Managing Stored Records

The general principles of records management apply to records in any format. However, the methods used for protection, organization, indexing, retrieval and disposition of records will vary depending on the format or medium (physical or electronic) in which the record exists.

Protection and Retrieval

Records are stored because they may need to be retrieved at some point. Therefore, stored records must be protected from physical harm or loss, organized, and indexed so they are available for retrieval.


The “disposition” of a retained record refers to what is done with the record at the end of its “life cycle” (see Definitions).Disposition, in accordance with the Records Retention Schedule, may involve storing the record in its current location, transferring it to another location, or destroying the record.


Records to be destroyed should never simply be discarded as any other refuse. Iowa State University contracts with a Confidential Document Destruction service to assure appropriate handling of paper and digital media.

University records that are to be destroyed must be authorized for destruction by law, statute, regulation, and operating procedure; and be disposed of with care to avoid inadvertent disclosure of information to unauthorized parties. The university records destroyed, the destruction process, and certification of ultimate destruction must be well-documented, and consistent with the university's Records Retention Schedule and accompanying guidance.

Physical Records

Storage of physical records

Paper records (i.e., non-electronic records) must be stored in such a way that they are both sufficiently accessible and safeguarded against environmental damage. For example, an active contract may be stored on ordinary paper in a file cabinet in an office. However, for permanent storage, that contract may require specialized environmental controls over temperature and humidity. Vital records needed for disaster recovery may need to be stored in a disaster-resistant safe or vault to protect against fire, flood, earthquakes, tornado, etc.

Circulating physical records

Circulation refers to the cycle of retrieving a physical record, tracking it while checked out from storage, and then returning the record is referred to as circulation. At its simplest, circulation is handled by manual methods such as simply writing down who has a particular record, and when they should return it. However, a computerized records management system may provide better efficiency and accuracy in the tracking of circulating records.

Electronic Records

Unlike physical records, management of electronic (i.e., digital) records requires a computer, server, or other digital storage equipment. Particular concerns exist about digital preservation—the ability to retain and still be able to access and read electronic records over time as technologies change. With electronic records, technical expertise is needed to assure that the content, context and structure of records is preserved and protected.

Contact the Office of the CIO (Chief Information Officer) for guidance and services regarding the storage of electronic records.


Email is simply a method to communicate information in electronic form. Whether a particular email satisfies the test of being a “university record” depends on the content of the email. Email that does not relate to university business is not subject to retention. Much of the business-related email is of limited or transitory value, and, as provided by the Records Retention Policy, may be deleted when it no longer has value to you. If university email is used to document final university action, and no other electronic or paper document is preserved, then it should be preserved if it has lasting business or historical value.

Regardless of whether it is stored on campus servers or at an off-campus email service provider, a university record must be retained as required by the Records Retention Policy.

Employee Responsibility for Archiving

Employees should arrange for retention of email containing university records having lasting business or historical value. Some email systems will do this for the employee; others may require the employee to take action. If the email system in use does not retain such records, office protocols should be arranged to retain them.

Email Summary

  1. Determine whether an email is of lasting business or historical value.
  2. Email that is not of lasting business or historical value may be deleted at any time.
  3. Email that must be retained needs to be stored in a searchable format on persistent storage for the time specified in the Records Retention Schedule.