public records.


There are many provisions within the Wisconsin Statutes that define key aspects of proper records management. These terms include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Record: Records of State Offices and Other Public Records, Wis. Stats. § 16.61 (2)(b). “Public records” means all books, papers, maps, photographs, films, recordings, optical disks, electronically formatted documents or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made, or received by any state agency or its officers or employees in connection with the transaction of public business, and documents of any insurer that is liquidated or in the process of liquidation under ch. 645.
    “Public records” do not include:

    • Records and correspondence of any member of the legislature.
      *Any state document received by a state document depository library.
    • Duplicate copies of materials the original copies of which are in the custody of the same state agency and which are maintained only for convenience or reference and for no other substantive purpose.
    • Materials in the possession of a library or museum made or acquired solely for reference or exhibition purposes.
    • Notices or invitations received by a state agency that were not solicited by the agency and that are not related to any official action taken, proposed or considered by the agency.
    • Drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working.
    • Routing slips and envelopes.
  2. Record: Public Records Requests, Wis. Stats. § 19.32 (2). “Record” means any material on which is written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority. “Record” includes, but is not limited to, handwritten, typed or printed pages, maps, charts, photographs, films, recordings, tapes (including computer tapes), computer printouts, and optical disks. “Record” does not include drafts, notes, preliminary computations and like materials prepared for the originator’s personal use or prepared by the originator in the name of a person for whom the originator is working materials which are purely the personal property of the custodian and have no relation to his or her office; materials to which access is limited by copy right, patent or bequest; and published materials in the possession of any authority other than a public library which are available for sale, or which are available for inspection at a public library.
  3. Records and Forms Officer. (a) Wis. Stats. § 15.04 (1). Each head of a department or independent agency shall: Appoint a records and forms officer, who shall be responsible for compliance by the department or independent agency with all records and forms management laws and rules and who may prevent any form from being put into use.(b) Wis. Stats. § 16.61 (2)(bm). “Records and forms officer” means a person designated by a state agency to comply with all records and forms management laws and rules under s. 15.04(1)(j) and to act as a liaison between that state agency and the board.
  4. Legal Custodian. (a) Wis. Stats. § 19.33 (4). Every authority shall designate in writing one or more positions occupied by an officer or employee of the authority or the unit of government of which it is a part as a legal custodian to fulfill its duties under this subchapter. In the absence of a designation the authority’s highest ranking officer and the chief administrative officer, if any, are the legal custodians for the authority. The legal custodian shall be vested by the authority with full legal power to render decisions and carry out the duties of the authority under this subchapter. Each authority shall provide the name of the legal custodian and a description of the nature of his or her duties under this subchapter to all employees of the authority entrusted with records subject to the legal custodian’s supervision.(b) Wis. Stats. § 19.33 (6). The legal custodian of records maintained in a publicly owned or leased building or the authority appointing the legal custodian shall designate one or more deputies to act as legal custodian of such records in his or her absence or as otherwise required to respond to requests as provided in s. 19.35 (4). This subsection does not apply to members of the legislature or to members of any local governmental body.(c) Wis. Stats. § 19.33 (7). The designation of a legal custodian does not affect the powers and duties of an authority under this subchapter.
  5. Records Series: Stats. § 16.61(2)(c). “Records series” means public records that are arranged under a manual or automated filing system, or are kept together as a unit, because they relate to a particular subject, result from the same activity, or have a particular form.
  6. Retention Schedule: Stats. § 16.61(2)(cm). “Retention schedule” means instructions as to the length of time, the location and the form in which records series are to be kept and the method of filing records series.


There are many records management terms that are not included within the relevant sources of law, but which define key aspects of proper records management. These terms include, but are not limited to the following:

  1. Appraisal: The process of determining the length of time records should be retained, based on legal requirements and on their current and potential usefulness.
  2. Disposal: The transfer of records, especially noncurrent records, to their final state, either destruction or transfer to an archives.
  3. Filing Plan: A classification scheme describing different types of files, how they are identified, where they should be stored, how they should be indexed for retrieval.
  4. General Records Schedule: A list of records series commonly found in many divisions within an organization, indicating their respective retention periods and other instructions for the disposition of those records.
  5. Inventory: The process of surveying the records in an office, typically at the series level.
  6. Record-keeping System: Coordinated policies and procedures that enable records to be collected, organized, and categorized to facilitate their management, including preservation, retrieval, use, and disposition.
  7. Records Management: The systematic and administrative control of records throughout their life cycle to ensure efficiency and economy in their creation, use, handling, control, maintenance, and disposition.
  8. Retention Period: The length of time records should be kept in a certain location or form for administrative, legal, fiscal, historical, or other purposes.
  9. Vital Records: Emergency operation records immediately necessary to begin recovery of business after a disaster, as well as rights-and-interests records necessary to protect the assets, obligations, and resources of the organization, as well as its employees and customers or citizens; essential records.