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Local Records Management Manual

Chapter 1--Records Inventory

The first step in developing a records management program is to take an inventory to locate, identify, count and measure all records created and maintained by an office. The records inventory or survey encompasses all media types including paper records, diskettes, CD-ROMS, microfilm, maps, and drawings. An inventory is essential for preparing records retention and disposition schedules.

Law of Thirds

After completing a records inventory, individuals usually discover that many records can be destroyed or moved to inactive storage. Often approximately 1/3 of the total volume of records can be destroyed, 1/3 transferred to inactive storage, and 1/3 retained in the active files.

The inventory allows staff to evaluate the content and function of records and enhances their ability to identify and assess problem areas and to plan for future growth. Data on accumulation rates (the rates at which your records accumulate) for example, will help staff decide whether to microfilm a series and what sort of equipment and space should be planned for; data on reference or retrieval rates (the frequency with which records are used) will help staff decide when to put records into storage; and data on filing and indexing methodsCthe way records are filed and indexedCmay alert staff to potential problems of retrieval.

The Inventory Process
A physical inventory is conducted at the record series level (a series is a group of identical or related records that are normally filed and used together and can be evaluated as a unit) and it records information about each series on a Record Series Inventory form. When you fill in the form, you need not be specific about individual names or give details of subject matter, but staff should include general information on the content of the records and the way they are usedCtheir titles and any variant titles, their inclusive dates, their location, their physical form (paper, microfilm, magnetic tape, and floppy disk for example), their size, the way they are filed, their volume, the rate at which they accumulate annually, their physical condition, how often they are used and for how long, any legal consideration, and so forth.
The physical inventory should be supplemented with interviews with those who work most closely with the records to gain a broader understanding of the nature and purpose of each series. A physical inventory, combined with interviews with records custodians, generally results in the most thorough and accurate inventory of a local government=s records.

The Staff
Ideally, individuals responsible for the inventory will have training in records management and experience with the records and operations of local government. In most situations, however, conditions are less than ideal, and the task is assigned either to outside records consultants, or to the records officer, if there is one, or to office staff or part-time workers who learn on-the-job or receive special training. The use of staff has several advantages:
They know the records.
Outside access will not be given to restricted records.
There will be no additional costs.

Completing the Inventory Form

Inventory personnel may use self-designed or other inventory forms, but the inventory worksheet included at the end of this chapter works well in most applications, and can be reproduced for use by local government. Not all portions of the form will always require completion, but the more complete a form is, the more useful it is. ( See the sample form in Appendix A )
Each space for information on the form is called a field. The fields are numbered for ease of identification. A brief description of the information that should be recorded in each field is outlined below.

1- 3. Agency/Division/Other Organizational Unit: List the office maintaining the records subdividing by appropriate division, bureau, section, etc. if applicable.
4. Location of Records: Include the building and room in which the records are stored. If there is no name, number, or letter for a room, provide an arbitrary designation. When it is possible to do so, indicate the location within a room. If records are on shelving or in piles along a particular wall, for example, specify "west wall." If there is a great deal of shelving, then use any existing numbering system for ranges and shelves or invent one.

The various files, volumes, or documents in a series may not be stored together, but they still may be listed on a single inventory form, so long as the quantity and dates of the records in each location are noted on the inventory form (use the back of the form if necessary). However, it is recommended for similar record series located in different places that they be listed on separate inventory forms and merged together later. Additionally, similar records generated by two different divisions or subdivisions must also be inventoried separately.

5. Name and Title of Person Responsible for Maintaining Records: In most cases, this will be the records custodian and his/her title.

6. Telephone: Include the telephone number of the records custodian.

7. Records Series Title: Enter a title that accurately describes the record series. A record series is a group of records which are normally used and filed as a unit, and which permit evaluation as a unit for retention scheduling purposes. For example, all travel vouchers for an entire agency or department would be considered a record series.

The questions to ask in identifying a record series include:

Are the records interfiled?
Do the records have a common function?
Do the records have the same retention and disposition requirements?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then the records should probably be placed in one coherent, comprehensive record series.
Identifying separate record series is one of the most important aspects of a records inventory. In some instances, there may be many distinct record series in the same container. However, sometimes it is necessary to treat different types of documents as a single series. For example, a staff member may have several responsibilities yet interfile information relating to his/her various activities. It would be time consuming to document each file folder as a series; therefore, grouping the records in a series called "Working Files" or "Subject Files" could be the most appropriate inventory method.

