To Bucket or Not to Bucket…?

There is a term in records management circles you might have heard of called “big buckets.” Have you ever stopped and thought, “What is this? Should I be doing this? Am I missing out on something?” (Coincidentally, there’s the pop culture acronym F.O.M.O. which stands for “fear of missing out” that comes to mind. Google it.) Do you have the sense that you’re missing out on big buckets?

For those unfamiliar with the term “big buckets”, or “bucketing” as it regards to the records management world, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) describes it as “a big bucket (large aggregation) schedule that consists of items covering multiple related series of records and/or records in electronic systems. Traditional schedules, on the other hand, consist of more granular items, typically covering records in one series or electronic system.”  In layman’s terms, a system that covers a broader spectrum rather than a more concise information band. Thus, the bucket analogy, rather than a colander or sieve.

My first experience with bucketing was a few years ago during a presentation by Susan Cisco (from the Gimmal Group) at our local chapter ARMA meeting. A big bucket made a lot of sense conceptually and I thought to myself, “That’s a brilliant idea, why aren’t more people doing this?” As with everything new, it was exciting to think about, and my thoughts raced at how to best implement bucketing right away. But first, I had to master the concept in my head before I could bring it to life.


Here’s an example of big bucketing using record series listed on the Texas State Records Retention Schedule for property and inventory records. Below is what your bucket could look like:

5.2 Property / Inventory Records FE+3

  • 5.2.006 Certificates of Destruction
  • 5.2.007 Damage Reports
  • 5.2.009 Equipment Inventory Detail Reports
  • 5.2.014 Annual Physical Inventory
  • 5.2.015 Notices of Equipment Removed from Inventory
  • 5.2.017 Lost & Stolen Property Reports

Essentially, you are combining several records into one big bucket with equal retention periods. Sounds basic, right? But wait! Before you start changing up your schedule to adopt the big bucket strategy, let’s look as some advantages and disadvantages.


One immediate benefit of bucketing is having fewer record series to manage on a retention schedule. With fewer record series, it becomes easier to train staff on how to understand and use the retention schedule. The more complex a schedule, the greater the chance staff will not understand it and consequently, will not use it. By having fewer records listed on your schedule, it’s not as overwhelming and there’s less guessing as to which record series to classify a record.


Conversely, there’s a potential risk when bucketing in terms of compliance. Be cautious when bucketing! Ensure all records included have the same retention. Another challenge exists in locating records in a timely manner. Through this new method, you could potentially be searching through more records, increasing the time in which to find what you’re looking for. Finally, it might be hard to classify which big bucket a record falls into. Using the example above, would Property Appraisals be a record series to include within this big bucket?


If you’ve decided to move forward with bucketing, here is my recommendation for you: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Start small. Start with one division or department rather than tackling the whole agency at once. Present the idea of big bucketing to all departments and see if someone volunteers, then reduce their retention schedule items slowly. This will help you gauge how long the process will take. Once it’s completed successfully, you’ll have an outstanding case study that you can share with other divisions within your agency. Be sure you group similar records with matching retention periods. When including a description of the records in your big bucket, we recommend using record series item numbers as a reference.


Do your research before beginning a task of this magnitude. You want to be fully aware of all retention requirements when deciding which record series to incorporate into a big bucket. Overall, you must ensure your agency is in compliance with regulations, and state/federal retention requirements. Be sure to enlist the advice of your legal counsel for this project. Finally, don’t forget to submit your slimmer schedule to TSLAC!

To bucket or not to bucket? Quell that fear of missing out! Take the bucket by the handle and see how light the burden becomes.

Additional resources can be found here:

TSLAC: Records Retention Scheduling Rules: State Agency Bulletin 3

NARA: Flexible Scheduling FAQ | National Archives

AIIM: Big Bucket Approach to Records Retention Schedules

ARMA: Trimming Your Bucket List

One thought on “To Bucket or Not to Bucket…?

  1. 15:29 10/17/2017
    Thank you for a timely post. I have always had misgivings about the so called “big bucket” approach, but your advantages and disadvantages are well stated and your links were equally informative…. Especially these points:
    “… records with event-driven retention requirements and case-type files made up of multiple record types that have different retention requirements.”
    “Project files that contain contracts, statements of work, proposals, and deliverables…” especially those “projects” which are granted funded

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