Records and Information Management FAQs

Frequently asked questions in records and information management.

General Questions

  • Why should I be concerned about records and information management?

    You should be concerned about records and information management because it:

      • Improves Operational Efficiencies – Poorly managed records are often retained longer than is necessary. They can take up valuable office space and may result in lengthy searches for required documents needed in response to audit inquiries and FOIA requests. Records and information management reduces unnecessary duplication, makes records easier to locate and supports streamlined use of existing systems.
      • Provides Accountability – Proper records and information management assists in aligning State laws and regulations with current business practices at the University which ensures that the University can appropriately account for its actions.
      • Protects Vital Records – Establishing departmental plans for managing records and developing methods for trustworthy and efficient purging of information resources makes it easier to identify vital records and those records that should be retained for the long term, usually with the University Archives.
      • Promotes Scholarship and Teaching Excellence – Records and information management increases opportunities for collegial collaboration around data management.
  • Does the University have any records-related policies or guidelines that I should follow or be aware of?
    • Article VI Section 4 of the University’s General Rules Concerning University Organization and Procedure speaks to Archives and Records Management. In addition, the RIMS office has RIMS Communications and Recommendations on various topics.
  • What are the most common laws associated with Records Management?

    There are two state laws that the University needs to follow or be aware of:

        • The Illinois State Records Act (5 ILCS 160/1) explains how University records as State records need to be handled in order to maintain compliance with the regulations in the Act.
        • The Illinois Electronic Commerce Security Act (5 ILCS 175/) explains that an electronic record, in most circumstances, has the same authority as a paper version.

    There are two federal laws that cover confidentiality of many records at the University:

        • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 protects access to student records.
        • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 protects access to individual medical records.

    Additional state and federal laws and codes make other records confidential. This includes donor information, personal identification information, and the storage and use of Social Security numbers.

  • Is there a glossary defining records management terminology?

    A glossary of common terms associated with records and information management and the RIMS program of the University is available on the Glossary page of this Web site.

  • What types of training do you offer?

    The RIMS program has created self-paced tutorials about the basics of records management at the University. These video modules can be found on the Training page, as well as additional resource pages. The RIMS staff is available for individual or group training on a variety of topics. Please check our website for the latest information regarding classes.

  • Where can I get more information?

    Contact the RIMS team or visit the RIMS website to obtain more information on records management issues and training.

Identifying Records & Retentions

  • How do I know if something is a record?

    If you are unsure of whether or not something is a record, first look at the Is It A Record? flowchart. Then, consult with your Unit Plan and your unit's Records Liaison. If you are still unsure (or do not currently have a Unit Plan or Records Liaison), contact the RIMS team.

  • How long do I need to keep records?

    The answer depends on the content of the records and the business function(s) the records support. There is no set period or 'seven year rule' for all records: the required retention period varies widely depending on the type of record. It is important to keep in mind that date-based events can vary the retention length of a record. For example, “five years from date of graduation” may be a different date than “five years from the completion of a grant.” If it has a legal or business requirement to be kept for a specific time frame or if it has been listed on an approved retention schedule, then it will need to be kept until the minimum requirement is met. If it is duplicate information or of very temporary value it is considered a non-record and you only need to keep it for as long as you need to reference it. The retention period for a given type of record can be identified by looking it up in the retention schedules. If you do not have access to the appropriate retention schedule please contact your unit’s Records Liaison or the RIMS team. In some cases, you may find records that aren't listed in any retention schedules. These records should be brought to the attention of your Records Liaison and the RIMS staff so that a suitable retention can be determined. Once you know how long specific records should be retained, you will need to request permission to dispose of them.

  • How long do we have to keep non-record material?

    Consider how long the material (drafts of final documents, copies of final documents, reference materials, etc.) is truly useful to the office, and establish an internal policy to not retain the material longer than necessary. Usually, one to three years past the completion of a final document is the longest anyone might keep drafts or copies. For reference materials, a period of retention could be indefinite with a plan to periodically review and purge documents that were not used in five or more years. All units should establish simple procedures to clean up or dispose of non-record documents on a routine basis.

  • What if the records I have are not listed on an approved records schedule?

    If you are unsure of whether or not something is a record, first look at the Is It A Record? flowchart. Then, consult with your Unit Plan and your unit's Records Liaison. If you are still unsure (or do not currently have a Unit Plan or Records Liaison), contact the RIMS team.

Storing & Organizing Physical Records

  • How do I organize University Records?

    The organization of University Records depends heavily on the records' format, use, and nature of the activity or function they support. Arrangement and organization of University Records should be established through guidelines and procedures created by your unit.

  • How do I keep records secure and accessible?

    Keeping records secure and accessible means storing records in a way that the likelihood of accidental (or intentional) destruction, corruption, misplacement, or inappropriate access is minimized and meets University risk management expectations. The RIMS team does not recommend storing records in basements or attics where they are out of sight and may be at a higher risk of damage or tampering. RIMS provides additional storage options. For more information and to discuss what is best for your department, please contact RIMS.

