How many duplicates of a record must a government keep for the full retention period? In terms of records management laws and rules, one copy of a record must be kept for the full retention period, and we call this the “official record copy.”
Any identical copies of the official record copy are considered “convenience copies,” created for ease of reference, and, according to records management rules, can be destroyed at anytime.
Easy peasy, right? This article wouldn’t be as long as it is if there weren’t some caveats. Starting with: There may be other laws, rules, or internal strategies that require duplicates of the same record be kept. In fact, TSLAC recommends keeping duplicates for certain records, which we will discuss and link to resources below to help your government decide when that’s the best strategy for a record.
What happens if you alter the official record copy?
If the official record copy is altered in any way (other than copying an identical version of it), the government may have created a new government record. This is very likely the case if the alteration changed the content of the record and the change is not captured or reflected in another record.
Scenario: The Records Management Assistance (RMA) team at TSLAC creates a general and broad presentation for Records Management Basics to present to government employees at local governments and state agencies. The RMA team maintains those versions of the presentation material to ensure they remain accurate.
Example – Not a new record:
- Sometimes the RMA team updates the staff contact information shown in the presentations. This information can be found in many places (including our website and internal phone trees) and is not a major update to the concept of the presentation. Due to this, we do not consider the change to have created a new record. If anything, we see this as evidence that the record is active (still being used or referenced).
- On a continuous basis, a teammate will identify that the presentation’s content is no longer accurate or could be presented more efficiently. The teammate will update the presentation and outline the change made in the presentation’s tracked changes log. Since the majority of the record’s content did not change and the change is outlined in the tracked changes log, we view it the same as the change to contact info.
Example – New record:
- At times, the teammate assigned as training lead will request for a full review and revamp of the material because the team has identified that there is a lot of material that is no longer accurate or could be presented more efficiently. During this huge revamp, we tend to log the changes in the presentation’s track changes log (as a best practice), but we also supersede the old version of the record because there were major changes to the overall content. Although the presentation started from an old record, the new presentation is now a new and separate record.
Now think about this analysis with your government’s policies and procedures. Would a minor update to links, correcting grammar, or changing a few sentences in a policy and procedure that outlines information that can be found in another record result in a new record? No, not likely because the updates do not affect the overall content of the policy and procedure. However, if the policy or procedure receives a full revamp, then this results in a new record because the overall content has changed and the older policy and procedure is now considered superseded.
Importance in identifying the official record copy.
A huge caveat is related to managing convenience copies. If the official record copy is destroyed and the convenience copy still exists, the convenience copy will take the “official record copy” status. This means that the convenience copy must be furnished and cannot be destroyed if subject to a destruction hold (litigation, Public Information Request, audit, claim, or negotiation). This means it is ideal to destroy all convenience copies by the official record copy’s destruction date.
For some records, keeping convenience copies is ideal.
For permanent, historical, vital or essential records, or electronic records that are at a higher risk of not being managed for the full retention period, convenience copies are a good backup method. TSLAC has two recommended strategies for creating multiple copies of the official record copy as a backup prevention method:
- LOCKSS Approach: Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe! This approach may be self-explanatory, but we recommend determining how many copies of an official record copy should be created for backup prevention. This way, your office remains aware of how many convenience copies exist and where they are stored.
- 3-2-1 Backup Rule: 3 copies of the official record copy, in 2 different formats, and 1 of the formats is saved in an off-site storage location. Here is our related article that provides further guidance.
Check out our article, Can I destroy a paper original after scanning? to analyze when it might be ideal to create a convenience copy to protect electronic records that are not guaranteed to be preserved for their full retention period.
Quick tips and tricks for managing official record copies:
- One of the most important and efficient strategies a government can do to destroy all convenience copies by the official record copy’s destruction date, is to identify who is the official keeper of the official record copy (a.k.a. the record’s custodian). Identify the record’s custodian in your office’s policies and procedures to help the custodian become aware of their responsibilities. For longer lived records or departments that have high turnover, it is ideal to designate a backup custodian and ensure that policies outline transferring the record over to the backup custodian prior to the custodian’s departure. Identifying the custodian can be broad (on an overall entity level) or specific (on a department or team level).
- E.g., “The Executive Assistant is the custodian of and therefore responsible for the records being maintained in Fake and Secure Database. The backup custodian of the records is the Executive Officer.”
- Identifying who the custodian is, is one of the most challenging concepts of records management, so TSLAC provides guidance for how to identify who is the custodian of a record:
- Identify where and what format the official record copy is being maintained in your policies, procedures, and/or on your internal schedule for non-confidential records with little to no risk of hacker attacks. Same as identifying the record’s custodian, this can be broad or specific.
- E.g., “Staff members will remove all attachments from emails and save them to the shared drive. The attachments will be kept based on their applicable retention period. Emails will only include general or administrative correspondence and be preserved for at least as long as the applicable retention period.”
- Promote the use of the shortcuts feature in an electronic records program to encourage staff to save the official record copy in a primary location and shortcuts that link to the official record copy in other folders. This ensures the official record copy is the only version of the record being branched off and mitigates the risk of convenience copies being stored in various folders for staff’s reference.