A State Agency’s Guide to Transferring Permanent Paper Records to the Archives

Many records managers think of “records disposition” as the destruction or deletion of temporary records. Destruction, however, is just one form of disposition. Disposition is the phase of the records lifecycle in which records which have fulfilled their primary function and purpose are either destroyed or archived.

Image: Utah State Archives, “Scheduling the Lifecycle of Your Records,” https://archives.utah.gov/rim/CSS/rm-certification/rm-2-4.html.

In Alabama, the State and Local Government Records Commissions determine disposition for all government records in the form of Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). RDAs designate records as either temporary records, which may be destroyed after a specified retention period, or permanent records, which are preserved for future generations.  

While local governments are responsible for preserving their permanent records within their communities, state agencies transfer their permanent records (with some exceptions) to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH), the state’s records repository, once their active life has expired. As provided in the Code of Alabama 1975 § 36-12-5, “…whenever any book, paper or document… has ceased to be current, [public officials] shall deliver [them] to the Director of the Department of Archives and History…” Archiving permanent records on a regular basis will protect the records from environmental threats, conserve storage space, and increase efficiency.

With only a few staff members serving Alabama’s hundreds of state agencies and thousands of local government entities, we depend on agency staff’s help in preparing records for transfer. By following the steps below, a state agency will ensure the preservation and accessibility of their records for generations to come.

Step One: Check the RDA

Refer to your agency’s RDA to confirm that the records are permanent records. All state agency RDAs are available on the ADAH website; permanent records appear in the third section of the RDA (entitled “Records Disposition Authority”), which lists all the record series an agency creates. Note: A record series is a group or category of records. Permanent record series are hard to miss – just look for the all caps. They are notated as follows:

INFORMATIONAL AND PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS
Disposition: PERMANENT RECORD.

Some permanent records are not transferred to the ADAH, but are instead retained permanently within the agency. If PERMANENT RECORD is followed by “Retain in office” (as below), these records should remain with the agency.

CERTIFIED COPIES OF ADMINISTRATIVE RULES
Disposition: PERMANENT RECORD. Retain in office.

For quick reference, see the section of the RDA entitled “Permanent Records List.” This page provides a full listing of all the permanent records created by your agency. If you are unsure whether records are permanent, contact the Records Management staff listed in step two.

Step Two: Contact the Records Management Section

To get the ball rolling, contact one of the staff members below:

Staff will provide essential instructions and forms for the transfer process.

Step Three: Receive & Construct Archival Boxes

Permanent records should be packed in archival boxes, which are provided by the ADAH. These are sturdy, acid-free boxes that meet archival standards for preservation, offering maximum protection for your records. Provide Records Management staff with an estimate of how many boxes are needed (archival boxes are approximately the size of a copy paper box), and Records Management staff will deliver the boxes to your agency. Note: Archival boxes are intended for permanent records only. Any unused boxes are to be returned to the ADAH.

The archival boxes delivered to you will be flat and unconstructed. The boxes and the lids are separate pieces. Follow the instructions printed on the box to put the boxes and lids together.

Step Four: Decide How to Arrange the Records

Unless the records that you transfer must remain confidential according to state or federal law, they will be made available to the public. The records should be divided and sorted in a way that makes them accessible. First and foremost, each record series should be packed separately. Do not place different record series in the same box – for example, “Meeting Minutes, Agendas, and Packets” should not be in the same box as “Informational and Promotional Materials,” even if one series doesn’t completely fill a box.

Secondly, the records should be arranged in a systematic way. How you organize within a record series depends on the type of records – it might make the most sense to arrange records chronologically, alphabetically, topically, by ID number, etc. Not sure which way is best? Give us a call and we’ll be happy to provide a recommendation.

Step Five: Pack the Boxes

There are several “dos and don’ts” to remember when packing to ensure the records’ long-term preservation.

DODON’T
Use archival boxes provided by the ADAHUse your own non-archival boxes
Use folders to organize recordsStack loose papers in a box
Assign each box a number & use sticky notes or light pencil markings to label the boxesWrite on the boxes in pen or marker
Pack folders along the long side of the boxPlace folders down the sides of the box or on top of other folders
Remove records from three-ring binders and place in labeled foldersUse your own labels for the boxes (the Archives will provide labels once the transmittal form is finalized)
Remove rubber bands from records

For electronic media mixed with paper records:

If a record series contains an electronic device such as a DVD, flash drive, etc., label the contents (if known) and notify Records Management staff. Electronic devices can be packed in between other folders or placed in a folder if needed to keep the item from moving around the box. 

Step Six: Complete the File Listing Form

Some transmittals will require a file listing to identify the records contained in the transmittal. As its name suggests, a file listing form lists the title of every file folder in every box. The spreadsheet includes the following fields:

  • Box number – The number of the box which contains the folder
  • Record series – The record series title as it appears in the RDA
  • Content description – A brief description of the range of records within the box. For example:
    • 176284 to 176301
    • “Adjustment, Board of” to “Attorney General, Office of”
    • 1999_01_30 to 2003_10_07
  • Folder title – The text written on the folder tab
  • Year – The earliest and latest years that the records were created (e.g., 1999-2003)

Step Seven: Complete Draft of the Transmittal Form

The transmittal form includes basic information about the records, the agency, and the staff member transferring records. The form includes the following fields:

  • Archival Records Title – Leave this field blank! ADAH staff will assign the archival records title.
  • Year Span – The earliest and latest years that the records were created (e.g., 1999-2003)
  • Volume – Count each box
  • Arrangement – Specify how the records are organized. For example:
    • Chronologically
    • Chronologically and then alphabetically by topic
    • Alphabetically by topic
    • Alphabetically by entity
    • Numerically by case file number

The table within the transmittal form is a box listing. This table includes the following fields:

  • Box No. – The number of the box
  • Records title – The record series as it appears in the RDA
  • Box Contents – A brief description of the range of records within the box (same as “Content Description” field in the file listing)
  • Year Span – the earliest and latest years that the records were created
  • Archives Location – Leave this field blank! ADAH staff will assign the archives location.

Using one row per box, write the record series contained in the box and briefly describe the range of material inside the box. For example:

Step Eight: Send File Listing and Unsigned Transmittal Form to Records Management Staff

Send the drafted file listing and unsigned transmittal form to Records Management staff in Excel or .xlsx format. Since the transmittal form officially transfers legal ownership of records to the ADAH, we may have questions or make modifications to ensure that the form accurately lists and describes your agency’s records. We will use the information on the forms to print labels for the boxes and describe the records in our catalog.

Step Nine: Schedule Pickup & Sign Transmittal Form

Coordinate a pickup date and time with Records Management staff. We will provide labels for the boxes and a finalized transmittal form for signature. The SRC does not specify which agency staff member should sign the form; agencies may establish their own policy for signatures. Records Management staff will take the records and any unused boxes to the Archives. 

Your agency’s records will be processed, cataloged, shelved, and made available to the public. Should your agency need to reference the records, staff are welcome to make a trip to the ADAH Research Room. Our staff can make digital copies using iPad scanners and email them as PDFs at no charge. Researchers may also image documents with their own mobile devices or cameras (without flash). 

If your agency is preparing to send permanent records to the Archives, give us a call and we will be happy to assist.