Records Management FAQ

Have a question not answered here?  Confused? Need Help? 
Contact the VMI Archives.

What is Records Management?
Records management as defined by the Virginia Public Records Act is the ". . .The application of efficient and economical methods for managing the lifecycle of public records consistent with regulations and guidelines promulgated by the State Library Board . . ." (Code of Virginia §42.1-85.A). The lifecycle of a record includes its creation, use, storage and final disposition.

What are public records?
 The Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia §42.1-77.) defines public records:
"Public record" or "record" means recorded information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency or employee of an agency. Regardless of physical form or characteristic, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. The medium upon which such information is recorded has no bearing on the determination of whether the recording is a public record."

Can anyone see my records?
Except as restricted by specific provisions in state or federal law, anyone may consult public records. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are handled by the Office of the Superintendent. See VMI's FOIA information page for details about rights and responsibilities.

What about confidential records?
Not all records are open to public inspection. Some records are covered by state or federal laws governing privacy and confidentiality.  Confidential records should be maintained securely (both electronically and physically secure) and should be destroyed using a secure method once their retention period has expired.  Examples of restricted records include student, personnel and medical records. 

What if my office doesn't create records?

Every VMI office generates, receives, or uses records. Not all records have long term historical, legal, administrative or fiscal value, but they all must be managed according to the state's Records Retention and Disposition Schedules  approved by the Library of Virginia.  See this Records Decision Tree. Most records will be destroyed at the end of a specific retention period. However, some offices create records that will be retained permanently in the VMI Archives.

VMI's official policy concerning records management is stated in General Order 21. As a state agency, the Virginia Military Institute must comply with the requirements for records retention and disposition as governed by the provisions of the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia).

What does reference copy mean?
A reference copy is usually a record that your office has for its own use and is not the original or official copy for the Institute. As an example, many academic departments maintain copies of student records (transcripts, etc.); however, the official record keeper for these records is the Registrar. Since the academic department needs these records for their own use - or reference use - they are called "reference copies." Reference copies have different retention periods based upon their designation as a reference copy and may not require the completion of an RM3 form requesting approval for destruction.

 

 

 

 

 

What is a retention schedule?
Records retention schedules are simply lists of record series (types of records) held by many or most offices instructing the office how long to keep the records. These schedules are maintained by the Library of Virginia and are known as General Schedules. They are divided into broad categories including administrative records, college and university records, fiscal records, personnel records, and others.

How long do I have to keep records?
Consult the Records Retention Schedules to identify the records series and determine the length of time they must be retained.  Records may be destroyed after the completion of the required retention period, or lifecycle.  It is the content of a record - not the format - that determines how long it must be retained. Email, pdfs, and other electronic files are no different than paper documents, and must be retained for the same length of time as is required for their paper counterparts. (see the section below called "Email and Electronic Records") Once your records are eligible for disposal, you must follow the procedures for records destruction. If you have difficulty identifying your records on the retention schedule, contact the Archives for help.

What about audit requirements and legal holds?

Offices which are regularly audited must retain their financial records until their regular audit is complete AND then follow the retention instructions in the Library of Virginia approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. Offices that are not audited on a regular basis should follow the retention periods in the Library of Virginia approved schedules. Records may not be destroyed until all audits have been completed AND the required retention period has expired. If any office receives notification (via phone, email or other communication method) that certain records need to be retained due to an audit, the office must at that point cease any destructions. Records that are subject to a legal hold or litigation hold must not be destroyed until officially released from the hold. A hold is placed when either an official discovery order is served requesting the production of certain records (for a litigation, regulatory investigation, audit, open records request, etc.), or when litigation is pending and the Institute is on notice to preserve all potentially relevant records. You must ensure that for a claim or litigation that is reasonably foreseeable but has not yet been initiated, any relevant records (in paper or electronic formats) are preserved and not destroyed until officially released from the hold. The records in question must not be destroyed until the completion of the action and the resolution of all issues that arise from it regardless of the retention period set forth in the schedule.

What about historically significant and other permanent records?
Some offices create records of permanent historical, legal, or administrative value.   These archival records should be transferred to the VMI Archives for preservation and cataloging after they become "inactive" (i.e., are no longer needed in your office during the course of business). The Archives staff will review all records transfers to verify their retention status. Consult the Archives staff if you believe you have historically significant or other permanent records. If in doubt, please consult us. Don't place retired permanent records in off-site storage, closets etc., as they may be damaged or lost. 

Note:  Some retention schedules refer to transferring records to the Library of Virginia Archives. This is not done at VMI and most other state colleges/universities with institutional Archives on-site.  Such records should be sent to the VMI Archives for preservation.

 

When can I destroy records?
Records may not be destroyed until their required retention period has been met. Consult the applicable Records Retention Schedules to determine the retention period required by law. If the retention period has been met or exceeded, you may proceed with completing a certificate of records destruction. If you have questions about retention please contact the VMI Archives.