  • How do I determine who "owns" the record and/or its various parts?

    Ownership of records can be difficult to determine. If we understand that the University of Illinois owns all University records, then it follows that we are all stewards or managers of these records. As stewards or managers of these records, we should clarify some of the questions that arise when multiple copies or duplicates of the same record are held in various offices. The issue of what unit is the “Office of Record” or which copy is the “authoritative version” is an important one to address. You may need to communicate with other staff in your unit, subject matter experts, or even University Counsel to answer this question. Subject matter experts should be comfortable expressing the business need for retaining records and must be included in discussions aimed at determining which unit is the Office of Record. Based on business need of the records, University Counsel and others can provide guidance on authoritative versions based on risk factors associated with retaining or disposing of records. In general, if reports in their entirety are incorporated into larger reports, it is not necessary to retain a contributing report unless instructed otherwise. However, if the report is merely summarized in a larger report, the detail of your report may be treated as a separate record with a specific requirement for retention. This is especially true with calculations and quantifiable information. In this case, determining your retention length requires discussions with the various stakeholders.

  • Do I need to keep all versions of a record or only the final version?

    Unit-specific procedures should indicate any locally determined requirements for retention of copies of documents and records. Drafts of a document often become non-records when a newer version is created, but each unit will need to determine what is right for their records.

  • Where should I store inactive physical records?

    Inactive records need to be stored in an environment that is appropriate to their format and organized in a way to aid retrieval. For example, paper records need a stable temperature, and should be stored in a secure area, in sturdy archival boxes and on shelving to prevent damage. RIMS recommends that boxes should be standard 10” x 12” x 15” Bankers boxes (these can be ordered from iBuy) and should be given a unique number for quick identification. Boxes should also have their items listed on an attached box list and a register of inactive records should be maintained to track which items are stored in which boxes and storage areas and to enable easy retrieval. Access to the records should be monitored and properly controlled. For units that have storage space issues there may be other storage alternatives available. On the Urbana campus there are storage containers that are set up specifically to house inactive records at low or no cost. There are also off-site commercial storage options available in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana. If you are interested in any of these options, contact the RIMS team for recommendations and assistance.

  • How do I view materials that I sent to the Archives?

    To access inactive records in the University Archives, please view the access guide for your campus: » Chicago » Springfield » Urbana-Champaign

  • What do I do with my records in case of disaster like a fire or flood?

    Secure the area and keep everyone out until the fire department or other safety professionals allow entry. Then email RIMS at or call 217-333-6834 (UIUC, UIS) or 312-585-9056 (UIC) for advice on how to handle damaged records. RIMS, along with the University Archives, can assist you in appraising the records that have been damaged so that your resources (and especially time) are not spent on records with little or no value.

Managing Electronic Records

  • What do I do with my electronic records?

    The electronic records of the University are considered records and must be retained, destroyed, or transferred to University Archives in accordance with the rules and guidelines set out by the State Records Commission. All University records regardless of format are subject to these rules, and this means that any unit-specific records retention schedules and general records retention schedules should be followed for electronic records as well as hardcopy ones. Electronic records introduce a host of challenges to managing records. For instance, if electronic records are not managed properly, some files may not be legible or otherwise function due to hardware and software obsolescence. Other challenges include the possibility of security breaches, file corruption, metadata loss, and accidental overwriting of files. To offset these problems, RIMS recommends the following measures:

        • Actively maintain your files. If you update software or hardware, ensure that your old files can still be stored and rendered properly or can be migrated into a usable format.
        • Back up your files. For assistance in ensuring your files are adequately backed up, contact your campus IT department with any questions. Technology Solutions at Chicago; Tech Services at Urbana-Champaign; ITS at Springfield; AITS for System Offices.
        • Use meaningful and standardized file-naming conventions. Include the date and appropriate descriptors and versions, and use underscores instead of spaces and periods in your file-names. To ensure file titles are meaningful, they should be named consistently and logically so as to reflect the content and purpose of the file.
        • Use University and personal resources wisely. Avoid using University resources, such as your University file-storage, for personal business, and avoid using personal resources, such as your personal computer’s hard-drive space, Dropbox, BOX.COM, GoogleDocs or other personal storage areas, for University business.
        • Use standard and widely recognized file types. The generally accepted and supported file types are those of Microsoft Office, Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) and TIFF (Tagged Image File Format).
        • Keep as much metadata as possible (creator, creation date, last date modified, revision history, formula data, originating system, etc.) associated with files. This means that printing out born-digital files and preserving those printouts as the official record is not always an acceptable practice, as much of the associated metadata is lost in the process.

    Contact University Archives on your campus if you wish to transfer electronic records to the Archives.

