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Records management: FAQs

Records management at UW-Parkside: What do I keep? What do I toss? What goes to the archives?

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What are the benefits a records management program?

  • Quick access to historical documents
  • A paper or electronic trail of actions
  • Frees office and storage space
  • Compliance with federal, state, and UW-System laws and policies
  • Open access to public records
  • Support of historical documentation
  • Promotes institutional effectiveness, efficiency, consistency

What is a record?  

A record is information in any format documenting an action that was initiated, acted on, or received as part of the work or business of your office.

btw…. Do not keep records for others. Keep what is a record for you.

What is a non-record?

Non-records are the background noise during a delightful conversation and the non-active ingredients in a vitamin tablet. They are there, but they are not the reason you do something. They may be necessary or unavoidable but they’re not central to an activity.


  • Mass mailings or emails
  • Courtesy copies
  • Convenience copies
  • Drafts
  • Personal notes
  • Materials of an entirely personal nature
  • Emails serving as reminders
  • Student work that had been graded and returned to a student

What is a public record?

Public records are so named because our business is public. We conduct our business on behalf of the State of Wisconsin. This does not mean that some public records are not confidential—many are due to social security numbers, student information covered by FERPA, etc.

Public records include documents, images, audio and video recordings, computer storage media, electronic mail, or anything capable of storing information. A clay tablet with a student transcript is a record just as a paper transcript or an electronic file of the transcript.

Public records may include:

  • A document received or created by an agency in connection with the transaction of public business;
  • Information that contains value as evidence of an agency’s functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, mission, programs, projects or activities;
  • Information fulfilling regulatory record keeping requirements; and
  • A document that contains a business action such as: what happened, what was decided, what advice was given, who was involved, when it happened, the order of events and decisions.

If you are not sure whether a record is actually a public record, treat it as if it were and ask for verification by contacting Rebecca Robbennolt in the archives.

Are emails, text messages, and Facebook postings records?

Records are independent of format. Content and use make a record. For instance Correspondence between students and faculty regarding course progress is a record that must be retained for six months (by the faculty member), whether that is email, IM, paper, or clay tablet. If necessary, for instance, if required for legal purposes, the record must be made accessible. The take-away? Use only secure, university-provided email for official university business. Do not use email for very confidential matters.

How long do I keep records?

Each type of record has its own retention schedule, which indicates the minimum length of time the record should be kept, how it should be kept, whether it should be sent to the archives, and how it is to be destroyed, if it is nonpermanent. A record’s retention period is based on its administrative, fiscal, legal, or historical value. See  the GRS and RRDA tabs above.

How do I know if I have to officially keep the record?

The office or department that holds the official version of the record(s) is responsible for it.  This is generally the creating unit or person.  The official record is maintained for administrative, legal, fiscal, or regulatory purposes.  

If as a recipient, you need to keep a record for documentation purposes (i.e., project files may contain budget information, drawings, or forms generated by another department), yours may be a "record" copy, but it would inherit the retention of the record series (project files), not the individual document.

How often do I have to go through our records?

Annually, please:

  • Review your records
  • If you have created new kinds of records, they need to be added to the records schedule—talk to the records manager.
  • Review the relevant GRSs and RRDAs. Properly dispose of records that have expired according to the directions in the record retention schedule (destroy confidentially, retain, or send to archives.)

What if my records are not covered in a GRS or RRDA?

You still cannot simply dispose of them. Contact the records manager on campus (Rebecca Robbennolt) to locate the relevant document or write an RRDA appropriate to your records.

Can I just keep or destroy records as I see fit?

No. All public records are public property. They cannot be recycled or destroyed without proper authorization. Use a General Records Schedule or a Records Disposal Authorization as a guide to eliminating unnecessary records.

Where can we store records?

Paper documents or information storage devices can be stored in offices or storerooms, as long as confidential records are kept locked and inaccessible to all who should not have access. Records that must be maintains permanently will often be stored in the archives. Consult the GRS or RRDA for guidelines on a particular record.

What is a General Records Schedule (GRS)? Where do I find it?

General Records Schedule a list of several or many records produced by UW-institutions or State agencies

  • Includes a description of the record, its retention period, its eventual fate or its method of disposal, a directive on copies and a note about confidentiality, if applicable.
  • It is written on a UW-system level and applies to all schools that opt in to the schedule or a state level for all agencies.

What is a Records Retention/Disposal Authorization (RRDA)? Where do I find it?

The RRDA is a form determining the fate of one type of record for an office or department.

  • It includes a description of the record, its retention period, its eventual fate or its method of disposal, a directive on copies and a note about confidentiality, if applicable
  • These are written on the local level for one kind of record by the Records Manager, and approved by the WI Public Records Board. For example, honors credit agreements between the honors program and a given department.

Who owns the records?

The State of Wisconsin.

Do I have copyright on anything?

Yes. Your scholarship belongs to you. Syllabi are also copyrighted works, although the university often retains a copy for record purposes, especially to record class content in disputed cases of transfer credits.

How does an agency change its records disposition schedule?

A GRS or RRDA can be revised by its author(s) or the group currently responsible for its implementation. GRSs are written by the Department of Administration or the UW-Record Officers Council. The individual records manager writes the RRDAs for her institution. Either revision requires approval from the state Public Records Board.

Who makes these rules?

Ultimately, the state legislature writes or approves statutes granting the Department of Administration this responsibility, which it transfers to the Public Records Board.

Do I get a prize for reading all of the FAQs?

Knowledge is its own reward. Thanks for playing.

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Rebecca Robbennolt's picture
Rebecca Robbennolt
(262) 595-2411

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