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Frequently Asked Questions

General Records Management

  • What is Records Management?
  • How long should we keep records?
  • What is a records retention and disposition schedule?
  • What if the records I have are not listed in an approved records schedule?
  • What is a records series?

Virginia Public Records Act

  • What are "public records"?
  • I do not have records.
  • Do we have to retain all financial records until we are audited?
  • What is a "legal hold" or "litigation hold" on records and when does it apply?
  • What does “Reference Copy” mean?

Confidential Records

  • What about my confidential records?
  • What are the most common laws cited at U.Va. for confidential records?

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests

  • Can anyone see my records?
  • Do I have to make drafts awaiting approval available to the public?
  • Our old records are stored in the basement, the attic or an off-site building.  Do we have to honor requests to see them?

Destruction of Records

  • How do I get permission to destroy records once they have exceeded their retention period in the records schedules? 
  • Where can I find an RM3 Form/Approval for Destruction of records?
  • When can I destroy records?
  • How do I destroy records?
  • Does UVA Recycling handle confidential records?
  • Do we need to shred confidential records before calling/using UVA Recycling?
  • How can I destroy records if they are not listed on an approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedule?

Electronic Records & Scanning

  • Do I have to keep the electronic version of a record and a paper version?
  • Computer storage is cheap. I’ll just keep my computer records.
  • We have an imaging system. Do we have to keep the paper?

Email Management

  • When can I delete my email?
  • Do I have to print my email to file it?
  • I use my personal email account for work. No one can see my personal email.

Records Storage

  • Where can we store paper records which need to be kept but that we don’t need daily access to?
  • Can I store our unused records in such places as the basement, attic, outdoor shed, or other off-site location?
  • Can I burn records to a CD or DVD for long-term storage?
  • How should we store electronic records for long term retention?

Transfer of Records to Library Special Collections

  • Do you have records with historic value that are scheduled to be transferred to the University Special Collections or the Library of Virginia?

Disaster Recovery

  • What should I do in case of fire or flood?
  • What help do you give in case of an emergency?

Records Management Training

  • What types of training do you offer?
  • Will you design a training especially for our office?
  • Is there a fee for training?

For More Information

  • Where can I get more information?

General Records Management

What is Records Management?

Records management as defined by the Virginia Public Records Act is the ". . .The application of efficient and economical methods for managing the lifecycle of public records consistent with regulations and guidelines promulgated by the State Library Board . . ." (Code of Virginia §42.1-85.A).The lifecycle of a record includes its creation, use, storage and final disposition. Read more about Records Management at U.Va.

How long should we keep records?

Records are required to be retained for the time period listed in the Library of Virginia’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. You should check the listing of records in the schedules and review the retention instructions. If the type of record is not listed in the schedule, contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 4343-243-9162) for advice on identifying the records under review.

What is a records retention and disposition schedule?

A listing of record series (types of records) held by many or most commonwealth offices instructing the office how long to keep the records in accordance with the Virginia Public Records Act.  All records retention and disposition schedules used by the University of Virginia need to be approved by the Library of Virginia.

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

Some records are unique to the organization or office. If you cannot locate a records series (type of records) in the Library of Virginia approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedules, please contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) for assistance. Please provide information about the records, including the name/type, use, if your office is the official keeper of this record or if another office holds the official.  The University Records Management Office will either direct you to the correct records series for the records under question or assist in creating a new records series and obtaining the approval of the Library of Virginia for use.

What is a records series?

A records series is a group of related records (in any format) held by an organization. A records series usually includes multiple documents or forms that have a relationship and should be retain for a similar length of time.


Virginia Public Records Act

What are "public records"?

The Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia §42.1-77.) defines public records:

"Public record" or "record" means recorded information that documents a transaction or activity by or with any public officer, agency or employee of an agency. Regardless of physical form or characteristic, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. The medium upon which such information is recorded has no bearing on the determination of whether the recording is a public record.

I do not have records.

Nearly every university office generates, receives, or uses records. Computer files of any kind, including drafts and email, are public records. Even if your records are not the official or final versions, your records are public records. Not all records have great historical, legal, or fiscal value, but they all must be managed according to Records Retention and Disposition Schedules approved by the Library of Virginia.

Do we have to retain all financial records until we are audited?

Offices which are regularly audited by University Audit or Virginia Auditor should retain their financial records until their annual or regular audit is complete and then follow the retention instructions in the Library of Virginia approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedules. Offices that are not audited on a regular basis should follow the retention periods in the Library of Virginia approved schedules. If any office receives notification (via phone, email or other communication method) that certain records need to be retained due to an audit the office should at that point cease any destructions. The University Records Management Office will maintain a list of special investigations, legal holds, audits and/or public records requests for reference in approving RM3 – Certificates for Records Destruction.

What is a "legal hold" or "litigation hold" on records and when does it apply?

