Federal Records Management

Records Inventory - Data Elements


Agency records are most suitably inventoried by series. Whoever conducts the inventory should decide what inventory elements are necessary and then use a form, or forms, to collect the same information on each series.

Series Inventory Forms (Examples)

Textual, Electronic, Microform Series Inventory Form | Instructions

Information System Inventory Form | Instructions

A/V Series Inventory Form | Instructions

Series Inventory Elements

To be useful, an inventory needs to include certain elements of information for each series. These essential elements are described in the following sections. Although some elements are useful only for agency purposes (e.g., date prepared and identification of person conducting inventory), most are needed to provide information to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for scheduling records through the submission of a Request for Records Disposition Authority (also known as a records schedule, or simply a schedule). As indicated, NARA requires more complete information on records proposed for permanent retention than for those proposed for disposal. If an agency proposes for disposal records that NARA later determines to be potentially permanent, it must then change the proposed disposition to permanent and give NARA the necessary additional information.

The series inventory elements, with related instructions, are as follows:

1. Date prepared

List the date the inventory was prepared.

2. Office maintaining the files

List the name and symbol of the office maintaining the records. If this office received this series from another office, also indicate the name and symbol of that office and designate it as the "creating office."

3. Person conducting the inventory

List that person's name, office, and telephone number.

4. Series location

Give the precise location of the series; for example, room 233, building B, annex 1. If the series is located in more than one office, it is only necessary to inventory once and then indicate multiple locations.

5. Series title

Give each series a title for brief reference. Such a title can come from one of several sources:

  • The agency, which may be using a generally accepted title in its normal day-to-day procedures. Examples: employee locator file, project progress report.
  • The person who conducts the inventory and who can supply a descriptive title. Examples: property control records, meeting transcripts file, loan analysis file.
  • The title of a single form or type of document if it applies to the entire series. Examples: bills of lading, notifications of personnel action, narrative quarterly reports.

6. Inclusive dates

List the earliest and latest dates of the records in each series. This information supplements or is a part of the description and is needed to schedule records proposed for permanent retention. It is also needed to determine when to cut off, or break, records and transfer them to records centers or agency storage facilities. Finally, it can provide a clue to the rate of growth of the series. For case files or correspondence files, express the earliest date as the year only. For series being created at the time of the inventory, indicate the latest date by the designation "to date" or "to present."

NARA requires agencies provide inclusive dates for records proposed for permanent retention and also for non-recurring temporary records.

7. Series description

A clear description of the series is basic to the success of the inventory and the schedule. It is necessary for NARA's later appraisal of the records. It may also be needed to clarify the series title. Examples of such language are:

  • "Case files of internal audits of agency programs, operations, and procedures, and of external audits of contractors and grantees. Consist of audit reports, correspondence, and supporting working papers."
  • "Records relating to the office's internal administrative, or housekeeping, activities rather than the functions for which the office exists. Include records on office organization, staffing, procedures, and communications; the expenditure of funds, including budget files; day-to-day administration of office personnel, including training and travel; supplies and office services and equipment requests and receipts; and the use of office space and utilities. May also include the office's copies of internal activity and workload reports, such as work progress, statistical, and narrative reports forwarded to higher levels."
  • "Photographs of routine award ceremonies, social events, and other nonprogram activities."
  • "Requests from the public for forms and publications."
  • "Record set of formal directives distributed as orders, circulars, or manuals, announcing major changes in the agency's policies and procedures, and relating to program functions."
  • "Correspondence on Division matters prepared for the Director's signature, and related documents."
  • "Case files of grants to individual institutes for the funding of research related to mining and mineral resources. Include pre-proposals, proposals or applications, patent information, project reports, studies, certificates, agreements, memorandums, letters, and other records relating to the receipt, review, award, evaluation, status, and monitoring of grants along with the allocation of funds and project budgets."
  • "Record set of Newsclippings and Analysis Service publications, such as Current News, Supplemental Clips, Equal Opportunity Current News, Radio-TV Defense Dialog, Selected Statements, Foreign Media Edition of Current News, and Friday Review of Defense Literature."
  • "Information showing Government employment, private employment, and financial interests of civilian employees and military personnel required to file such statements under AR 600-50. Included are statements of employment and financial interests, supplementary statements, reports of change, review comments, and related information."

