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What is a Public Record?

A public record is any documentation that a government employee creates or receives in the conduct of public business.

What is not a public record?

Property of the government that is not a record include physical artifacts (like the trucks maintained by an agency’s fleet services division), transitory documentation like notebooks into which an employee might jot informal daily goals, and non-business communications like two employees emailing one another to schedule a lunch.

It is safest to assume that content generated by an employee is a public record until it is confirmed not to be.

Who owns public records?

Public records in Maryland belong to the State. Public records sometimes end up in private hands for a variety of reasons, not all of which are sinister. Conscientious members of the public often preserve records from places where they have been illegally discarded or inadvertently misplaced. For more information on the ownership of records and the possibility of a recovery fee for records outside of State custody, see: ATTORNEY GENERAL (Annual Report, and Official Opinions), vol. 64, p. 273, 1979/12/31, MSA C1944.

What is a record series?

Records are organized into record series. A record series is a grouping of records of the same type from the same unit of government. Records within a series are generally used together, filed together, and retained for the same amount of time. Examples of record series include:

  • payroll records
  • original legislation
  • building permits

How do you manage public records?

All public officials at the State, county, or municipal level (whether voted into office, appointed, or hired) have a responsibility to manage their organization's records. More information on these responsibilities

More details on public records

Here are key features of public records:

  • Documentary material made or received in connection with the transaction of public business
  • Is created or received by
    • a unit of State government
    • An instrumentality of the State government or
    • A political subdivision of the State government
  • Includes the original or any copy of any documentary material
  • Can be in any format - paper, digital, microfilm, etc.
  • Includes documents required by law to be filed with or kept by an agency of the State, county, or municipality.
  • Is defined in Annotated Code of Maryland General Provisions Article 4, section 101
  • Examples of records include:
    • Email
    • A report filed by an agency to the County Executive or Governor
    • Minutes or audio/visual recordings of a meeting
    • A database generated and maintained by a government agency.

This web site is provided as a courtesy of the Maryland State Archives. As you develop your records management program, you should consult with your agency’s Records Officer.

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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