Federal Records Management

Schedule Preparation - Electronic Information Systems, Audiovisual, and Other Special Records


Special records are records maintained separately from regular paper records because their physical form or characteristics require unusual care or because they have nonstandard sizes. They include electronic information systems, audiovisual, microform, cartographic and remote-sensing imagery, architectural and engineering drawings, printed, and card records. Description of these records must be accurate and complete, especially for records proposed as permanent. Before submitting a records schedule to cover such records, agencies should make sure that the records are not already scheduled appropriately by the GRS. If they are, a records schedule is unnecessary. If not, agencies should take the steps needed to schedule the records, including describing on the records schedule each record series or each part of an information system.

Creation, maintenance, and disposition requirements for special records are prescribed by NARA in 36 CFR 1222 through 1234. Particularly important are the requirements for the maintenance and prompt transfer to the National Archives of permanent audiovisual records.

Special care should be taken to schedule electronic information systems, audiovisual, and other special records maintained for the agency by contractors. The contract should clearly state the Government's ownership of such records, and the agency must take physical possession of the records if they are needed by the Government. (See 36 CFR 1222.)

Electronic Information Systems

An electronic information system consists of records stored in a form that only a computer can process. The systems containing such records must be designed so that adequate maintenance and disposition procedures are in place from the start. Some electronic information system records are scheduled for disposal under authorities prescribed by the General Records Schedule. An agency-specific records schedule is required for all other electronic records, including those requiring retention periods differing from the GRS standards.

In scheduling the records in an electronic information system, describe all input records (source documents), all information recorded on electronic media, system documentation and all output 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.  Items covered by the GRS should not be included on the schedule submitted to NARA for approval.

Sometimes it is necessary to describe each of these as separate items. Otherwise two or more of these may be described together under one schedule item, provided they have the same proposed retention period.

The records manager should work with the information system manager and the information technology manager to schedule and otherwise manage electronic records. The information system manager, also called the program manager, oversees the creation and use of records in an information system. The information technology manager oversees the purchase and technical operation of an information system.

The recorded information associated with many systems should be proposed as temporary. The master files and appropriate documentation and indexes associated with some systems, however, may be permanent. Although it is impossible to compile a comprehensive list, these examples suggest the variety of potentially permanent electronic records:

  • Electronic records replacing paper or microform records, such as reports and indexes, already scheduled as permanent on nonelectronic media
  • Automated indexes to permanent records
  • Unique and important scientific and technical data resulting from observations of natural events or phenomena or from controlled laboratory or field experiments
  • Management data having Government-wide coverage or significance
  • Socioeconomic data on topics such as trade, education, health, or behavior
  • Natural resources data related to land, water, minerals, or wildlife
  • Data documenting military or civilian operations during times of war, civil emergency, or natural disaster
  • Political or judicial data related to such topics as elections, special investigations, or court proceedings
  • Digital cartographic data used to map the earth's surface and atmosphere, other planets, and planetary satellites
  • Digital architectural and engineering data used to plan and construct selected buildings or other structures, complete major public works projects, and produce significant weapons and machines
  • National security and international relations data documenting such activities as strategic or foreign policy assessments, intelligence collection, foreign public opinion, or international negotiations.

For additional guidance see: Scheduling Agency Electronic Records Systems (attachment 1).

Audiovisual Records

Audiovisual records are records in pictorial or aural form. They include still and motion pictures; graphic materials, such as posters and original art; audio and video recordings; and combinations of media, such as slide-tape productions. It is important to identify and describe separately each series of these records and to avoid combining them into one item, such as all photographs or all motion pictures. In describing audiovisual records, agencies should follow these guidelines:

  • Identify the working title of the series, and indicate the physical form of the records: Motion pictures, still pictures, posters or original art, audio recordings, video recordings, or slide-tape productions.
  • Specify the kind of copy. For motion pictures, indicate black-and-white or color, sound or silent, the millimeter size, edited or unedited, and whether the copies are original negatives, master positives, with separate sound tracks, and/or projection prints. For still photographs, indicate black-and-white or color, the size and type of negatives (glass, nitrate, or acetate), and the availability of duplicate negatives, transparencies, or paper prints. For audio and video recordings, indicate disks (vinyl, compact disk, or laser) or tapes, the type of tape (reel-to-reel or cassette), and the availability of original, master, or use copies.
  • Describe the subject content, arrangement, and uses of the records.
  • Show the volume by giving both the cubic footage and an item count, including the number of reels for motion picture films, the number of negatives and positives for still photographs, and the number of disks or tapes for audio and video recordings.
  • For potentially permanent series, specify the physical location of all copies and give the inclusive dates.
  • Identify all related records, especially production files and finding aids. Production files include scripts, contracts and releases.  Public affairs production product files are covered by GRS 6.4, item 030. Finding aids include indexes, catalogs, shelf lists, log books, caption sheets, and shotlists.  Finding aids are also addressed by the GRS (GRS 3.1, items 050 and 051).

