Below is a list of definitions frequently used for the purposes of records retention.


Symbols or representations of facts or ideas that can be communicated interpreted or processed by manual or automated means; often associated with electronic data or with statistics or measurements.


Records are defined in various statues, including the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

  1. Recorded information, regardless of medium or characteristics. Any paper, book, microfilm, card, magnetic tape, disc, map, or any copy or printout that has been created or received by an organization and has been used by that organization or its successors as evidence of its activities or because of the information contained. In databases in electronic recordkeeping systems, a collection of related data fields. The definition that follows is from the Federal Records Act that governs agencies' records management responsibilities.
  2. Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the government or because of the informational value of the data in them. Library and museum material made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and processed documents are not included (44 U.S.C. 3301). Many of the key terms, phrases, and concepts in this statutory definition of records are defined in CFR Part 1222.12

A record constitutes the smallest unit of filing, generally a single letter, report, form, or other item contained within a record-keeping system. Also, the smallest unit of filing.


In electronic recordkeeping, an organized collection of related data is arranged into records that are stored together and stored as a unit.

Active Record

A record that is regularly referenced or required for current use.

Inactive Record

Records are still needed by an organization but not for current operations.

Record series

A series is the basic unit for organizing and controlling files. It is a group of files or documents kept together (either physically or intellectually) because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific type of transaction, take a particular physical form, or have some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, maintenance, or use (36 CFR 1220.14).

Each record series must be scheduled for appropriate disposition. The series concept is a flexible one, and programs should create series by organizing documents in ways that facilitate the management of the records throughout their life cycle. For example, each record series in hard copy should be physically separated from all other record series. Electronic records should be managed in ways that link records to their disposition authority, within the context of a recordkeeping system.

Electronic record I

Any information that is recorded by or in a format that only a computer can process and that satisfies the definition of a Federal records in 44 U.S.C. 3301. (REPORT TO THE ARCHIVIST OF THE UNITED STATES GLOSSARY OF TERMS)

Electronic record II

Any information that is recorded in a form that only a computer can process and that satisfies the definition of a Federal record in 44 U.S.C. 3301. (Source 36 CFR 1234.2)

Electronic recordkeeping system

An electronic system in which records are collected, organized, and categorized to facilitate their preservation, retrieval, use, and disposition. (Source: 36 CFR 1234.2)

Information Technology

Any equipment or interconnected system or subsystem of equipment, that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information, including computers, ancillary equipment, software, firmware, and similar procedures, services (including support services), and related resources. (Source: Clinger-Cohen Act formerly ITMRA 5002(3))

Information Technology Record

A record that concerns the planning, acquisition, management, maintenance, or use of information technology, electronic information systems, or application programs, or that is necessary for the effective use of information technology.

Information Technology System

People, information technology, and methods organized to accomplish a set of specific functions.


The process of electronically converting an analog image or document to a bit map image by electronic scanning.


A set of data, consisting of at least one data file, that is sufficient for a given purpose.

Database management system

A software system used to access and retrieve data stored in a database.

Email (NARA)

A document created or received on an electronic mail system, including brief notes, more formal or substantive narrative documents, and any attachments that may be transmitted with the message.

Federal Records Act of 1950

A law enacted by the United States Congress that defined the term Records Management for the first time in any federal statute. This law also required all agencies of the federal government to establish a records management program.

Records Management

The planning, controlling, directing, organizing, training, promoting, and other managerial activities involved with respect to records creation, records maintenance and use, and records disposition in order to achieve adequate and proper documentation of the policies and transactions of the Federal Government and effective and economical management of agency operations. (36 CFR 1220.14)

Life cycle

The life span or time period from the creation or receipt of a record through its useful life to its final disposition. The five stages in the life cycle of a record include the creation stage, the distribution and use stage, the storage or maintenance stage, the retention and disposition stage, and the archival preservation stage.

  1. A survey of agency records and non-record materials is conducted primarily to develop records schedules and also to identify various records management problems, such as improper applications of recordkeeping technology.
  2. An identification, description, and quantification of all of the records possessed by an organization.
Retention Schedule I

A document prepared as part of a records retention program that lists the types of records maintained by each department of an organization, and specifies a period of time after which destruction is authorized as a matter of policy. The records retention also identifies the organization's archival records and mandates their permanent retention, and it may provide for the transfer of semi-active or inactive records from prime office space to a records center or other facility for continuing retention. Also called a retention and disposition schedule.

Records Schedule II (NARA)

Also called records disposition schedule, records control schedule, records retention schedule, records retention and disposition schedule, or schedule. A document providing mandatory instructions for what to do with records (and nonrecord materials) no longer needed for current Government business. The term refers to: (1) an SF 115, Request for Records Disposition Authority, that has been approved by NARA to authorize the disposition of Federal records; (2) a General Records Schedule (GRS) issued by NARA; and (3) a printed agency manual or directive containing the records descriptions and disposition instructions approved by NARA on one or more SF 115s or issued by NARA in the GRS. (Source: 36 CFR 1220.14 and NARA publication A Federal Records Management Glossary, 1993 ed.)

Records retention

The act of maintaining or holding records for future use, often under the policies and procedures of a formally established records retention program.


The actions taken regarding records are no longer needed in the current office space. These actions include the transfer of permanent records to archives

Office of record

The group, department, or office in an organization is responsible for maintaining the official records for the total retention period.

Retention period

The period of time during which records must be retained in a certain location or form because they are needed for operational, legal, fiscal, historical, or other purposes. A retention period may be stated in terms of months or years and is sometimes expressed as contingent upon the occurrence of an event.

Recordkeeping requirements

Statements in statutes and regulations which require a regulated party to maintain certain records for some period of time.

Legal Compliance

The process or procedure to ensure that the organization is following relevant laws.

Legal retention considerations

A term that refers to a number of legal issues that may indicate how long an organization should retain certain records so that it can successfully defend itself against litigation actions, enforce its legal rights, or meet it other legal obligations and needs.

Vital Records

Records containing information required to re-establish or continue an organization in the event of a disaster; records containing unique and irreplaceable information necessary to recreate an organization's legal and financial position preserve the rights of the organization and its employees, customers, shareholders, and other constituent groups. Vital records include records whose informational value to the organization is so great, and the consequences of loss are so severe, that special protection is justified in order to reduce the risk of loss.

Records center

An area in a building or a separate building for storing inactive records.


The non-current records of an organization are preserved or appropriated for preservation because of their continuing or enduring value. A place in which archival records or other important historical documentation are permanently kept.


Association of Records Managers and Administrators

Disaster Recovery (Plan)

A disaster recovery plan describes how an organization is to deal with potential disasters. Just as a disaster is an event that makes the continuation of normal functions impossible, a disaster recovery plan consists of precautions taken so that the effects of the disaster will be minimized, and the organization will be able to either maintain or quickly resume mission-critical functions.