One of the most common type of questions we receive in the Records Management Assistance Unit is how to classify, find, file, and match records to the local government retention schedules.
By definition and use, a records retention schedule is a documented policy that serves to identify the records created or received by an organization or government entity and list the specific period of time the record must be maintained for the organization to meet their legal obligation. The schedule itself is arranged by series of records connected to each other based on function. The series are then divided into sub-series of records with similar purposes classified by an assigned records number followed by a records title, records description, retention period, and any remarks about the record. In some cases, certain records may be listed across several retention schedules depending on the specifics of the record, and potentially differ in retention periods and how the document’s purpose is described.
The retention schedules published on the TSLAC website are categorized according to the different government offices or services provided. The schedule serves as the primary reference guide to matching your records to the record series for the legal minimum retention period.
The Game Begins
The process of searching and comparing records to the retention schedules plays out similarly to a mystery search-and-find puzzle game where you carefully observe the use of records to match to a potential, if not correct, record series.
The record documents are like encrypted clues that will unlock the puzzle and lead you to the treasure—successfully classified records where the retention period is clear. If the records are in a cipher, you need a key to reveal them. In the case, your key is the retention schedule and a strategy.
Strategies to explore:
- Question the record’s origin
- Critique record’s key terms and synonyms
- Bring in outside help
Pack Your Toolkit
The tool you want to use when viewing the schedules in your browser, Word, or Adobe PDF, is the “Search and Find” capability search bar, also known as (Ctrl+F). Use this tool to type in the keywords, phrases, or synonyms and unleash clues previously hidden. The search pulls up potential matches to the particular words or phrases used, and from the matches you will be able to determine the records series and retention for your records.
Some offices and local governments set up their own in-house retention schedule tailored to their office’s specific needs and obligations. That is fine to use as long as you ensure the retention periods for the records meet the minimum requirements set in the published schedules before considering actions such as records disposal. For those using an in-house retention schedule, find the match or the close approximation based on the description in the schedules, and how your office uses the records. A recommendation for custom record series is to add or expand upon the TSLAC’s published descriptors for a similar series for each of your unique records.
When classifying your records to correspond with a series, begin by asking yourself a series of questions:
- Who created/received the record?
- How did the record come into the possession of your office?
- Why was the record created/received?
- What is the record’s purpose?
- How does your office generally use the record?
You are looking for the record series on the schedules that describes the same or similar purpose and function as your government’s records. Take the answers to your questions and look closely at the record series title and description, which are helpful as they encompass and describe the various records classified under each series.
If by some chance you are stuck and unable to connect your documents to the series on the retention schedules, it is time for a new strategy. This examination strategy approaches solving the puzzle by considering the clues provided by the records themselves. It is time to critique the content of the records for information that can lead to identifying the correct record series.
To solve the puzzle, list out key terms and synonyms, or other ways you would describe the record’s functions. Does the document’s role or use in your organization relate to a similar capacity listed and described in one of the schedules?
Still at a loss?
Try out each of the strategies. If you are unable to classify your record on the retention schedule, consider looking in a different schedule. As an example, Schedule GR is the most general retention schedule and contains records that apply to all local governments—there is a chance that the record you are considering falls under a more specific retention schedule.
Which retention schedule? This is where the third strategy comes into play.
Bring in Outside Help
It might be time to contact your assigned analyst if you find yourself in any of the following situations:
- You cannot find an appropriate record series on the local government schedules
- You do not know what retention schedule to try next
- You have a few record series you are trying to choose between
You can find your assigned analyst here.
What success have you had classifying records and what strategies have worked for you? Tell us in the comments below!