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

Capturing Web Content with Archive-It

You know what they say – once you post something online, you can’t take it down. “The internet is forever” – except when it’s not. Ever clicked on a link only to receive the pesky message “404 Error: Page Not Found”? Web records such as websites and social media are only “forever” if they are properly, and promptly, preserved.

Most Alabama state agencies maintain a website so that citizens can access content and get things done online without having to make a call or come by the office. State agencies also use websites and social media to communicate with citizens. These websites and social media pages are updated frequently, however, and may one day disappear. Websites and social media serve state agencies and citizens in the present but may also be of interest to future researchers.

The State Records Commission has identified all state agency websites as permanent records per the Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). Yet the archivists at the ADAH (talented though we may be) cannot capture the constantly evolving websites of around 200 state agencies. Since 2005, the ADAH has used a service called Archive-It to capture state agency websites.

What is Archive-It?

Archive-It is a subscription-based web archiving service from the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit and digital library. The Internet Archive provides free access to archived websites and other digital artifacts to researchers, historians, and the general public.

The Internet Archive also works with over 600 libraries and other partner organizations to harvest, build, and preserve collections of digital content, such as websites, blogs, and social media sites. The Archive-It service takes “snapshots” of a website’s appearance and top-level content throughout the year through a process called web crawling.

Webcrawling: How does it work?

Have you ever wondered how Google provides just the search result you need? Search engines like Google use webcrawlers. A webcrawler, sometimes called a spider, is software that systematically browses (or “crawls”) and automatically indexes the web.

Webcrawlers are always at work. They start with the targeted URL or “seed” URL. Usually the home page, the seed is the web crawler’s starting address for capturing content. From there, they follow links and extract data and documents. If a crawler comes across a new webpage, it indexes the page. If the webpage has already been indexed, then the crawler determines whether re-indexing is warranted.

Archive-It uses Heritrix, a webcrawler developed by the Internet Archive. Heritrix crawls all the seeds provided by the ADAH simultaneously and copies and saves the information as it goes. Archived websites are stored as “snapshots” but can be read and navigated as if they were live. They are full-text searchable within seven days of capture. The Internet Archive stores a primary and back-up copy at its data centers on multiple servers.

Note: All web crawlers, including Heritrix, fall short of making a complete index. There is no guarantee that documents placed on agency websites will be captured. Documents with a permanent retention must be transmitted to the ADAH separately. 

How does the ADAH use Archive-It?

The ADAH pays a subscription to collect a certain number of URLs. To archive a website, we provide its seed URL. The ADAH crawls all websites and select social media sites of all state agencies as well as the social media sites of Alabama Representatives and Senators. Social media sites crawls occur four times a year, while website crawls occur two times a year.

The ADAH has assigned descriptive metadata to each seed including website name, agency name, and short descriptions to aid access for researchers. The ADAH generates quarterly reports with statistics such as the total number of seeds crawled, the total number of documents crawled, and the total amount of data crawled in bytes.

How do I access archived websites?

Websites currently preserved by the ADAH are accessible here. If your agency’s website is not being captured, has been redesigned, or its URL has changed, please email a list of the URLs to the following:

Rachel Smith at Rachel.Smith@archives.alabama.gov

Becky Hebert at Becky.Hebert@archives.alabama.gov

Note: Universities and Local Governments are responsible for archiving snapshots of their own websites.

Imagine surfing circa 1999 and looking back on the Y2K hype, or revisiting an older version of your favorite Web site. Use the Wayback Machine to see billions of archived websites including vintage games, grab original source code from archived web pages, or visit websites that no longer exist. Simply type in a URL, select a date range, and begin surfing.

Newspaper Preservation

Guest Contributor: Mary Clare Johnson, Collections Archivist, Alabama Department of Archives and History

Many of us collect and keep newspapers and clippings as souvenirs of historical and personal importance; however, these ephemeral objects are not meant to last forever and have an expected lifespan of 50 years or less. They require special care and proper storage to outlast their impermanent lifespans.

They are usually printed on inexpensive, poor-quality paper made from unpurified wood pulp. This type of paper has a chemically unstable nature that causes it to become discolored, brittle, and acidic over time and to eventually disintegrate. Exposure to light, high humidity, and atmospheric pollutants hastens this disintegration. There are steps you can take, however, to preserve a beloved newspaper and lessen damage.

The first step in preserving your newspaper is to decide whether to store it lying flat folded or unfolded. When thinking about this decision, consider two questions:

  • Will unfolding pages cause damage along the fold lines?
  • Do you have enough room to store it flat?

Some experts recommend storing it unfolded, while others maintain that it should be folded in half (the way it looks when sold). Do whatever causes the least harm.

When storing your newspapers, avoid using these damaging materials:

  • Paper clips and staples, which rust and leave a stain as they deteriorate
  • Rubber bands, which degrade and stick
  • Glue or tape, as the adhesive will eventually leave stains
  • Lamination, as the plastic will permanently damage your newsprint and is an irreversible process

Keeping newspapers and clippings in boxes will prevent exposure to dirt, dust, and light, which cause newsprint to darken and become more brittle and the ink to fade over time. The size of the box should be close to the size of the materials it contains. It should not be made of standard cardboard, which tends to be acidic. It should be acid-free, lignin-free, buffered, and have a lid the same depth as the base. Buffered means that an alkaline (non-acidic) buffer has been added to the box to neutralize the acids given off by the newsprint so that the box will last longer. Clearly label the box with the titles and dates of the contents to prevent unnecessary handling.

