Records Managers

Frequently Asked Questions About Records Inventories

What is a "records inventory"?

A "records inventory" is a detailed listing of the volume, scope, and complexity of an organization's records, usually compiled for the purpose of creating a records schedule (A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 1992, p. 19). The results of this survey can be used to analyze the records for various purposes including retention and protection.

How do I inventory records?

The steps in the records inventory process are:

  1. Define the inventory's goals. While the main goal is gathering information for scheduling purposes, other goals may include preparing for conversion to other media, or identifying particular records management problems.
  2. Define the scope of the inventory; it should include all records and other materials.
  3. Obtain top management's support, preferably in the form of a directive, and keep management and staff informed at every stage of the inventory.
  4. Decide on the information to be collected (the elements of the inventory). Materials should be located, described, and evaluated in terms of use.
  5. Prepare an inventory form, or use an existing one.
  6. Decide who will conduct the inventory, and train them properly.
  7. Learn where the agency's files are located, both physically and organizationally.
  8. Conduct the inventory.
  9. Verify and analyze the results.

What information should be included in an inventory ?

An inventory should include certain elements of information for each series:

Date prepared
The date the inventory was prepared

Office maintaining the files
The name and symbol of the office maintaining the records. If the office received this series from another office, also indicate the name and symbol of that office and designate it as the "creating office."

Person conducting the inventory
Name, office, and telephone number

Series location
Give the precise location of the series. If the series is located in more than one office, indicate multiple locations.

Series title
Give each series a title for brief reference or include the generally accepted title.

Inclusive dates
The earliest and most recent dates of the records in each series. These are needed to schedule records, and to determine when to cut off, or break them and transfer them to records centers or agency storage facilities.

Series description
A clear description of the series is basic to the success of the inventory and the schedule. It may also be needed to clarify the series title and should contain enough information to show the purpose, use, and subject content of the records.

Indicate whether the record medium is paper, microform, electronic, audiovisual, or a combination of these.

Indicate the arrangement, or filing system, used.

Express the volume of records in cubic feet, where possible. When inventorying audiovisual, microform, cartographic, and related records, also provide an item count (e.g., 1200 prints, 3500 negatives) where appropriate. Sampling may be necessary for large series or collections. NARA requires agencies to give volume figures for records proposed for permanent retention, as well as for nonrecurring records proposed for immediate destruction.

Annual accumulation
Based on information from the files custodian, estimate the annual rate of accumulation for each series if the records are current and continuing. If the records no longer accumulate, indicate "none." NARA requires agencies to furnish the rate of accumulation of those records proposed for permanent retention.

To cut off records means to break, or end, them at regular intervals to permit their disposal or transfer in complete blocks to permit the establishment of new files. Indicate how often the records are cut off and when the last cutoff occurred. If they are not cut off, explain how inactive records are separated from active ones.

Reference activity
Rate the reference activity of a paper record series, after the regular cutoff, by placing it in one of three categories:

  • Current, or active (used more than once a month)
  • Semicurrent, or semiactive (used less than once a month)
  • Noncurrent, or inactive (not used for current operations)

Vital records status
If the records qualify as vital records, specify whether they would be needed in an emergency (emergency-operating records) and whether they are needed to document legal or financial rights, or both. Also indicate whether they are the originals or duplicates. (See 36 CFR Part 1236 for requirements in managing vital records).

Indicate duplication in form or content. It can exist in the following ways:

  • Copies may be in the same organizational unit or elsewhere in the agency. The copies may contain significant differences or notations.
  • Similar data or information may be available elsewhere in the agency, either physically duplicated or in summarized form.

Finding aids
Note the existence of any finding aids for the series, especially if the records are to be proposed for permanent retention. Indicate where the finding aid is located and note if it covers more than one series.

Restrictions on access and use
Indicate any restrictions on access to, and use of, the particular series. Such restrictions may result from statutes, executive orders, or agency directives. Common types of restrictions are:

  • Privacy Act restrictions
  • National security restrictions
  • Freedom of Information Act restrictions
  • Other applicable restrictions that may be specific to the agency

Condition of permanent records
During the inventory, take note of the physical condition of records that are actually or potentially permanent, especially those stored off-site. Identify threats to their preservation and security.

Disposition authority
If the series has an approved disposition authority, list the schedule and item number and then the retention period. If the series has no such authority, list the files as "unscheduled," make sure they are preserved, and ask the program office to recommend a suitable retention period.

What additional information should be included in an inventory of electronic records?

Besides the inventory information listed above, include the following in an inventory of electronic records and electronic records systems:

  • Name of the system
  • Program or legal authority for creation of the system
  • System control number
  • Agency program supported by the system
  • Purpose of the system
  • Data input and sources
  • Major outputs
  • Informational content (include where applicable):
    • Description of data
    • Persons, places, or things that are the subject of the system and the information maintained on those subjects
    • Geographic coverage
    • Time span
    • Update cycle
    • Date that the system was initiated
    • Applications that the systems supports
    • How data are manipulated
    • Key unit of analysis for each file
    • Whether a public-use version is created
  • Description of indexes, if any
  • Hardware and software environment
  • Name, office, telephone number, and location of the system manager
  • Name, office, telephone number, and room number of the person with the documentation needed to read and understand system, including
    • Codebooks
    • File layouts
    • Other (specify)
  • Location and volume of any other records containing the same information

Updated 10/27/00

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