  • If I scan a document and keep an electronic copy, should I keep the original hard copy?

    Your department must have a digitization process that is compliant with the requirements put forth by the State Records Commission prior to destroying original hard copies.

  • Are email messages records?

    E-mail is a communication tool we all use on a daily basis. Some of us conduct most of our standard work processes from our Inbox. Because of this, some e-mail messages, or information contained within them, are considered records and need to be identifiable as such. Email messages may be considered records if they verify, authenticate or otherwise support other significant documents or transactions. Attachments sent with e-mail messages are generally assumed to be duplicate or working drafts of documents and therefore not considered records. This assumption also assumes each person sending attachments has a departmentally identified electronic storage area for their records and the authoritative version of the attachment has been stored in said designated electronic storage area. Because e-mail systems are generally not acceptable primary storage systems for University records, e-mail messages considered to be University records must be identified and stored in a system compliant with the requirements established by the State Records Act and the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

  • What is the exact length of time for retention of an e-mail?

    There is no exact length of time for the retention of an e-mail. Retention depends on the purpose of the e-mail and the information it contains. The electronic format itself is not a decisive factor in the length of retention. If the e-mail is a record, the retention will follow the period set down in the applicable records retention schedule. If the e-mail is a non-record it should follow the non-record guidelines that recommend that it should be disposed of as soon as possible after its primary usefulness has expired.

  • Why and how do we need to organize our e-mail?

    Email should be organized so it is easy for you to use and also easy to identify messages that should be retained as University records and disposed of according to records disposal rules. If an email message is an essential part of a work process it is a record, and we need to establish a simple way to capture and dispose of it like all other records.

Disposing of Records

  • What is the disposal process for records?

    Each records series listed in the records retention schedule has specific disposition instructions that indicate how long those records must be kept, also known as their retention period. When the retention period for your records has passed they are eligible to be disposed of according to the disposition instructions. Some records have a disposition of "Transfer to University Archives”, which means you can transfer such records to University Archives after the initial retention period in-house has ended. The disposition instructions for other records are to "destroy" after a specified period of time. If the instructions indicate that the records should be destroyed you will need to contact the RIMS team to start that process. Because the University is a State organization, the records produced here are State records and the treatment of these records must follow the rules and guidelines set out by the State Records Commission. Before records can be destroyed we must receive permission from the State. Units work with the RIMS staff on the disposal process, which has several simple steps outlined in this Disposal Process Flowchart. In summary, once the retention period has passed, the records eligible for destruction need to be reviewed to determine the approximate volume and date range for each records series. RIMS will use that information to create and submit a disposal request to the State. State approval should be received within a month and once that is received, you may dispose of the records properly. Keep in mind that records containing sensitive information must be handled and disposed of in a secure manner. For details see the RIMS Information Disposal Guide. Non-records do not require state approval for disposal, and should be transferred to the University Archives, destroyed, or purged from electronic data environments according to your unit's Unit Plan. If your unit does not have a Unit Plan, you should consult with the RIMS team.

  • Who has the authority to dispose of records?

    The University has been granted the authority to dispose of records by the State Records Commission through the University Archives and the RIMS office. Disposal requests are submitted to the State on behalf of units by RIMS at the end of each month. The starting point for disposing of records is to identify records that are ready to be purged. Records Liaisons have the responsibility and authority to work with their unit colleagues to identify records ready for disposal. Records disposal takes place once permission has been authorized by the State Records Commission. If your unit does not have a Records Liaison, you should contact the RIMS team.

  • Once I’m notified that my disposal request was approved, how do I dispose of records?

    The RIMS staff has created an Information Disposal Guide to help units with their disposal decisions. It includes best practices for disposal of records with different levels of security as well as information about office and vendors for each campus that can be contacted for different disposal needs.

  • Do I need to keep a record of the disposal?

    No. The RIMS staff will keep copies of all approved disposal requests and the State Records Commission keeps the original records of these requests. If your supervisor insists they need a document as a “receipt” RIMS can provide one if requested.

  • Can I destroy records that have been scanned?

    Records that have been scanned can be destroyed provided that your department has a documented digitization process that is compliant with the requirements put forth by the State Records Commission and you have been trained and authorized to digitize and destroy source records under that process. There are a number of requirements that must be met in order for a scanned reproduction to be used as the official record and permit the destruction of the original. For details, please refer to the help guides Documenting a Record Scanning Process and Should I Scan?.

Contact Us

Have a question that isn't answered here or need more specialized guidance? Please contact us!

Records and Information Management Services Group

Urbana Office: Rm. 450 HAB M/C 359
Chicago Office: AOB M/C 817

KeywordsFAQ, records management, RIMS   Doc ID94812
OwnerMargaret N.GroupUniversity of Illinois System
Created2019-10-03 15:55:10Updated2023-09-05 09:33:14
SitesUniversity of Illinois System
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