What is a Record and Other Definitions

A record is information created or received and maintained by the university, regardless of media, used to control, support, or document the activities and transactions of the university. The definition used by The Texas A&M System is “any written, photographic, machine-readable, or other recorded information created or received by or on behalf of the university that documents the activities of the organization. Records include books, letters, documents, printouts, photographs, film, tape, microfiche, microfilm, photostats, sound recordings, maps, drawings, and a voice, data, or video representation held in computer memory.” Records are retained for administrative, financial, historical, or legal reasons.

 Items that are not records include:

  •     Stocks of publications or printed brochures
  •     Library and museum materials
  •     Preliminary drafts, worksheets, memoranda, and informal notes that do not represent significant steps in the preparation of record documents
  •     Routing slips or memos that contain no pertinent information or approvals
  •     Duplicate or convenience copies held for ease of reference and accessibility
  •     Blank forms, files, and office supplies
  •     Unofficial notices, unsolicited announcements, invitations, or other materials that are not filed as evidence of official university business


Personal items which pertain solely to an individual’s affairs and do not relate to or have an effect on the conduct of university business. Using personal funds to purchase an item, such as an appointment book that is used to document work activities, does not make the item personal. Personal items kept at work or on a university computer may be subject to discovery in legal proceedings. The converse is also true; work-related items removed from the university are still the property of the university.
 
Records may include such items as:

  •     General correspondence and administrative records
  •     Financial transactions
  •     Significant working papers, drafts, and versions
  •     Databases and tables
  •     Personnel and employment documentation
  •     Student and class documentation
  •     Web sites
  •     Electronic media, tapes, disks, hard drives, and portable storage devices
  •     Electronic messages, including email, IM, and voicemail
  •     Metadata associated with records


A record should correctly reflect what was communicated or decided or what action was taken. It should be able to support the business needs and the accountability of the university. An authoritative record consists of the structure (the format of the record and relationships between elements), content (the message and links to any additional related messages), and context (date and time of the transaction and the participants in the transaction), which should be apparent and intact.

 In addition, records need to be:

  •     Authentic – a record that can be proven to be what it purports to be, was created, sent by, or received by the indicated person, and created, sent, or received at the time purported – records are protected against unauthorized addition, deletion, alteration, use, or concealment
  •     Reliable – a record whose contents can be trusted as being the full and accurate representation or the transaction
  •     Complete and unaltered, with clear and traceable indications of authorized additions, annotations, or deletions
  •     Useable – a record which can be located, retrieved, presented, reproduced, and interpreted


Other ways to evaluate records include:

  •     Value to the department (Penn, Pennix, and Coulson)  – does the record have historical, administrative, legal, or fiscal value?
  •     Documentation of a transaction (NARA) – what is the purpose of the record, does it provide adequate documentation, is it appropriate for preservation, and does it provide evidential value?
  •     Robeck, Brown, and Stephens model – information should be retained if there is a reasonable probability that it will be needed at some future time to support a legitimate legal or business objective, the consequences of its absence would be substantial, and the retention period has been evaluated in terms of costs, risks, and benefits.

Archival records - a record of enduring historical value that will be preserved by University Archives. The records retention schedule requires that some records be retained or reviewed by the archivist. Your department may have other historical records as well.

Vital records - any record necessary for the resumption or continuation of business operations following an emergency or disaster. Vital records should be kept in a location separate from the place of business and updated on a regular basis.

Litigation hold - a process to stop the normal disposition or processing of records as a result of current, pending, or anticipated legal action, audit, or investigation. Once a litigation hold is instituted, records cannot be destroyed or altered. Penalties can be severe for failure to comply. A litigation hold could affect one department or could possibly involve the entire campus. Contact University Records Management if your department becomes involved with such an action.

For more definitions, look at the ARMA International Standard Glossary of Records Management Terms, available in the Records Center and for purchase from the ARMA International bookstore , or the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.