Inventory items should not emphasize form numbers, especially when case files, or transaction files, are being described. Such files, which consist of numerous forms and related correspondence, constitute the bulk of all Federal records. Examples include contract files, claims files, loan files, clinical files, and personnel files.

Each copy of a completed form can become part of a separate case file serving a unique purpose. In the inventory, each copy loses its individuality and is covered in the item describing the case file of which it is a part. The person taking the inventory should:

  • Select a title describing the function served by the series.
  • Sample the contents of a few folders in the series to determine the general kind of documentation in it and the range of subject content.
  • Determine whether or not a typical file documents the case from beginning to end. For example, in a contract file, the folder may or may not cover the procurement process from successful bid to final payment. If not, supplementary documentation needs to be located and its relationship to the series indicated in the schedule.

Each series description should contain enough information to show the purpose, use, and subject content of the records. Avoid terms, such as "miscellaneous" or "various," that add nothing to the description. Give special attention to describing potentially permanent records, because NARA requires more detailed information on them. Include in the description of audiovisual records the format (e.g., 4 by 5 inches, 16 mm, one-half inch), generation, and subjects.

Finally, it is important to describe the various components of audiovisual, microform, cartographic, and related records. For example, a central laboratory often maintains photographic negatives, while different agency units maintain specialized series or collections of prints. Both the negatives and the prints are record components and need to be inventoried and scheduled, along with related finding aids.

8. Medium

Indicate whether the record medium is paper, microform, electronic, audiovisual, or a combination of these.

9. Arrangement

Indicate the arrangement, or filing system, used. Examples include subject classification systems and arrangements that are alphabetical by subject, alphabetical by name of claimant, geographical by state, numerical by contract number, and chronological by date of report. If the series has no apparent arrangement, then mark it "unarranged." If there are subordinate patterns of arrangement within the series, list them also. NARA requires that agencies indicate the arrangement of records proposed for permanent retention.

10. Volume

For non-electronic records, express the volume of records in cubic feet rather than in linear feet or any other medium of measurement. Since it represents height, width, and depth, a cubic foot figure provides a realistic idea of the amount of space actually occupied. Also include the volume of older records, which may be wrapped in bundles or packages, or of oversized materials, which are too large to be stored in conventional filing equipment. (To calculate the contents of file containers in cubic feet, use the conversion table appearing in the inventory form instructions.)

Although volume information is important, the figure for each series need not be measured with extreme accuracy. In calculating the volume of a series, do not include fractions, such as one-half inch, but simply round all figures to the nearest cubic foot. If the series totals less than half a cubic foot, list the volume as "negligible" or "less than one."

Precise accuracy is not needed in gauging the volume of any series that is obviously large. Simply sample the file drawers to see if they are relatively full, and then multiply the number of full file drawers by the pertinent conversion ratio. For those records not stored in filing equipment, estimate the number of file drawers the records would occupy, and then apply the appropriate conversion ratio.

When inventorying audiovisual, microform, cartographic, and related records, provide not only total cubic footage but also an item count (e.g., 1200 prints, 3500 negatives) that is as accurate as possible. Again sampling may be necessary for large series or collections. If so, multiply the average number of items in a cubic foot (or some other measure) by the total number of cubic feet (or other measure) in the collection.

For electronic records, provide the extent in terms of file size (i.e., number of bytes.)

When requesting disposition authority, NARA requests that agencies provide an estimate of the volume of records accumulated annually (if the records are current and continuing) and the total volume to date for records proposed for permanent retention and also for nonrecurring records proposed for immediate destruction.

11. Annual accumulation

Based on information from the files custodian, estimate the annual rate of accumulation for each series if the records are current and continuing. NARA requests that agencies furnish the rate of accumulation of such records proposed for permanent retention but not those proposed for disposal. If the records no longer accumulate, indicate "none."

