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.

State Agency Records Destruction 101

No state government employee may destroy records without first obtaining the approval of the State Records Commission (SRC) (Code of Alabama 1975 §  41-13-21). The SRC determines which state government records have permanent value and which may be destroyed after specified periods of time.

The SRC authorizes destruction through state agency 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. State agencies may destroy temporary records after they have satisfied the minimum retention requirements prescribed by the RDA (and presuming no litigation or other hold is placed upon the records). The retention period is only a minimum; agencies may choose to maintain records for longer than the retention period. State agencies which have an approved RDA must document the destruction of both paper and electronic records and submit this documentation to the ADAH Records Management Section each year.

The ADAH provides on its website a template destruction form, entitled the “State Government Records Destruction Notice.” While all the required information in this form is mandatory, the format is flexible. State agencies may choose to create internal procedures for documenting destruction and may create their own forms. Whichever format agencies choose, they must capture the following information:

  • State agency name and department/division
  • Records Title as shown on RDA
  • Retention as shown on RDA
  • Inclusive dates
  • Date audited
  • Format
  • Volume
  • Total cubic feet (for paper records)
  • Total bytes (for electronic records)
  • Manner in which the records will be destroyed
  • Printed name, job title, and signature of authorizing official
  • Date signed

Documenting State Records Destruction  

Use a Records Disposition Authority

Consult your agency’s Records Disposition Authority (RDA) for retention requirements. The RDA lists the types of records your agency creates and the minimum amount of time the records must be maintained. Once the retention has been met, state agencies may (but are not obligated to) proceed with destruction.

Identify the record type(s) that you wish to destroy. Determine whether litigation or other holds prevent the destruction of otherwise eligible records. Then, document the following information in the State Government Records Destruction Notice or form of your choosing:

  • “Records Title as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the Records Title for each record type, which appear in bold in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements.”

  • “Retention as Shown on RDA”

Fill in the minimum retention as listed in the RDA document section entitled “Records Disposition Requirements” (for example, “Retain 3 years” or “Retain 2 years following audit”).  

  • “Inclusive Dates”

For each record type, include the earliest and latest dates that the records were created (for example, “1998,” “May-November 2019,” or “2000-2010”).

  • “Date Audited”

Some retentions are dependent on audit date. If the retention in the RDA mentions an audit date, identify when these records were made available for audit. If the retention does not mention an audit, write “N/A” for Not Applicable.

Note: Do not list your state agency’s most recent audit. Specify when the records were made available for audit. For example, consider a state agency that has been audited in 2010 and 2017. The agency is submitting a destruction notice that includes records with a minimum retention “Retain 2 years following audit” and which were created in 2008 and audited in 2010. The agency should write “2010” in this field, as this was the audit cycle in which the 2008 records were made available.

  • “Format”

The format or medium of the records (paper or electronic).   

  • “Volume”

The volume of the paper records being destroyed in cubic feet and/or electronic records being destroyed in bytes.

Paper Records

Paper RecordsList how many cubic feet are being
destroyed for each record type
1 Box of Copy Paper1 Cubic Foot
1 Banker’s Box2 Cubic Feet
1 Legal-Sized File Drawer2 Cubic Feet
Fifty 100 Foot 35mm Microfilm1 Cubic Foot
3×5 Cards, Ten 12″ Rows1 Cubic Foot
3 Large Bound Volumes1.5 Cubic Feet

Electronic Records

Electronic RecordsList how many bytes (B, KB, MB, GB, TB, or PB)
are being destroyed
1 Byte (B)8 Bits
1 Kilobyte (KB)1,024 Bytes
1 Megabyte (MB)1,024 Kilobytes
1 Gigabyte (GB)1,024 Megabytes
1 Terabyte (TB)1,024 Gigabytes
1 Petabyte (PB)1,024 Terabytes

Complete the Total Records Destroyed

Add up the total cubic feet and write the sum in the field entitled “For Paper Records: Total Cubic Feet.”

Add up the total bytes and write the sum in the field entitled “For Electronic Records: Total Bytes.”  

Complete the Signature Section

Ensure the appropriate authorizing official signs the notice. The notice may be signed electronically or may be printed and signed. Please remember to include the printed name and title of the authorizing official. All destruction must be reported to the Records Liaison so that they can document the destruction in the Annual RDA Implementation Report.

Destroy the Records

The SRC and LGRC do not stipulate how records should be destroyed; however, state agencies should ensure that the disposition method they use is appropriate for the records being destroyed. Records with confidential or sensitive content, such as financial information, personally identifiable information (PII), or personal health information (PHI), should be destroyed securely in a way that leaves records unreadable and unrecoverable. 

For Records Liaisons: Guide to Completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report

Each year (typically in October), the ADAH Records Management Section sends state agency Records Liaisons instructions for completing the Annual RDA Implementation Report. Records Liaisons must complete the report and submit all destruction documentation to Records Management staff by January 15th of the following year. 

