Federal Records Management

Records Inventory - Introduction


After reviewing its functions and recordkeeping requirements and practices, the agency is ready to gather information about the records by conducting an inventory. The remainder of this section explains the meaning, elements, scope, and verification of the inventory.

Definition and Purpose

In records management, an inventory is a descriptive listing of each record series or system, together with an indication of location and other pertinent data. It is not a list of each document or each folder but rather of each series or system. Its main purpose is to provide the information needed to develop the schedule. It also helps identify various records management problems. These include inadequate documentation of official actions, improper applications of recordkeeping technology, deficient filing systems and maintenance practices, poor management of nonrecord materials, insufficient identification of vital records, and inadequate records security practices. When completed, the inventory should include all offices, all records, and all nonrecord materials. An inventory that is incomplete or haphazard can only result in an inadequate schedule and loss of control over records.

Link With the Schedule

The schedule is the heart of an effective records disposition program, and it is based on information gathered during the inventory process. The more systematic and complete the inventory, the better the schedule is likely to be.

Inventorying is useful not only in developing the schedule but also in ensuring that it is applied properly and kept up-to-date. Regardless of the agency's size, the inventory can help make the schedule:

  • Comprehensive: Designed to cover simultaneously or incrementally all records and nonrecord materials of the agency's organizational and functional components.
  • Clear: Containing accurate descriptions and easily understood disposition instructions.
  • Current: Reflecting periodic updating to include any new or revised series or systems, authorized revisions to disposition instructions, and any changes in the General Records Schedules.

Record Series and Information System Concepts

The record series concept is a convenient way of grouping file units or documents to permit their management as a group. The unit to be inventoried and scheduled is normally the record series, not individual documents or file folders. A series is a group of records arranged according to a filing system or kept together because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific kind of transaction, take a particular physical form, or have some other relationship arising out of their creation, receipt, or use, such as restrictions on access and use.

For example, a group of contract files in a procurement office would constitute one series and thus an inventory item. Other series in that office might include general correspondence, procurement reports from regional offices, and a file on individual employees.

The concept of the records series is applicable to nontextual as well as textual records. Thus, a "collection" of motion pictures, photographs, sound recordings, data tapes, etc., constitutes a series, if the collection is organized in accordance with a single filing system, or has been brought together and maintained as a unit for the reasons already mentioned.

Frequently, each of the above types of nontextual records may constitute more than one series, or a series may include mixed media. The records custodians should be consulted in determining the number of separate series involved. If necessary, the records themselves should be examined. In no event should all photographs, magnetic tapes, or other types of nontextual records be arbitrarily grouped together as a single series in the inventory or as a single entry in the draft schedules.

When a series of paper records has been microfilmed or converted to electronic form, the result in each case is not one but two series that should be separately inventoried and scheduled. However, the relationship between the two series should be carefully defined.

Electronic records or data may be managed in an information system.  An information system is the organized collection, processing, transmission, and dissemination of information according to defined procedures. It includes three categories of information: (1) inputs, (2) the information on the electronic media, and (3) outputs. Along with these categories of recorded information, the agency should inventory and schedule any related indexes and also the documentation needed to maintain and use the electronic records. Note that system documentation is covered by GRS 3-1, items 050 (permanent) and 051 (temporary). System input and outputs may also be covered by GRS (5.1 and 5.2).

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