If saving more than one complete newspaper, have a folder for each one that is acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered. If saving several sheets or numerous clippings, you may need more than one folder because you don’t want to overstuff the folders. In addition, some experts recommend inserting an acid-free, alkaline-buffered sheet of tissue paper between each page for further protection. Keeping pages pressed together with no buffer allows acid to spread and cause further damage to them. A cheaper alternative is acid-free tissue paper with no alkaline buffer. It reduces the risk of increasing the newspaper’s acidity but doesn’t prevent the spread of acid between pages.

Store the boxes in a cool, dry, and dark place in the main part of your house where temperatures and humidity levels stay relatively stable, such as a closet, under your bed, or a file cabinet drawer. Do not place boxes near radiators or vents. Basements, garages, and attics are not suitable because they can experience drastic temperature and humidity swings. Dampness can encourage the growth of mold and attract insects. Heat accelerates the chemical process that causes newsprint to deteriorate.

Routinely check to make sure your storage area is clean and dust-free. The more stable the environment, the longer newsprint will last. Also, make sure your storage box does not include other types of materials, such as letters, photographs, or books. The acidity of newsprint can cause permanent damage and stains to other materials.

Preserving your original newspaper is great but remember that the content is more important than the object itself. To preserve the content and minimize handling of the original, make a high-resolution scan and store the images on your computer and a USB flash drive. Then you can print copies of the scanned images for everyday use and display. Regular copy/printer paper will be more chemically stable and durable and will far outlive newsprint when stored in a stable environment. If you are concerned that scanning the newspaper will cause great harm, a library or archive can help you locate a microfilm copy or digitized version of your paper.

When it comes to display, it is best to frame a copy of your scanned newspaper and not display the original because of the damage caused by sunlight and fluorescent light. If you really want to display the original, it should be framed using acid-free backing board and kept away from windows. The frame should have special glass that blocks harmful ultraviolet (UV) light.

It is important to remember that the inherent acids in newspapers will continue to break them down slowly. If you want to ensure their long-term survival, you can consult a professional paper conservator who can neutralize these harmful acids through a process called deacidification. Available conservators can be found on the American Institute for Conservation website. Keep in mind, however, that their services will likely run into the hundreds of dollars.

While there are many threats to the survival of newsprint, proper preventative measures will help it last for many years.

Below is a list of archival quality supplies:

Box for clippingsGaylord Archival Blue/Grey Barrier Board Flip-Top Document Case
Box for folded newspapersGaylord Archival Blue/Grey Barrier Board Drop-Front Deep Lid Print Box
Box for unfolded
Gaylord Archival Tan Barrier Board Drop-Front Newspaper/Print Box
Folders for clippingsGaylord Archival Reinforced Full 1” Tab Legal Size File Folders

Gaylord Archival Reinforced Full 1” Tab Letter Size File Folders
Folders for folded or
unfolded newspapers
Gaylord Archival Oversize Newspaper File Folders
Buffered tissue paperGaylord Archival Buffered Acid-Free Tissue
Unbuffered tissue paperGaylord Archival Unbuffered Acid-Free Tissue
Frame kit for clippings or
Gaylord Archival Simply Black Collection Wood Frame Kit with 1.25” Molding
Preservation kit for folded or
unfolded newspapers
Gaylord Archival Newspaper Preservation Kit


American Library Association (2015, March 3). Digitizing old newspapers. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/advice/digitalnewspaper

American Library Association (2017, March 30). Storing old letters and newspaper clippings. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alcts/preservationweek/advice/storingpapers

Archival Methods [Screen name]. (2016, April 5). Archival solution of the week: Newspaper & magazine storage kits. Retrieved from https://www.archivalmethods.com/blog/newspaper-magazine-storage-kits/

Archival Methods [Screen name]. (2015, October 22). Preserving: Archivally storing old newspapers. Retrieved from https://www.archivalmethods.com/blog/storing-old-newspapers/

How to preserve your Obama victory newspaper. (2008, November 7). San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/

Library of Congress. (n.d.). Preservation measures for newspapers. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/newspap.html

Lockshin, N. (2012, January 12). How do I preserve my newspaper? Retrieved from https://siarchives.si.edu/what-we-do/forums/collections-care-guidelines-resources/how-do-i-preserve-my-newspaper

Northeast Document Conservation Center. (n.d.) Caring for private and family collections. Retrieved from https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preserving-private-and-family-collections/caring-for-private-and-family-collections

Ritzenthaler, M. L. (2016). Preserving newspaper clippings. Prologue Magazine, 48(1). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2016/spring/preserve-clippings.html 

Tobey, D. A. (2001). Preserving history: Here’s how to keep that historic newspaper for years to come [PDF file]. Retrieved from http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/reports/nytimes_preserving.pdf

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. (n.d.). How can I preserve an important edition of a newspaper? Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/newspaper.html

For further information on aspects of preservation, here are some resources:

Library of Congress: Collections Care https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/index.html

National Park Service: Conserve O Grams https://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/conserveogram/cons_toc.html

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC): Preservation Leaflets https://www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/overview

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: Preservation https://www.archives.gov/preservation