Welcome to our introduction to Records ManagementRegardless of your breadth of experience in government, we hope you will find something useful in the following information.
Setting up a good records management program may seem daunting, but your responsibilities are manageable. A little effort in the short term will save your office trouble in the long term. Document accessibility will save employees the headache of sorting through vast amounts of paperwork, dramatically improving efficiency.
Our introduction will briefly walk you through records management, with links to laws and the appropriate portions of our website. If you experience difficulty with any topic, the Maryland State Archives and the Records Management Division of the Department of General Services will be there to help. Read on for an explanation of records management.
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Overview of this site
- Your involvement with records management in Maryland began with your pursuit of public office or employment. You should be aware that the law defines public records very broadly. All records must be managed properly. Most records will be destroyed according to established policies and procedures. The small percentage of records deemed to have permanent value need to be deposited at the Archives.
- Maryland state law makes all public officials responsible for making sure that records no longer needed are either offered to the Archives or are destroyed according to procedures that are spelled out in Maryland's regulations (COMAR).
- This introduction will include:
- Your role in records management
- A definition of records
- The benefits of records management
- How to transfer or dispose of records
- Links to particularly helpful portions of our website
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Role of Public Official
- The term "Public Official" is also very broadly defined in Maryland law and "includes an official of the State or of a county, city or town in the State."
- Whether you were voted into office, appointed by an elected representative, or hired by a government agency, you are responsible for your organization's records.
- Records must be maintained correctly to facilitate the transparency that the public expects of public office-holders.
- Put simply: when you need a record, you need to know that it exists, and where and how to find it.
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Requirements to Protect Records
- We are all bound by laws that govern the protection of records in our custody.
- State Government Article 10, sections 608-611 of the Annotated Code of Maryland describes the respective roles of the Archives and the Records Management Division of the Department of General Services.
- State Government Article 10, sections 614-619 helps to define the process and circumstances under which records are to be destroyed.
- COMAR 14.18.02 further defines the roles laid out in the Annotated Code in an effort to
- protect records considered essential to the continuing operation of government
- guarantee the integrity and preservation of permanent records
- ensure the legal admissibility of the permanent record
- secure the rights and privileges of citizens
- assure public access to the records of government
- promote agency legal and fiscal accountability
- provide a means to document agency administrative history
- Annotated Code of Maryland Criminal Law § 8-606 further states that a person may not willfully alter, deface, destroy, remove, or conceal a public record except under proper authority.
- Exploring these regulations makes it clear that records management is important to the management of your office's responsibilities.
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- As of October 1, 2017, the Annotated Code of Maryland Article 10, sections 610 specifies that the head of each unit of government appoint a records officer from among the executive staff.
- A records officer serves as the liaison between the government unit and the State Archives and the Records Management Division.
- The records officers also develops and oversees the unit's records management program.
- We have a list of records officers on file with the Archives. View Records Officers
- For more information about the role of Records Officer, view the Records Officer Guidance page.
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- A record is any documentary material created or received by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business.
- Records include any format (paper, electronic, photographic, etc.)
- Records are organized into record series, which are groupings of record types that have similar functions, are filed together, and are retained for the same amount of time. Examples of record series are building permits, original legislation, and meeting minutes.
- Record series can be general (such as fiscal records) or specific (such as time cards), depending on how they are used by your agency.
- Non-record copies are duplicates of records which can be used for reference but have no inherent value.
- Temporary / Transitory material - All government create and receive a great deal of record material that should be considered temporary and transitory. These records are records that are very temporary in nature, such as personal notes, that have no long-term value. This type of material may include personal notes from meetings, correspondence that is not government related (e.g. email inviting you to lunch), extra copies of reports, drafts, reference material, etc. This material should be considered non-permanent and should be destroyed at the discretion of the creator without the requirement of a disposal certificate. However, as with all records, transitory material must be documented on your retention schedule.
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Records of all formats
- A common misconception exists that all records are on paper. In actuality, electronic documentation is as much a record as paper documentation and should be treated as such. This can include minutes typed on computers, email, spreadsheets, databases, and websites.
- Similarly, creating a digital copy does not absolve an agency of the responsibility to maintain the original paper or film record.
- Less typical media, like photographs or audio tapes are also be public records.
- As a rule, assume that content and function, rather than format, determine whether an item is a record and how long it should be kept.
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Defining Records Management
- Records management is the standardized administrative control of records to safeguard their existence from creation, to use, and during final disposition.
- If the value of a record never ceases, the final disposition of the record is to transfer it to the Archives. If the value of a record ultimately ceases, the final disposition of the record is destruction.
- Not all records are permanent, but public officials must follow established procedures for destroying records. For more information, see Annotated Code of Maryland Criminal Law § 8-606 and Annotated Code of Maryland State Government Article 10, section 616.
- Retention Schedules and Disposal Certificates are the two most important documents used in records management. These will be discussed at greater length.
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Benefits of Records ManagementRecords are necessary in any public office, though you may be unaware of how important records management can be in your agency.
- Easy access to records is frequently necessary for financial operations.
- In the event of disaster, records are needed to maintain continuity of government.
- Institutional memory is critical in the case of staff turnover.
- Litigation frequently relies upon the presence of records as evidence.
- Running an office is significantly more efficient and cost-effective with properly managed records.
- Storage costs are lower when permanent records are transferred to Archives and non-permanent records are destroyed in a timely manner.
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Further Benefits of Records Management
- Proper records management promotes transparency and facilitates public access to the workings of your agency because it allows you to know what records you have, where they are located, and how they may be accessed.
- Proper records management also ensures that your agency is not wasting money by storing records which are of no use to the agency. It also makes records access easier and more efficient, because your agency will only have the records that it still needs.
- Records management ensures that you have the records you need in order to:
- Efficiently execute essential agency functions.
- Fulfill financial and legal requirements.
- Respond to record requests.
- Meet legal requirements.
- Ensure continuity in the event of disaster.
- Maintain institutional memory.
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- Before a record can be destroyed, you must have an approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedule.
- If no retention schedule exists, one needs to be created according to the advice offered on the Retention Schedule Preparation page
- When records are destroyed in accordance with the terms of an approved schedule, the agency, office, or records center shall submit a certificate of destruction (also known as a disposal certificate) to the Maryland State Archives. View more guidance on record disposal.
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- Records should NOT be stored in offices for long periods of time
- Without proper humidity and temperature conditions, records can rapidly age and deteriorate. Further, records are much more likely to be damaged by fire, flood or neglect in an office environment.
- Permanent records must be transferred to the Archives.
- To know whether certain records should be transferred, you should ask whether the records are used regularly in your office's operations. If the answer is "no," then it may be time to transfer your records either to the Archives or to the Records Management Division's warehouse for ultimate destruction after a stated period of time. Please consult our Records Transfer page for more details.
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- All Government employees are responsible for records, from elected officials to office clerks. We all need to do our part to preserve the documentary history of Maryland's development.
- Transparency of government is only possible through records management. Continuity of records is an integral piece of public officials' responsibility to their constituents.
- Though it may sound challenging, adhering to good records management practices will be beneficial in the long-term. An office with easy and reliable access to its records will operate efficiently.
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Links to Archives Site
On its website, the Maryland State Archives and the Records Management Division has provided resources needed to preserve and protect your records.
- Law and Regulation
- Retention Schedule Creation
- Transfer to Archives
- File Requests
- Record Officer Contacts
- Additional Links
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This website is provided as a courtesy by the Maryland State Archives for all public officials.