Note: Failure to properly adhere to destruction procedures may result in an audit finding.

A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

We spent the previous two weeks discussing the state agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) revision process:

Once you have contacted Records Management staff, held an introductory meeting, and received a copy of the currently approved RDA in Microsoft Word from Records Management staff, you are ready to begin revising.

The Microsoft Word copy of the RDA will contain notations indicating which sections may be revised and which sections contain standardized, inalterable language.

Edit the document using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature.

The RDA contains three main sections. Read below for a detailed guide to revising each section.  

Section 1: Functional and Organizational Analysis

This section assesses the types of work your agency performs in the regular course of business.

Historical Context

This subsection should include an in-depth contextual description of the events leading to the agency’s establishment and the agency’s history, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Origin and development of the profession in the state of Alabama
  • Specific legislation establishing the agency
  • Agency composition and organization over time, if different than at present
  • Specific executive orders, state legislation, and/or federal legislation affecting the agency, e.g. increasing or decreasing the scope of the agency’s work, restructuring the agency, etc.
  • Explanatory notes which define concepts or terms specific to the field/industry that the general public may not understand

Agency Organization

This subsection derives from the Code of Alabama 1975 and legislation. It should describe the agency’s current organization, including the structure of its board or executive branch, qualifications to serve, appointment procedures, meeting procedures, and term limits. This section also provides a brief overview of the agency’s departmental branches.

Agency Functions and Subfunctions

The agency function designation comes from a standard set of government functions and may not be altered.

The agency subfunctions may be revised to reflect the agency’s added or removed tasks. Subfunctions should be simple and concise. Records Management staff can help you articulate your agency’s subfunctions using a controlled vocabulary.

Common subfunctions include:

  • Educating
  • Enforcing
  • Investigating Complaints & Violations
  • Licensing
  • Promoting Public Awareness
  • Promulgating Rules & Regulations
  • Providing Services

Note: “Administering Internal Operations” is common to every RDA and includes records that all agencies produce. This subsection should not be altered.

Each subfunction title should be followed by a thorough description of the subfunction. These descriptions may include legislation that assigns or authorizes the agency to engage in a subfunction, the activities encompassed by the subfunction, and the procedures followed in pursuance of the subfunction. These descriptions provide context for Section 2, which describes the record types within each subfunction.

Section 2: Records Appraisal

This section consists of descriptions of all permanent records and select temporary records.

Temporary records should be listed and described if they require explanation in order to be understood clearly by agency staff and State Records Commissioners.

The section is divided into (1) temporary records descriptions, (2) permanent records descriptions, and (3) the permanent record list. Records are ordered by subfunction in the same order in which they appear in Section 3.

Descriptions may include the following, if appropriate:

  • Scope of materials included in the record series
  • Format of record series

Additionally, descriptions must include the following:

  • Description of record series
  • Retention/disposition requirement
  • For temporary records, a justification for the retention/disposition requirement
  • For permanent records, an explanation of how/why the record series is deemed historically significant, citing statute if appropriate

Note: ADAH staff will provide the “Bibliographic Titles” appearing at the end of each permanent record description.

If your agency no longer produces a record series in the RDA, the series should be listed in a subsection entitled “Records No Longer Created” so that the Commission knows why they are no longer present. 

The “Permanent Records List” at the end of Section 2 is a one-page list of all the permanent records created by the agency. Records are ordered by subfunction in the same order in which they appear in Section 3. Asterisks indicate permanent records that the agency will maintain on-site.

Many currently approved RDAs include the subsection “Agency Recordkeeping System” within Section 2. This subsection describes the agency’s paper and electronic filing practices. While this information is still necessary, Records Management staff will withdraw this subsection into a separate but joint document in order to protect the agency’s security and assets. The “Agency Recordkeeping System” will not be published online.

Section 3: Records Disposition Authority

This section provides retention periods for every record series, whether temporary or permanent. Permanent series are in all caps.

The retention requirement for each temporary record series depends on a variety of factors, including legislative and audit requirements and the record series’ foreseeable administrative and historical value. Records Management staff can provide guidance on a reasonable retention requirement.

Common language for temporary record retention requirements includes:

  • Retain [x] years.
  • Retain[x] years after [y]. 
  • Retain [x] years after the end of the fiscal year in which [y].
  • Retain [x] years after audit.
  • Retain until superseded.

“Explanation of Records Requirements” and “Requirements and Recommendations for Implementing the RDA” are both standard to all RDAs.

See “An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process” for next steps:

  • Return RDA Working Draft to Records Management Staff
  • Agency Leadership Reviews Final Draft
  • The State Records Commission Approves the RDA Revision

Contact Us

The state agency RDA is a complex document. Please feel free to reach out to Records Management staff with any questions at any point during the revision process using the contact information below:

An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

Previously, we discussed how to determine if your state agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) needs revising:

Many state agency RDAs have not been revised since the late 1990s or early 2000s. They often lack key components and may no longer be consistent with records law and/or best practice. Records Management staff view RDA revision as an opportunity to conduct a holistic review of your currently approved RDA and create an updated document that better serves your agency.

