Records Management: Best Business Practices

A. Statement of Purpose
B. Statement of Applicability
C. Program Roles and Responsibilities
D. Management of Records

  1. Records Creation
  2. Records Inventory
  3. Filing Plans
  4. Retention Schedules
  5. Records Storage
  6. Records Disposal/Destruction

E. Records Management within Information Systems



The University of Wisconsin System believes that efficient records management is vital to the continued administrative and operational success of its component campuses. The UW System is committed to the idea that each campus should operate an effective records management program in order that its history might be preserved for future generations, that its administration might run more smoothly, and that its resources might be most efficiently husbanded and distributed.

The UW System also believes strongly that its component campuses must cooperate to ensure a top-notch records management program across the entire UW System. This will be best accomplished through standardizing records management practices as much as possible and through an increased reliance on System-wide general records schedules.

The UW System provides these guidelines as a source of direction for each component campus to use in administering its records management program.


These guidelines apply to all employees of the UW System and its component campuses that create, use, or manage records in the course of their duties.


All UW Employees

  • Most employees throughout the UW System create records in the course of their duties. In order to facilitate effective university operations through efficient records management, employees must:
  • Be conscious that the records they create are the official property of the UW System and the state of Wisconsin.
  • Maintain complete and accurate records of activities conducted in the course of their work.
  • File those records in accordance with office file plans, or in the absence of filing plans, in a manner that provides for practical access to the records.
  • Be aware of the general and departmental records retention schedules relating to the records they create, making sure that they comply with those schedules.
  • Store records in appropriately secure locations.
  • Be sure that they are filing and storing electronic records in accordance with UW policies and retention schedules.
  • Know which records in their office are vital records and comply with office policy on ensuring the security of those records.
  • Cooperate fully with their supervisors and department heads in ensuring that their offices are managing records appropriately.
  • Dispose of confidential records appropriately and ensure that confidential information is not released to unauthorized parties.

Department/Office Heads

  • Responsibility for effective records management in departments and offices is vested in those who administer those units. Department/office heads must:
  • Ensure that their offices are complying with state and university records laws, and with general and departmental records retention schedules.
  • Make their staff aware of UW System and campus records management policies and procedures.
  • Ensure that the records produced by their offices in the course of their business activities are appropriately identified and managed.
  • Regularly review and approve retention schedules for their offices that have sunset.
  • Ensure, with assistance from campus records officers, that all records created by their offices are appropriately scheduled.
  • Identify their offices’ vital records and make staff aware of their existence and location.
  • Dispose of confidential records appropriately and ensure that confidential information is not released to unauthorized parties.

Campus Records Officers

  • Each component campus of the UW System must appoint a records officer. That officer has the responsibility for coordinating records management activities across campus and providing campus employees with records management and archival advice, expertise, and assistance in order that the campus carry out an effective records management program. Campus records officers must:
  • Implement the records management program for their component campuses.
  • Utilize archival and records management expertise in appraising records for their legal, administrative, and historical value.
  • Notify department/office heads when records retention schedules for their offices have sunset and must be renewed.
  • Maintain the official campus file of retention schedules and distribute office copies of general and departmental schedules to the appropriate offices.
  • Submit new and amended retention schedules and schedule renewals to the Public Records Board.
  • Assist campus departments and offices with understanding and complying with state and UW System general schedules.
  • Provide educational/informational sessions for campus employees and other interested parties on records management issues.
  • Advise campus administrators on records management policies.
  • Coordinate activities with fellow records officers on other campuses in order that the high quality of UW records management be standardized across the UW System.

Information Technology Staff

  • Responsibility for the development of electronic recordkeeping systems and for the management of records in electronic form is based in cooperation between records management and IT staffs. The IT staffs for the UW System and its component campuses have the primary responsibility for ensuring the optimal performance of recordkeeping systems. IT staff must:
  • Create and maintain, in consultation with campus records officers and other staff, electronically-based recordkeeping systems as well as recordkeeping systems for electronic records.
  • Ensure that these systems contain metadata that describe records appropriately and that conform to the requirements of general and departmental records retention schedules.
  • Ensure that these systems are secure and that their records disposition procedures conform to the requirements of general and departmental records schedules.
  • Undertake no electronic records-related initiatives (including digitization projects) without consulting records management staff.
  • Be responsive to records management concerns when approving, installing, or upgrading document management systems.


Records management consists of several fundamental activities that each program must undertake in order to ensure an effective program. Records must be clearly identified, organized into series, and stored in offices using file plans that document the method used to organize the records. Records must be appropriately scheduled, in accordance with Wisconsin state law, with their retention period and disposition clearly noted. The disposal of records must be consistent and systematic and must be conducted legally and in accordance with the appropriate schedules.

  1. Records Creation. Records are normally created to document a transaction, to support a right or a claim, to explain/implement a policy, to inform clients and users, to protect organizational rights and liability and to provide accountability. In order for records to accomplish these functions, they must:
      •  Be prepared in the normal course of business
      •  Have an independent business purpose.
      •  Be complete, accurate and reliable.
      •  Be created with no motive to misrepresent or commit fraud.
      •  Be prepared without foreseeing litigation.
      •  Be factual.
      •  Be authentic.

