records management faq
Records management is the systematic control of records throughout their life cycle in order to ensure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time for the right purposes. Records management helps departments ensure that their records are retrievable, reliable, secure, and trustworthy. Records management is guided by the principle that managed records are an asset and unmanaged records are a liability.
Records management at the University of North Carolina is governed by a combination of state and federal law and university policy. To assist you in understanding the legal groundwork behind records management, Records Management Services has compiled a list of frequently asked questions and has outlined the policy surrounding public records as well as protocol for managing your records. Certainly not all record types are addressed here, so if you have further questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or refer to our policy webpages regarding permanent records and email retention and instructions detailing the transfer of records to University Archives.
(Click on the questions below to see the answers.)
- Why should I care about records management?
Efficiency—Poorly managed records are retained for longer than is necessary and take up valuable office space.
Access—Good recordkeeping makes records easy to locate.
Accountability—Proper records management ensures that the university can appropriately account for its actions.
History—Records management makes it easier to identify the permanent, historical records that should be transferred to University Archives.
- What is a public record?
As employees of a public university (including professors, coaches, researchers, etc., as well as administrators and staff), we are conducting public business in the normal course of our jobs. Records created during the conduct of public business are public records, per the North Carolina Public Records law.
Chapter 132 of the General Statutes of North Carolina provides this definition of a public record:
"Public record" or "public records" shall mean all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, films, sound recordings, magnetic or other tapes, electronic data-processing records, artifacts, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance in connection with the transaction of public business by any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions. "Agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions" shall mean and include every public office, public officer or official (state or local, elected or appointed), institution, board, commission, bureau, council, department, authority or other unit of government of the State or of any county, unit, special district or other political subdivision of government.
Note: all university records are "public" in the sense outlined in N.C.G.S. 132, though some public records are confidential and thus not open to public inspection.
- Who has access to public records?
Except where restricted by specific provisions in state or federal law, public records are open to anyone for inspection, as specified by N.C.G.S. §132-6:
Every custodian of public records shall permit any record in the custodian’s custody to be inspected and examined at reasonable times and under reasonable supervision by any person, and shall, as promptly as possible, furnish copies thereof upon payment of any fees as may be prescribed by law. No person requesting to inspect and examine public records, or to obtain copies thereof, shall be required to disclose the purpose or motive for the request.
- What about confidential records?
Exceptions to the access requirements in N.C.G.S. §132-6 and the definition of public records in N.C.G.S. §132-1 are found throughout the North Carolina General Statutes. "Restricted Access" notations and confidentiality statements on the General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule indicate the laws that restrict public access to specific records series.
UNC records may be subject to the following confidentiality laws:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA—20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g) restricts access to student records.
- Health Information Portability Protection Act of 1996 (HIPPA—Public Law 104-191) restricts access to an individual’s medical records.
- Chapter 126 of the General Statutes of North Carolina (State Personnel System) restricts access to certain personnel records. It is important to note that current salary as well as date and amount of last salary increase are not confidential under N.C.G.S. 126.
Please note that as laws are constantly changing, some records series not listed as confidential may become confidential and others may become open to inspection. You are responsible for knowing which records in your office or under your care are confidential. Feel free to contact the Records Services Archivist with questions about confidential records.
- What do I do with my electronic records?
The electronic records of the university are considered public records and must be retained, destroyed, or transferred to University Archives in accordance with the General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. All public records regardless of format are subject to the schedule. Likewise, electronic public records must be made accessible to anyone requesting access, unless specified otherwise by state or federal law.
Electronic formats introduce a host of challenges to proper records management, such as rendering issues due to hardware and software obsolescence, security breaches, file corruption, metadata loss, and overwriting. To offset these problems, we recommend the following measures:
- Maintain your files actively. If you update software or hardware, ensure that your old files can still be stored and rendered properly or are migrated into a usable format.
- Make sure your files are backed up. Contact Information Technology Services with any questions.
- Use meaningful and standardized file-naming conventions. Include the date and appropriate descriptors and versions, and use underscores instead of spaces and periods. Similarly, title your emails meaningfully. File emails and electronic files in a simple and logical system.
- Avoid using public resources, such as your UNC email account, for personal business, and avoid using personal resources, such as your personal email account, for university business.
- Use standard and widely recognized file types. The state of North Carolina approves and supports MS Office file types.
- Keep as much metadata as possible (creator/sender, date created/sent, date modified, edit history, formula data, etc.) associated with files. This means that printing out files and preserving those printouts as the official record is not an acceptable practice, as much of the associated metadata is lost in the process.
If you have implemented a digital imaging system in accordance with the state's digitization guidelines, the paper copy can be destroyed, except in cases in which a preservation copy is necessary (refer to N.C.G.S. §132-8.2). In these instances, a paper or microform copy is required.
Contact University Archives if you wish to transfer electronic records to the archives.
- What about getting rid of records?
Each records series listed in the records retention schedule has specific disposition instructions that indicate how long those records must be kept in your office. Some records have a disposition of "permanent," which means you can transfer such records to University Archives after their retention period has ended.
The disposition instructions for other records are to "destroy" either after a specified period of time or "when reference value ends," which means that you can dispose of these records when your office has no administrative need or the records are no longer required to perform the duties of your office.
Records should be destroyed in one of the following ways:
- shredded, or torn up so as to destroy the record content of the documents or material concerned
- burned, unless prohibited by local ordinance
- placed in acid vats so as to reduce the paper to pulp and to terminate the existence of the documents or materials concerned
- buried under such conditions that the record nature of the documents or materials will be terminated
- sold as waste paper, provided that the purchaser agrees in writing that the documents or materials concerned will not be resold as documents or records. (07 NCAC 04M .0510)
Confidential records should be destroyed in a secure manner so that the information contained in them cannot be used. You should confirm with any destruction service that confidential records are being properly destroyed.
UNC-CH Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling has confidential recycling services that meet the guidelines listed above. More information can be obtained about their services here.
Note that unscheduled records (i.e., records not represented by a series in the approved retention schedule) cannot be destroyed. Email Records Management Services for assistance with the retention schedule.
- What do I do with my records in case of disaster like a fire or flood?
Secure the area and keep everyone out until the fire department or other safety professionals allow entry. Then call University Archives and Records Management Service at 962-6402 for advice on how to handle damaged records.
We can assist you in appraising the records that have been damaged so that precious resources (and especially time) are not spent on records with little or no value. We can provide lists of professional recovery vendors that you can contact to preserve your essential and permanent records.