What is a Public Record?

The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business." For the State of Maryland, agencies need only be concerned with public records.

The Annotated Code of Maryland General Provisions Article 4, section 101 defines a public record as the original or any copy of any documentary material that is made by a unit or instrumentality of the State government or of a political subdivision or received by the unit or instrumentality in connection with the transaction of public business. This includes records or documents required by law to be filed with or kept by an agency of the State, county, or municipality.

Public records can be in any form and format (paper, microfilm, electronic, etc.). Electronic records are records in computerized or machine-readable format, including but not limited to email, voice mail, agency web pages, databases, source data, and derived digital products, such as maps and electronic government publications. Depending on their content, electronic records can be either permanent or non-permanent records.

The definition of public record is found in the Maryland Public Information Act (Annotated Code of Maryland General Provisions Article 4, sections 611 through 630). The purpose of the Public Information Act is to provide the public with a broad right to access records that are in the possession of State, county, and local government agencies. The Act applies to all branches of Maryland State Government, as well as local government.

The Office of Attorney General publishes a detailed legal analysis of the Act in the Maryland Public Information Act Manual. The Manual is available for purchase for $10 by sending a check to Office of Attorney General, Opinions and Advice Division, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21202. The Manual also is available without charge on the Attorney General's website at www.oag.state.md.us.

Decisions about the retention and disposition of records should be based on their content, not their format.

Examples of public records include but are not limited to:

  • cards
  • computerized records
  • correspondence
  • drawings
  • film or microfilm
  • forms
  • maps
  • photographs or photostats
  • recordings
  • tapes
  • database records
  • security log files
  • scanned images
  • web pages

Other examples of public records are printed and electronically stored versions of email messages, email messages never printed out, and email messages related to agency business on an agency employee's home computer.

All public records fall into one of two categories:

  • Permanent records are public records which have been appraised by law, statute, rule, agency personnel and/or the State Archivist as having ongoing administrative, fiscal, legal, historical or other archival value. Permanent records must be transferred to the State Archives for preservation and permanent retention. Examples of permanent records include, but are not limited to: official correspondence that serves to document the origins, history, and accomplishments of an agency, agendas and minutes of official meetings, books of final entry and general ledgers, and external audits of the agency. An agency's retention schedule should (1) identify which records are permanent and (2) state how long permanent records need to be maintained at the originating agency prior to transfer to the Archives. Records designated as permanent are permanent in any form or format.
  • Non-permanent records are public records with temporary value which may be disposed of after the passage of a specified period of time. Disposal criteria must be specified in an approved records retention and disposition schedule. Examples of non-permanent records include personnel records and timesheets, purchase orders, agency reference copies of State laws and publications, agency reference copies of legislative audits, and draft agendas and unofficial minutes of meetings.

This web site is provided as a courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. As you develop your records management program, you should consult with the Records Management Division of the Department of General Services and your staff counsel.

This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.

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