Local Government Retention Schedules 101

You may have heard of TSLAC’s Local Government Retention Schedules when you started your new position with a local government. However, perhaps you have not been given much guidance in what they are or even how to use them. So, you find yourself asking this question: “How do I, as a beginner in records management even begin to understand, much less use, records retention schedules?” The answer to this question is the subject of this post: Retention Schedules 101!

What are TSLAC’s Retention Schedules?

Records management is a constant act of rebellion against the forces of entropy. Through creation, maintenance, and disposition, keeping track of records and protecting them from the many dangers they face during their lifecycle is one of the most critical actions a government entity enforces. A major step in shepherding records is to identify them and locate their retention period. But, how does a beginner in records management find and use this information? To answer this question, it’s important to understand exactly what retention schedules are and what they do.

In essence, retention schedules are a tool that the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) publishes providing minimum retention periods of records you may encounter as a local government (LG) employee. They are meant to be a blueprint for local governments as they customize their own retention schedules. By knowing the legal, minimum amount of time a LG must keep the record, the entity can customize their schedules to fit their needs, potentially keeping a record longer if they wish. There are 12 retention schedules published by TSLAC for local governments, each meant to address different record groupings LG’s might create records under:

Retention Series

You can review the schedules on our website or by clicking on the buttons above.

Retention schedules are made up of record series. Record series provide the foundation for the schedules, and they provide details you need to determine retention periods for your records. Here is a breakdown of a record series:

Example of a record series for Time and Attendance Reports with definitions for each element of a record series.
  • Record Number – Unique # assigned by TSLAC
  • Record Title – What TSLAC calls this series
  • Record Description – What kinds of records would be classified in the series
  • Retention Period – Minimum amount of time the record must be kept
  • Remarks – Citations and other notes affecting the retention

Tips and Tricks

Now that you understand TSLAC’s retention schedules, know where you can find them, and you know how to read a record series, lets see how that works in practice. For example, you have a record with an unknown retention period and you can’t find it in your LG’s retention schedule, so you come to TSLAC’s schedules to find out its minimum retention period. Once you open the schedules, however, you are greeted by seemingly hundreds of retention series. It can certainly feel overwhelming; have no fear, below is a short step by step example using a common record: a job description for a position in your entity.

Step 1: Determine which retention schedules are most likely to apply to your record.

Determine the nature of your record by asking questions such as: What is it documenting? What larger governmental process is it a part of? What aspect of government is it addressing?

In this example, a job description is likely something every local government will have to create and manage. Schedule GR is a good place to start as it contains records common to all local governments. Open up Schedule GR and move on to the next step.

Step 2: Search for the potential record series.

Each retention schedule has a table of contents with links you can click to take you to those sections. You can look through the table of contents and keep an eye out for a section that could apply to our example record.
Job descriptions have to do with personnel, so Section 3-1: Personnel Records looks promising!

Table of contents for Schedule GR with Section 3-1: Personnel Records circled in red.

If you can’t find an appropriate retention series by searching the section you could use the “Ctrl+F” command; this will pull up the search function on your browser and allow you to look up keywords associated with your record throughout the document. In this example you could search “job description” and it should take you to the correct retention series:

Record series GR1060-26 with the word "Job descriptions" highlighted after using the CTRL+F function.

For further guidance on finding your records in TSLAC’s retention schedules, check out our blog post “FAQ: How to Classify Your Records on TSLAC’s Retention Schedules.”

With the appropriate retention series, you can move on to the last (and very important) step.

Step 3: Celebrate!

A GIF of a celebrating woman holding paperwork.

If the description in the record series matches the record you have: Congratulations! Give yourself a moment to bask in your success and feel the joy of finding a needle in a haystack. You now know the minimum retention period associated with it and can move forward accordingly.

Not every record will be straightforward, however. If you can’t find the record series that could apply to your specific record, you can ask your records liaison or Records Management Officer (RMO) for help. If the RMO cannot find what you’re looking for, they can (or encourage you to) find your government information analyst at TSLAC and contact us with your question. We will be happy to help!

Everyone enters records management with different amounts of experience in the field. This post is meant to help those towards the beginning of their records management journey. If you want to dig deeper, check out the related posts beneath and stay tuned for new uploads!

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