If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing the local government retention schedules on our website—it is fair to assume this is the case if you’re reading this post in the first place—then you may have noticed in the Remarks section of certain record series a warning to “review before disposal…for historical reasons”.
Have you ever wondered, “What does ‘historical reasons’ mean?!” The short answer? A review of the materials determines they have historical value. In some ways, that generates more questions than answers. This article will dive deeper into the meaning of historical value of local government records.
WHAT IS HISTORICAL VALUE?
Historical value is one of four categorical values records and information may potentially be imbued with and indicate a need to retain longer than their minimum retention period as defined by the retention schedule.
The question remains; why is historical value singled out on the retention schedule and not the other values?
Even after being maintained for an initial period of time, a record may have an intrinsic value that makes it worth keeping after its legal, fiscal, and administrative purposes have been fulfilled. Therefore, records should be analyzed for historical value before disposition.
Although considering the enduring value of records is recommended for all records prior to any disposal is conducted, the local government retention schedules only include the warning on a few record series currently.
Out of over 1,500 record series, only 66 record series contain an encouragement or requirement to review the applicable records for historical reasons, or value. Every schedule—apart from Schedule SD— contains at least one remark regarding enduring historical value of certain records. Schedule GR, records common to all local governments, contains quite a few examples, such as GR1000-25 – Contracts, Leases, and Agreements; GR1000-35 – Organizational Charts; or GR1000-26a – Administrative Correspondence. All of those series contain the following note in the remarks:
WHO DETERMINES HISTORICAL VALUE?
The process of determining historical value of records is completed internally at the local government and ultimately depends on the series and dates of the records. The State Archives, another division at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), is often consulted by local governments about the historical value of records that were not recently created (mid-20th century and before). The Archives can provide a broader perspective about recordkeeping across the state for those time periods and have experience with what records tend to be requested by researchers for those eras.
For records created more recently, the creating office within the local government is going to have a better idea than TSLAC regarding what records are most important for documenting the activities and purpose of the office.
One solution is creating an internal group or committee made up of individuals with a familiarity of the different types of records in use at the government and insights who determine historical value and what that means for your local government. This may include the chief fiscal officer, legal representative, records management officer (RMO), and any other personnel whose input is beneficial.
If your government is smaller or it is decided that historical value determination might occur at a higher level in the government to achieve broader consistency across many offices, the responsibility may best rest with the designated RMO.
A sample appraisal guide within Bulletin C may help assist in determining the value of a records series.
WHAT TO DO WITH HISTORICALLY VALUABLE RECORDS?
If your local government determines records that have met their minimum retention period have an additional historical value and there is a need to maintain the records longer, what should you do with them?
- Continue to maintain them in the same method and manner as before ensuring that they are accessible due to the historical value the records contain;
- Transfer them to off-site storage ensuring the storage facility meets at least the minimum requirements of Bulletin F if not some of the optional enhanced storage conditions;
- Transfer the custody of the pertinent records to a public institution—of higher education, museum, library—or other public entity, such as a Regional Historical Resource Depository location, with the approval of the RMO (Section 202.004(a)).
After fulfilling the retention requirement established by the local government retention schedules, local governments may find certain records have enduring use—a historical value that presents the need to maintain longer. Although the State Archives can assist in certain cases, an internal committee made up of key, informed personnel, including a fiscal officer, legal representation, and the records management officer, can make these determinations.
Safeguard your local government against using “historical value” as a crutch to over-retain records since this compulsion comes with its own risks. If records truly have historical value, make sure they are stored properly to guarantee access into the future and consider transferring custody of the records to a public institution.