    In order to be complete, accurate, reliable, and authentic, records must have content, context, and structure. These concepts are critical to the creation and understanding of any record, but are particularly necessary to the understanding of digital records.

      • Content means: the intellectual substance of a document including text, data, symbols, numerals, images, and sound.
      • Context means: the organizational, functional or operational circumstances surrounding the materials creation, receipt, storage, or use, and its relationship to other materials. Context is information that will assist the user in understanding the content.
      • Structure means: the manner in which elements are organized, interrelated, and displayed. This can be the original way that the information was made and reproduced on a screen. It reflects the logical hierarchy of and the relationship between the parts of the record.

    Information Analysis: Information analysis, also referred to as records appraisal, is the determination of the value of the content of a given record. Multiple parties are involved in appraising records: the creating office, campus legal counsel and internal auditors; and the campus records officer.

    Generally, information analysis encompasses consideration of the following values:

      • Administrative Value: The usefulness or significance of records to support ancillary operations and the routine management of an organization. Records having administrative value are generally considered useful or relevant to the execution of the activities that cause the record to be created and during the audit of those activities.
      • Fiscal Value: The usefulness or significance of records containing financial information that is necessary to conduct current or future business or that serves as evidence of financial transactions.
      • Historical Value: The usefulness of records for historical research concerning an organization’s functions and development, or for information about persons, places, or events.
      • Legal Value: The usefulness or significance of records to document and protect the rights and interests of an individual or organization, to provide for defense in litigation, to demonstrate compliance with laws and regulations, or to meet other legal needs.
      • Research or informational value: Within the University environment, records often have research value. This is the value or significance to the materials based upon their content, independent of any intrinsic or evidential value.
  2. Records Inventory. A records inventory is an identification, description, and qualification of all of the records possessed by an organization, usually at the series level. It is a fact finding process that identifies and describes the characteristics of records created or received by all or part of a business, governmental agency, or other organization. For electronic records, it is often beneficial to conduct an information resources survey which collects many of the same types of information but also identifies the function or process to which the information relates. It also collects information about the supporting information system; documentation, hardware, software, used to maintain the information system that support the creation of records and or documents transactions.
  3. Filing Plans. Filing plans describe different types of files, how they are identified, where they should be stored, and how they should be indexed for retrieval. These plans classify and establish naming conventions for the appropriate organization of records and information in order to support effective access and retrieval.
  4. Retention Schedules. Similar records, related by creator and function, are grouped into entities called record series. Each series is assigned a specific retention period – the length of time required for the records to fulfill their legal, financial, or administrative requirements. The records retention schedule (RDA in state parlance, for Records Retention Disposition Authorization) is the document that lists these elements. It describes the records at the series level, including a brief description of the content and type of medium; denotes the retention period; and gives instructions for final disposition. In accordance with Wisconsin state law, all public agencies, including UW system campuses, produce RDAs for all the record series that they create. Schedules expire, or “sunset” every ten years and each campus should have in place a regular review process for submitting sunset schedules to the Public Records Board for renewal. The UW System is working with its component campuses to develop general records schedules that will apply to general classes of administrative records that occur across the System. Each campus department or office should make an effort to apply these particular schedules whenever practical and thereby avoid the needless creation of specific office schedules.
  5. Records Storage. It is important to file and store records, no matter their medium, in accordance with the department or office’s formal file plan in order to make records retrieval efficient and accurate. In the absence of a formal file plan, offices must strive to store their records in meaningful, practical arrangements that will allow staff to manage and access them effectively and to make them available to citizens. Records, no matter their medium, must be stored in locations that protect their physical security, their intellectual integrity, and, in the case of confidential information, the privacy of their subjects. Vital records, the essential records of an office, must be stored with particular attention to their security. Active records need to be stored in or near the department or office that created them, to facilitate ease of access by those who need them. Inactive records can be transferred to offsite storage if desired. Records must be made available only to users with appropriate permission. Electronic records must be maintained on media that ensure ease of access, security, and authenticity. They must be shielded from deletion until the end of their retention period has been reached. Record copies of electronic records must be stored on a network server or an enterprise-wide document management system. Record copies should never be primarily stored on a local hard drive or on removable media such as CDs or memory sticks.
  6. Records. Disposal/Destruction. When a record reaches the end of its scheduled retention period, it must be disposed of in accordance with its approved schedule. Records are either destroyed or, in the case of historically valuable records, transferred to the appropriate UW campus archives. Confidential records must be destroyed by shredding, if they exist in physical form. Confidential records in electronic format must be deleted in a manner that ensures that the information contained in them is not captured and retained elsewhere.


Information systems are organized sets of procedures and techniques designed to store, retrieve, manipulate, analyze, and display information. Recordkeeping systems are organized to support the functions of creating, storing, managing, and accessing records.

Information systems and recordkeeping systems are not necessarily the same thing. Properly configured and with appropriate functionality, it is possible for information systems to meet recordkeeping needs for an entity. As an increasing percentage of University records are produced by electronic information systems and are likely to remain a part of such systems, it is important for those with responsibility for records to understand how information systems operate and their relationship to recordkeeping.

If the information system can not meet recordkeeping needs, then an alternative strategy needs to be developed to secure the records. Wisconsin’s Administrative Rule 12 sets forth requirements for information systems that will serve as recordkeeping systems.