12. Cutoff

Indicate how often the records are cut off and when the last cutoff occurred. If they are not cut off, explain how inactive records are separated from active ones. To cut off records means to break, or end, them at regular intervals to permit their disposal or transfer in complete blocks and, for correspondence files, to permit the establishment of new files.  Cutoff instructions are required by the CFR for temporary records; NARA strongly encourages the use of cutoffs for permanent records as well.

13. Reference activity

Rate the reference activity of a paper record series, after the regular cutoff, by placing it in one of three categories:

  • Current, or active (used more than once a month per file drawer).
  • Semicurrent, or semiactive (used less than once a month per file drawer).
  • Noncurrent, or inactive (not used for current operations).

Information on reference activity, or frequency of use, is especially important for paper records because it affects the timing and type of disposition, particularly in reference to offsite storage. For example, if voluminous records are still current, or active, keep them in office space rather than transferring them to a records center. Transfer semicurrent, or semiactive, records to a records center, if other conditions are met, to await the final disposition prescribed by a NARA-approved records schedule.

Reference information may also influence changes in filing practices if only one part of a series is active. It may even reveal some unnecessary searches.

Since most series of paper records are relatively small in volume, accumulating less than 5 or 6 cubic feet per year, their reference figures will be less precise. For voluminous series of paper records, ask the files custodian to survey reference activity. The survey should contain information on the number of requests for a fixed period, not to exceed 3 months; the organizational source of the requests, including sources outside the agency; the purpose of the requests; and the age of the records requested. When such precise survey information is unnecessary, use code words to indicate reference activity: current, semicurrent, and noncurrent.

For audiovisual records, specify the number of requests for copies per month, the source(s) of the requests, and the reason for the requests.

14. Vital records status

If the records qualify as vital records, specify whether they are emergency-operating records, legal and financial rights records, or both. Also indicate whether they are the originals or duplicates. (See 36 CFR 1223 for requirements in managing vital records.)

15. Duplication

Indicate duplication in form or content. It can exist in the following ways:

  • Carbon or other copies may be in the same organizational unit or elsewhere in the agency. The copies may contain significant differences or notations.
  • Similar data or information may be available elsewhere in the agency, either physically duplicated or in summarized form.

If the duplication is only partial, state its extent. If the information is recorded on both electronic and paper media, both must be inventoried and scheduled separately. To study duplication in content, examine the agency's paper and information flow. Detailed reports of subordinate or field offices are usually summarized at higher levels. Understanding the reporting system is basic to recognizing the nature and extent of duplication.

16. Finding aids

Note the existence of any finding aids for the series, especially if the records are to be proposed for permanent retention. Finding aids identify the contents of particular series so that users can locate individual documents, file units, or other parts of the series. They may include indexes, document lists, lists of file headings or containers, and classification or filing manuals. If they cover more than one series, note that fact. If the finding aids are not in the same office or area as the related series, indicate their location.

17. Restrictions on access and use

Note any restrictions on access to, and use of, the particular series. Such restrictions may result from statutes, executive orders, or agency directives. The two most common types of restrictions are:

  • Personal Privacy. These files are restricted because they contain information about individuals whose privacy would be violated if the information were made known to others. Examples are tax returns, medical records, and some personnel investigative files.
  • National Security. These files bear classification markings, such as "top secret," "secret," or "confidential." They do so because their release, or the release of information in them, to unauthorized persons might harm national security.

Executive orders govern national security classification policies and procedures. The intelligence agencies classify many of their files under special statutory and executive authority. In dealing with access and restriction matters, also comply with the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552) and the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a), as amended. Whenever necessary, consult with the agency officials responsible for such matters.

NARA requests that agencies indicate any Privacy Act restrictions on records proposed for eventual destruction and any Freedom of Information Act restrictions on records proposed for immediate transfer to the National Archives.

18. Condition of permanent records

During the inventory, take note of the physical condition of records that are actually or potentially permanent, especially those stored offsite. Identify threats to their preservation and security and take appropriate corrective action. Threats include overhead water pipes, electrical equipment, excessive heat and/or humidity, vermin, and inadequate security.

19. Disposition authority

If the series has an approved disposition authority, list the schedule and item number and then the retention period. If the series has no such authority, list the files as "unscheduled," make sure they are preserved, and ask the program office to recommend a suitable retention period.

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