Federal Records Management

Records Inventory - Procedures

Steps in Inventorying Records

  • Define the inventory's goals. The paramount goal is gathering information for scheduling purposes, but other goals may include preparing for conversion to other media, or identifying particular records management problems such as those already mentioned
  • Define the scope of the inventory; it should include all records and all nonrecord materials
  • Obtain top management's support, preferably in the form of a directive, and keep management and staff informed at every stage of the inventory
  • Decide on the information to be collected (the elements of the inventory)
  • Prepare an inventory form, or use an existing one
  • Decide who will conduct the inventory, and train them if necessary
  • Learn where the agency's files are located, both physically and organizationally
  • Conduct the inventory
  • Verify and analyze the results

All nonrecord materials should be included in the inventory. These materials should be located, described, and evaluated in terms of use. Retention periods should be assigned to them, and this information should be included in the final version of the published schedule or in the agency's disposition manual.

Inventorying: Scope, Focus, and Responsibility

Besides defining the inventory's goals and obtaining and retaining top management's support, the agency needs to decide on the inventory's scope and focus and determine who will be responsible for conducting the inventory.

Scope and Focus

In establishing a records disposition program, each agency should complete an inventory of all records in its legal custody, regardless of their location or physical form. Besides paper records, the inventory must include electronic, audiovisual, microform, and other records, especially those stored offsite in laboratories and other locations. The inventory should also note collections of nonrecord materials to permit their proper management.

The inventory process should begin with current records in office space and concentrate on the program records maintained there; that is, on those records documenting the unique, substantive functions for which an agency or office is responsible. Less detailed attention can be given to administrative, or housekeeping, records held in many or all offices that are already described and scheduled in the General Records Schedules (GRS). When describing program records, special attention should be given to those records likely to be proposed for permanent retention.

An agency establishing a disposition program need not conduct the inventory simultaneously in all locations or complete all of it before beginning the scheduling process. Instead it may inventory and schedule records incrementally, that is, office by office or function by function, until all are covered.

An agency with an established disposition program should conduct an inventory if it begins a new program or undergoes a reorganization affecting program responsibilities. It should also use the inventory to identify records management problems, including any inadequacies in the schedule or its application.

Inventorying and the Schedule's Arrangement

Planning the inventory's scope and focus normally includes consideration of the records schedule's arrangement. The schedule can be arranged by organization, function, or a combination of these. Since the schedule's arrangement will affect how to inventory the agency's records, it is advisable to make at least a preliminary decision on the matter at this time. The final decision should be made by the time the draft schedule is ready to be assembled.

Responsibility for the Inventory

Normally records officers or experienced staff members conduct the inventory because they are best equipped to understand the project's purposes and the concepts involved. However, when speed is essential or when the volume of records is unusually large, other agency personnel may be asked to do the job. In that case, careful training will be necessary.


Once the records have been inventoried, the records manager needs to assess the quality of the inventory's results. The results should be spot-checked for obvious errors, such as failing to indicate the location of the records inventoried, exaggerating their volume, and intermixing two or more potentially permanent series or two or more temporary series having potentially varying retention periods. If someone else has prepared the inventory, the records manager should physically examine some of the records inventoried to confirm the accuracy of the information recorded on the inventory form. The records manager should verify more thoroughly and even reinventory the records when spot checks reveal serious and frequent problems with the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the original inventory.

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