Washington State Archives
Records Management Online: Basics of Records Management

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Welcome to the "Basics of Records Management". This tutorial will introduce:

"All public records shall be and remain the property of the state of Washington. They shall be delivered by outgoing officials and employees to their successors and shall be preserved, stored, transferred, destroyed or disposed of, and otherwise managed, only in accordance to the provisions of this chapter". Chapter 40.14.020 RCW


Want more in-depth knowledge and information on records management fundamentals and best practices? Visit the additional tutorials that will soon be available online at www.sos.wa.gov/archives. Look for sidebars during this tutorial for links to advice sheets and other resources. 

What is a public record? 

Managed in accordance with Chaper 40.14 RCW Preservation and Destruction of Public Records (1957)

Public records are defined by three key criteria in Chapter 40.14.010 RCW

1. "Made by or received by any agency in the State of Washington"

Public records include both records that an agency creates and records that an agency may receive or collect. For example, when an agency solicits public comment on an issue, both the request for comment and any comments received in response are public records.

2. "In connection with the transaction of public business"

A record provides the proof or evidence of agency business. Agency business includes not only the core mission of the agency, but also those functions that support the agency's continuing operation such as finance, human resources, facility and asset management.

3. "Regardless of physical form or characteristics"

If a record meets the two criteria listed above, then it is a public record, regardless of the format in which it was sent or received. Not only paper records, photographs or microfilm, but records that are created or received using any kind of digital format or application. This includes emails, websites, blogs, wikis, digital photos, text messages, blogs, tweets, and any emerging technologies used to conduct agency business.

Each agency is responsible for the preservation and lawful disposition of their public records.

How many different ways are there to create a record?


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A record provides evidence that supports the actions and decisions an agency makes during the conduct of government business. Records document this conduct of business, and provide the proof of how and why an agency took certain actions and made certain decisions. Only those records that document the conduct of business need to be kept.

All records have a retention value, based on their content and function or purpose. It is important to know what records need to be kept and for how long those records need to be retained, and what records do not need to be kept and can be disposed of quickly.

Some records have a very short term or no retention, other records may have a longer term of retention, and some records are required to be kept forever.

Two more key points:


"Cookies in the break room", potlucks, retirement parties, and other social announcements, Friday funnies, spam or junk mail are examples of records with no retention value. These should be eliminated from your Inbox as soon as possible and can be deleted at will.

Some examples of what should be captured and kept as a record are:

In the event of legal action or a dispute, what would you need to keep in order to provide sufficient evidence of actions and decisions that were made? 


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 Here is another way of looking at the value of a record:


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 Remember that public records serve a purpose; they document the conduct of government business.


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 What is Records Management?

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Records management is the systematic control and the capturing, classifying and ongoing management of records for their entire lifecycle.  It is knowing what to keep, how long you need to keep it, and when you can get rid of it lawfully.


For government agencies in the state of Washington, records management consists of: 

  1. Keeping public records for the minimum required period of time as outlined in the approved records retention schedules.
  2. Once the retention period has been met, either destroy the record or transfer records to the archives as outlined in the approved records retention schedules.



Why Manage Records?

Records and information are the most important assets of an agency. Records are very ordinary and somewhat boring to most, however they are a vital necessity. Simply put, you cannot run a business or agency without records!

An effective records management program offers a number of benefits:

1. Enables the agency to fulfill its mission

The public records of an agency form a critical part of the informational assets of the agency.


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2. Promotes cost-effective use of agency resources

Time - Agency operations are more effective and efficient when the right people are able to locate and access the right records at the right time. 


3. Cost avoidance and conserving resources

Storage costs - Agencies are able to make optimal use of the physical space within their facilities and storage space on their servers by following proper retention and disposition practices.

IT costs - The appropriate disposal or transfer of public records reduces costs associated with maintenance of servers and lessens the time required to to backup, locate and restore data and migrate records.

Litigation costs - Agencies minimize their risks and associated costs by being able to readily locate all necessary records in response to litigation, discovery, public records requests, and audits.


4. Promotes open and accountable government

Public records provide the evidence by which government agencies are able to demonstrate that they took the right action at the right time for the right reasons. Public records document the conduct of agency business, and access to this information promotes transparency and accountability to the citizens.

When an agency can demonstrate that its public records are organized, controlled, and disposed of only in accordance to law as part of a records management program, that agency enhances its own reputation as well as the public's confidence in government.

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Public Records Management in Washington State

Laws, Rules and Accountability

Government agencies in Washington State are required to comply with laws and rules developed for the retention and destruction of public records. These laws and rules are found within the Revised Code of Washington (referred to as the RCW) and the Washington Administrative Code (referred to as the WAC)

The first and foremost statute for public records is Chapter 40.14 RCW Preservation and Destruction of Public Records, which was created in 1957. This statute is the foundation for records management in the State of Washington:

Their decisions are reflected in the approved records retention schedules, which government agencies are required to use for the management of public records.


The following are the existing statutes relating to public records:StateSealBlackandWhite600dpiTIFF-1326.jpg

Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 

Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 


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Protecting public records is a requirement for government agencies in the State of Washington.

To ensure the protection of those records, agencies need to: 

  1. Know what public records to keep.
  2. Keep those records for the minimum required period of time as outlined in the approved records retention schedules.
  3. Once their retention period has been met, destroy or transfer records as outlined in the approved records retention schedules



The Washington State Archives is your partner in preservation and access of public records. We have many resources available to assist agencies in the protection of public records, including online training, classroom training, seminars, and other tools available on our website at: www.sos.wa.gov/archives.







Assess your knowledge



Here is a series of quizzes and activities to assess your knowledge of this tutorial "The Basics of Public Records Management." 

Match the definitions:


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