Depending on your agency’s size and the state of its RDA, revision requires a considerable time commitment on the part of both agency staff and Records Management staff.

Read below for an overview of what to expect during the RDA revision process.

Agency Contacts the ADAH Records Management Staff

Agencies seeking an RDA revision should contact Records Management staff to schedule an in-person introductory meeting or conference call. This meeting/call will introduce the parties involved and help define the scope of the RDA revision before beginning work on either end. Please be mindful that due to the time required to revise an RDA and the high demand for revisions, Records Management staff may be unable to undertake your agency’s revision immediately.

Note: Your agency will not be placed on the schedule to present an RDA revision until you contact Records Management staff.

Contact one of the following staff members to discuss RDA revision:

Agency Uses “Track Changes” to Revise a Working RDA

Agencies with more than twenty employees are strongly encouraged to work on the revision by committee.

Records Management staff will send your agency representative(s) a copy of the currently approved RDA in Microsoft Word. The Microsoft Word copy of the RDA will contain notations indicating which sections may be revised and which sections contain standardized, inalterable language. Records Management staff will describe in detail what agency commentary is needed depending on the revision scope. Agency representative(s) will edit the document using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature.

Agency Returns RDA Working Draft to Records Management Staff

Once you return the edited Microsoft Word copy of the RDA, Records Management staff will independently research trends, best practices, and developments in your agency’s field or industry to supplement suggested revisions.

Agency Leadership Reviews Final Draft

Records Management staff will provide a timeline for your agency’s leadership to conduct a final review of the revised RDA and will work collaboratively to produce a final draft is satisfactory to all parties.

The ADAH Director and State Records Commission chairman, Mr. Steve Murray, will review the final draft in advance of the State Records Commission meeting.

The State Records Commission Approves the RDA Revision

Records Management staff will present the RDA revision to the State Records Commission. While not required, agency representative(s) are requested to attend the meeting to clarify any questions which Commissioners may ask.

The Commission meets twice a year on the fourth Wednesday of April and October. Meetings are planned up to one and a half years in advance and cannot be rescheduled.

Agency Leadership and State Records Commission Chairman Sign the RDA

Following approval by the State Records Commission, both Mr. Steve Murray and the designated agency representative (usually a director or commissioner) must sign the RDA on its signature page.

The agency will retain one copy of a signed RDA on file, while the ADAH will retain another signed copy. The new RDA will be made available on the ADAH website. 

Agency Uses the Approved RDA

The agency uses the approved RDA to manage information, preserve permanent records, and dispose of temporary records that have met their designated retention requirements.

Agency officials may destroy records after satisfying the retention requirements set forth in the RDA, presuming no litigation or other hold is placed upon the records. They must document the destruction of both paper and electronic records.

Each state agency is required to submit an Annual RDA Implementation Report to the ADAH every year on January 15 for the previous fiscal year documenting records management, records destruction activities, and permanent records activities.

Coming Up

Stay tuned to the For the Record blog for a third and final post on the state agency RDA revision process:

  • A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

“Help – This RDA is Outdated!”: How to Determine if Your State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Needs Revision

Records and recordkeeping practices change naturally over time as state agencies evolve. Records Disposition Authorities, or RDAs, require regular revision to accurately reflect the records that your agency creates and the retention requirements for those records.

RDAs can require revision for various reasons. Below are some of the most common reasons: 

(1) New state and/or federal laws have increased the scope of your agency’s work. As a result, your agency creates new records which are not described in the RDA. Note: Records not currently described in the RDA are ineligible for records destruction.

(2) New state and/or federal laws have modified the required minimum retention of certain record series in the RDA.

(3) The agency was restructured, and divisions were transferred from another state agency. New records are therefore being created which are not described in the RDA.

(4) The agency was restructured, and divisions were transferred to another state agency. Records presently described in the RDA are no longer created by your agency.

RDA revisions are not required for changes to the agency’s organization or leadership that do not affect the agency’s functions. Examples of changes not meriting RDA revision include divisional restructuring that does not affect the agency’s functions, or a change in agency director.

Contact the ADAH Records Management Staff

Agencies seeking an RDA revision should contact Records Management staff to schedule an in-person introductory meeting or conference call. This meeting/call will introduce the parties involved and help define the scope of the RDA revision before beginning work on either end. Please be mindful that due to the time required to revise an RDA and the high demand for revisions, Records Management staff may be unable to undertake your agency’s revision immediately.

Contact one of the following staff members to discuss RDA revision:

Coming Up

Stay tuned to the For the Record blog for two upcoming posts on the state agency RDA revision process:

  • An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process
  • A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process