8. Record Series Description: Briefly summarize the nature and purpose of the record series. Avoid repeating the previously recorded series title. Unless it is unusually comprehensive, the series title usually is too brief to provide a clear indication of the nature and purpose of the records. Explain why the series was created and its function. You also should make a complete list of the types of documents in a series (forms, correspondence, reports, notes, etc.) and describe the nature of the information recorded in the documents. Series descriptions should contain enough detail so that anyone can understand the record series.

9. Inclusive Dates: Enter the earliest year in which records in the series were created on the first line and the most recent year on the second line. If uncertain about the dates, put down the best guess preceded by "ca.", an abbreviation for circa or "approximately." Always check the contents of the filing equipment containing the record series; the dates on the outside of a filing cabinet, box, or volume may not be valid.

10. Record Format: This section denotes the medium(s) in which the record series is stored. Check the appropriate box indicating whether the records exists in paper, microform, or electronic format. In some cases all three boxes may be checked as the same series can be stored in several formats. If there is a change in format at some point in the life cycle of the record, a schedule update will be required.

11. Arrangement: If most of the information or documents in a record series are in chronological, alphabetical, or numerical order, check the appropriate box. Indicate on the line following "By" the specific nature of the arrangement (e.g. alphabetical by name of payee; chronological by date filed; numerical by account number; etc.). Records often are found in no particular order, if that is the case, write "none" in the blank after "Other."

12. Filing Equipment/Volume: Write on the appropriate line the number of boxes and/or letter or legal size filing drawers containing records in the series. If none of these categories is satisfactory, indicate the type and number of containers on the line designated "Other." Enter the total volume of records, expressed in cubic feet, in the space provided. The total cubic feet often will be an estimate, but try to make it a calculated guess. A standard file drawer is 1.5 cubic feet and a legal file drawer is 2.0 cubic feet. Keep in mind that the volume of any container (in cubic feet) can be calculated using the following formula: Length (in inches) x Width (in inches) x Depth (in inches))1728.

13. Annual Accumulation: An agency may still retain record series which are obsolete; if so, then check the "No" box. If the series is still being created, check the "Yes" box and attempt to estimate the amount of records created annually.

14. Estimated Activity Per File Drawer: This field contains information about the record usage changes that naturally occur during the life cycle of a series. Consult with records custodians and any other individuals who may use the records to estimate how frequently agency staff members access the series at different stages in its life cycle. Record storage requirements should be reevaluated as usage declines. Daily usage represents a high rate of activity indicating that the record series is active and should remain in the office. When file activity drops to a weekly or monthly rate, it may be time to consider transferring the records to less expensive offsite storage. A usage rate of less than once a month generally demonstrates the need to transfer the records to inactive storage.

15. Status: The array of office technology -personal computers, laser printers, fax machines, copy machines- used by agencies to conduct business frequently results in the duplication of documents or information from a series. In order to prepare an accurate retention and disposition schedule, it is essential to identify which unit (and often which individual) maintains the agency's official record copy of a series. It is also important to determine if information from the series is duplicated or summarized in another location or in another record series. These questions often will be easier to answer after the inventory has been completed and after consulting with the records custodian.

16. Public Access Restrictions: Indicate by marking the appropriate box whether any public access restrictions apply to the record series. Provide citations for specific state or federal statutes and regulations that limit public access to the records.

17. Relevant Statutes/Regulations: Note any statutes or regulations which may affect management of the record series (e.g. laws or regulations that mandate the creation of the series; laws or regulations that authorize the activity that results in the creation of the series; laws or regulations that require the retention of the series for a specific period of time; etc.)

18. Recommended Retention Period: In this section note the records custodian's recommendations regarding an appropriate retention period for the series. Indicate how long the record series should be stored in the office and, if applicable, the length of time the records should be maintained in inactive storage.

19. Recommended Final Disposition: Note whether the records custodian recommends destruction of the series or its transfer to permanent storage.

20. Vital Records: Check "Yes" if the record series is considered vital. Vital records are records that contain information required by an agency to continue functioning or to reestablish operations in the event of a disaster.

21. Additional Remarks: This space has been provided for any significant information or comments about the records which do not seem to fit elsewhere on the form.

22. Name: List the name of the person who filled out the inventory form. Avoid the use of initials.

23. Telephone: Include the telephone number of the person completing the form.

24. Date of Inventory: Record the date the inventory form was completed.


The comprehensive records inventory serves as the foundation of an office=s records management program. A well executed inventory will result in the identification of vital records, and the appropriate use of active and inactive storage. The success of a records management program is related directly to the accuracy and completeness of the records inventory. The time staff spends on an inventory is time well spent.

This guide is also available in hardcopy from the KSHS Library/Archives Records Management Section.