Microform Records

Microform records are records on any form containing greatly reduced images, normally on microfilm. If an agency plans to convert to microfilm paper records or other originals that are unscheduled or scheduled as permanent, it must submit a records schedule requesting authority to destroy the originals (source documents). In some instances NARA may not approve the destruction of the original records because of their intrinsic value or because of special access problems or other considerations.

In requesting authority to destroy the originals, the agency must certify on the records schedule that the microfilming will meet the standards set forth in 36 CFR 1230. That regulation also contains standards for storing and inspecting such microform records and taking proper steps for their use and disposition. Care should be taken to schedule related indexes along with the microform records, and to ensure their transfer to the National Archives if they are approved for permanent retention.

If NARA has already approved the originals for destruction, A records schedule is not required to convert the records to microform. Agencies are authorized to apply the approved retention period for such temporary records to the microform. They may also destroy these disposable originals immediately after verifying the microform for quality and completeness, unless the originals are still required for legal purposes. Agencies considering destruction of paper records after microfilming should consult with their General Counsel's office to consider the applicability of Robinson v. McDonald, 28 Vet.App. 178 (2016) and the reasoning behind it, as well as whether destruction of the paper could present an evidentiary problem for the agency. NARA's regulations (36 CFR 1230) cover both temporary and permanent microform records.

Cartographic, Remote-Sensing Imagery, and Related Records

Cartographic records are graphic representations drawn to scale of selected features of the earth's surface and atmosphere and of other planets and planetary satellites. They include maps, charts, photomaps, atlases, cartograms, globes, relief models, and related records, such as field survey notes, map history case files, and finding aids. Also included are digital cartographic records, such as geographic information system records, which should be managed like other electronic records.

Remote-sensing imagery records are aerial photographs and other visual images of the surface of the earth and other planets taken from airborne or spaceborne vehicles to evaluate, measure, or map the cultural and/or physical features of the landscape. They also include related indexes.

The following are some guidelines for scheduling such records on a records schedule:

  • Identify separate series of nondigital cartographic and remote-sensing imagery records and describe each series as a single schedule item. (Treat digital cartographic and remote-sensing imagery records as electronic records.)
  • Describe the subject matter, arrangement, and uses of each record series.
  • Provide any related file headings, numbers, or descriptive symbols for each series.
  • Provide titles or designations for the group of records.
  • State the origin of the records if they were not produced by the agency submitting the records schedule.
  • Show the physical form of the records, whether manuscript, annotated, or photoprocessed and whether filed, rolled, or in some other form.
  • Provide the approximate number of maps and the cubic footage.
  • Give inclusive dates.
  • Describe related indexes and other finding aids.

Architectural, Engineering, and Related Records

Architectural records are drawings and related records depicting the proposed and actual construction of stationary structures such as buildings, bridges, and monuments. Engineering records are drawings and related records depicting the planning and construction of such objects as roads, canals, ships, planes, weapons, and machines. They include design and construction drawings and related records. Also included are computer records relating to architecture or engineering, which should be managed like other electronic records. See GRS 5.4, items 050 and 051, for architectural and engineering drawings and other design and construction records of buildings and structures not critical to agency mission.

The following are some guidelines for scheduling such records on a records schedule:

  • Identify separate series of nondigital architectural and engineering records and describe each series as a single schedule item. (Treat digital architectural and engineering records as electronic records.)
  • Provide file headings or symbols, if any.
  • Describe the subject matter, arrangement, and uses of the records.
  • State whether tracings or other types of reproductions are included.
  • Show the size of the records.
  • Describe origin of the plans, if they were not produced by the agency.
  • Provide the approximate number of architectural or engineering drawings and the cubic footage.
  • Give inclusive dates.
  • Describe related indexes and other finding aids.

Printed Records

Printed records are published materials (such as books, maps, and posters) or serial issuances (such as directives and press releases) produced by or for a particular agency, in contrast to extra copies kept in stock or distributed inside or outside that agency. Each issuing office should maintain, as potentially permanent records, a "record set" of each series of its publications. The following are guidelines for scheduling printed records on a records schedule:

  • Identify the office(s) responsible for maintaining the record sets of publications created by or for the agency.
  • List under separate schedule items the record sets of printed records published by the Government Printing Office (GPO) and those published by other sources.
  • Distinguish between the publication record sets and extra copies of the publication.
  • Describe and schedule related finding aids along with the printed records.

Card Records

Finally, in managing card records, an agency should follow these guidelines:

  • Because of their nonstandard size, maintain paper-based cards separately from regular paper records.
  • Except for their size, describe paper-based cards in the same way as regular paper records.
  • Note that paper-based cards are sometimes finding aids to related records and often have the same disposition as that of the related records.
  • Treat microform-based cards as microform records and digital cards as electronic records.

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