What is Records Management?

Records management is the practice of identifying, classifying, archiving, preserving, and destroying records. Almost every activity of business or government is accomplished or documented through some form of record. Information, instructions, directives, and other communications are routinely circulated through an organization. Historically, such information was circulated in paper form. Now, it is more usual to see these communications accomplished electronically through email or voicemail. Regardless of how it is created and circulated, records in such quantities that we would soon bury ourselves unless proper controls were established to limit the amount of record material to be kept. These controls are embodied in an agency records management program.

An effective records management program is a comprehensive system of guidelines and procedures for efficient and economical control of records and information created, received, used, and kept by agencies of State, county, and local government. It includes control of a piece of paper (or other records media or format) through its life cycle -- from its creation to its transfer to the State Archives for permanent retention or its final disposition (destruction by recycling, burning, shredding, etc).

Records Life Cycle Management

While controlling the life cycle of records, records management must include the preparation of records retention and disposition plans and programs. The records manager

  • determines what agency records exist, and in what formats
  • ensures that retention decisions are compatible with organizational missions and goals
  • establishes the ultimate disposition of records-that is, their permanent retention or disposition

Some records are archival in nature; that is, they have permanent value. Accordingly, decisions of the records manager in regard to the retention and/or disposition of records are subject to review by the State Archivist. Such review is meant to ensure that records of a permanent nature are retained in perpetuity. The State Archivist, after approving records retention and disposition schedules, passes the responsibility back to the individual agency records manager to ensure that archival materials are properly transferred to the State Archives for permanent preservation.

Principal stages in the life cycle of records are

  • records creation
  • records maintenance, including migration to new storage media
  • records disposition or transfer

Techniques which may be applied to creation and maintenance of records include

  • correspondence management
  • forms control and design
  • reports management
  • files management
  • directives management
  • mail management

Records disposition requires a decision that determines when records are no longer needed for current operations. If they are deemed to be permanent, they are transferred to the State Archives for permanent retention. If they are considered non-permanent, the decision can be made to transfer them to a records center, reproduce them digitally or on microfilm (and thereafter destroy the duplicate paper record), or to destroy them.

Benefits of Effective Records Management

Effective records management ensures transparency and efficiency in government. It limits an agency's financial and legal liability. It also can save money, manpower, time, and space. Ultimately, the attention paid to good records management safeguards the legacy of valuable historical government documents.

Careful adherence to sound records management principles and practices reduces agency risk with respect to security and legal liability. A comprehensive program increases agency protection from costly litigation if records were destroyed when they should have been retained, or were not destroyed at the appropriate time. In addition, effective electronic records management will help to ensure compliance with State IT security standards. The unauthorized destruction or alienation of any public record is a misdemeanor subject to criminal penalties set forth in the Annotated Code of Maryland (Criminal Law Article 8, section 606).

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 web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

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