How do I get approval for destroying records once they have met the required retention period?
Please follow these instructions. You must complete a Certificate of Records Destruction (RM3) form and have it signed by an administrator in your office, and by the Head of Archives and Records Management. Destruction of records must be documented on a properly completed RM3.

Where can I find the required certificate of records destruction (RM3) form?
The blank certificate of records destruction, along with instructions and examples, is found on our Records Destruction Information page.  Before filling out the form please review the completed example and view the video linked on the page.

Can you help with shredding records?
The Archives provides secure, bulk on-site shredding for most VMI offices through a commercial service. We do not provide shredding for ROTC offices or Alumni Agencies. This service is only for records that require confidential destruction and have met the retention requirements and are ready for immediate destruction. Please follow these instructions for transferring the material to the Archives for confidential shredding. We cannot store records in anticipation of a future destruction date. 

How long should I keep email and other electronic records?
Retention requirements are based on the content of the record, not the format. Electronic records use the same retention schedules as paper records. If a particular electronic document would have been filed as a paper memo, it should still be filed (either in your email program or in your directory structure), and it should be retained the same length of time as its paper counterpart. It is inappropriate to destroy email simply because storage limits have been reached. Review the Records Retention schedules for the records series that applies to the content of the email.  Email is most often classified as correspondence, which is covered in the Records Retention Schedule GS-101.

Is there a special form for documenting the destruction of electronic records?
All records are listed on the same certificate of records destruction form, regardless of format. This example shows both paper and electronic records. Review the Records Retention Schedules and follow the usual instructions for destroying records.

Do I have to keep the electronic version of a record and a paper version?
You may destroy one format of the records (either paper or electronic) if you retain the other for the retention periods listed in the schedule. You must be able to access the electronic record for the entire retention period. Records that your office holds in both electronic and paper formats, which are exact duplicates, should both be destroyed once they have met the retention periods in the Records Retention Schedules.

Email Management Tips

Email Retention Quick Reference (courtesy University of Virginia Records Management)
Evaluate your e-mail(s) and determine whether they meet the legal definition of a record. If so, retain it in accordance with the type of record (the content of the e-mail) as listed in the Library of Virginia Records Retention and Disposition Schedules.
FILE IT - Issues policy - states decisions - outlines procedures - shows action - gives guidance - you're not sure
TOSS IT - Junk mail - Confirms appointments -Personal messages -Reference copies - Broadcast messages -Transmits documents without comment
See also: Tips from the Library of Virginia

Computer storage is cheap.  Shouldn't I just keep all my computer records?
Electronic records should not be held beyond their approved retention periods.  The best practice is to destroy all records that have met their retention requirements at the same time, regardless of format. Maintaining electronic records beyond their approved retention periods can be used to show lack of compliance with state laws and regulations in a legal or an audit proceeding.

How should we store electronic records for long term retention?
Best practice is to store records on a secure server which is backed-up on a regular basis with the back-ups being stored off-site. Long term retention of electronic records requires continual maintenance to make sure the media is usable, backed-up and readable when needed. Use standard file formats and upgrade to new software versions when new versions become available.

Are documents on my computer "records"?
Yes, the Virginia Public Records Act states:
Regardless of physical form or characteristics, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. The medium upon which such information is recorded has no bearing on the determination of whether the recording is a public record.

We have an imaging system.  Do we have to keep the paper?
No, however, you must be able to access the electronic record for the entire retention period. Also, records with a retention of more than 5 years from creation and records which document financial, contractual or legal actions should be maintained in a "trustworthy” digital system. A "trustworthy" system is one that can prove that the digital copy is an exact duplicate of the original paper throughout its lifecycle. A digital copy (scanned image) can replace the original if held in a "trustworthy" digital system. Paper records with a retention of permanent or with instructions to transfer to the Archives should not be destroyed after imaging before consulting with the VMI Archives

Can I temporarily store records in the VMI Archives until it is ready for disposal?
We are not able to provide storage for records that will be destroyed at the end of their required retention period. Our space is designed to hold and preserve records that are designated as permanent/archival. If you do have inactive records that are of  permanent historical value, these may be transferred to the Archives.   Temporary storage of records is the responsibility of individual offices.

Where can we store records that we don't need to frequently access?
Each office is responsible for the storage of their records in accordance with the Public Records Act to properly protect and preserve records until their retention period has been met. VMI does not have consolidated records storage at this time.  If you have records that are inactive/no longer used and they are designated permanent/archival, you may send those to the VMI Archives.  Records that will ultimately be destroyed must be managed by your department.

Can I burn records to a CD or DVD for long-term storage?
CDs and DVDs are not recommended for long-term storage of electronic records.  These media are known to deteriorate over time and they should never be viewed as a permanent storage solution.  The best location for the storage of electronic records is a secure network server which is backed up daily.

How should we store electronic records for long term retention?
Best practice is to store records on a secure server which is backed-up on a regular basis with the back-ups being stored off-site. Long term retention of electronic records requires continual maintenance to make sure the media is usable, backed-up and readable when needed. Use standard file formats and upgrade to new software versions when new versions become available.