Records that are subject to a legal hold or litigation hold must not be destroyed until officially released from the hold. A hold is placed when either an official discovery order is served on the university requesting the production of certain records (for a litigation, regulatory investigation, audit, open records request, etc.), or when litigation is pending and the university is on notice to preserve all potentially relevant records. You must ensure that for a claim or litigation that is reasonably foreseeable but has not yet been initiated, any relevant records (in paper or electronic formats) are preserved and not destroyed until released by the University Counsel or University Audit. The records in question must not be destroyed until the completion of the action and the resolution of all issues that arise from it regardless of the retention period set forth in the schedule.

What does "Reference Copy" mean?

A reference copy is usually a record that your office has for its own use and is not the original or official copy for the University. As an example, many academic departments maintain copies of student records (transcripts, applications, etc.); however, the official record keeper for these records is the University Registrar (UREG). Since the academic department needs these records for their own use – or reference use – they are called “reference copies.” Reference copies have different retention periods based upon their designation as a reference copy and may not require the completion of an RM3 form requesting approval for destruction.


Confidential Records

What about my confidential records?

Not all university records are open to public inspection. Exceptions are noted throughout the Code of Virginia.  Confidential records should be maintained securely (both electronically and physically secure) and should be destroyed in a secure method. Please review the Administrative Data Access Policy (http://itc.virginia.edu/policy/admindataaccess.html) or contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) for more information.

What are the most common laws cited at U.Va. for confidential records?

There are two federal laws which cover confidentiality of many records series held at U.Va.

  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA – 20 U.S.C. 1232g) protects access to student records.
  • Health Information Portability Protection Act of 1996 (HIPPA) protects access to individual medical records.

Additional, the Code of Virginia 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. You can learn more about the SSN Remediation Initiative at U.Va. via their website (http://www.virginia.edu/ssninitiative/).


Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests

Can anyone see my records?

Yes, except as restricted by specific provisions in state or federal law, anyone may consult public records.  Code of Virginia§ 2.2-3704 instructs:

Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all public records shall be open to inspection and copying by any citizens of the Commonwealth during the regular office hours of the custodian of such records. Access to such records shall not be denied to citizens of the Commonwealth, representatives of newspapers and magazines with circulation in the Commonwealth, and representatives of radio and television stations broadcasting in or into the Commonwealth.

Do I have to make drafts awaiting approval available to the public?

Yes. Any record that is not confidential by law must be provided when a request is received, whether it is "finished" or not.

Our old records are stored in the basement, the attic or an off-site building.  Do we have to honor requests to see them?

Yes, as long as the records are not confidential by law. Please be aware the confidentially can expire, especially for records held by the Library of Virginia.


Destruction of Records

How do I get permission to destroy records once they have exceeded their retention period in the records schedules?

For official records you need to complete a Certificate of Records Destruction (RM3 Form), have it approved by an administrator in your office and by the University Records Officer. Complete instructions and downloadable forms are located on the Destruction of Records page. If you have questions while completing the form, please contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) for assistance before sending, as most questions can be answered before a form is submitted. Once you receive the approved form back, you may destroy the records. Please note you need to return the original RM3 to the University Records Management Office upon destruction of the records–including a signature and destruction date for final reporting to the Library of Virginia.

Where can I find an RM3 Form/Approval for Destruction of records?

The form is located on the Destruction of Records page, along with easy to follow instructions. If you have questions about the form please contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) before submitting your form for approval.

When can I destroy records?

Each records series listed in the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules approved by the Library of Virginia has specific instructions for how long the records need to be retained by your office. Identify the records series of the records you wish to destroy and calculate if the records have met their retention period. If you have questions on retention please contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 4343-243-9162).

How do I destroy records?

After your office has received an approved Certificate of Records Destruction from the University Records Management Office you may destroy records using any normal refuse disposal method. Approved methods include recycling (shredding/pulping), burying, or burning (if allowed by local ordinance). Non-confidential electronic records should be "wiped" from the storage media or by the manual destruction of the storage media (CD, DVD, Hard drive). 

Records which contain confidential information should be securely destroyed by in-house shredding, confidential recycling, or electronic secure destruction (http://www.itc.virginia.edu/security/securedelete/). You should confirm with any destruction service that confidential records are being properly destroyed. It is recommended that a certificate of destruction be provided by the vendor/service and attached to the RM3 - Certificate for Records Destruction submitted to the University Records Management Office for reporting to the Library of Virginia.

Does UVA Recycling handle confidential records? 
Yes, UVA Recycling handles all paper materials as confidential.  The bonded contractor pulps all paper, destroying the content of the records, and then turns this pulp into new paper products.  To use UVA Recycling for confidential records please follow these instructions:

  1.  Review the records for retention (in accordance with the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules) and obtain an approved Certificate of Records Destruction (RM3) if required or suggested.
  2. Box all records, taping or sealing the box.  DO NOT mark “Confidential” on the box.  Retain the box in a secure location.  DO NOT place boxes in the recycling closet/cabinets that are unlocked or unmonitored.
  3. Contact UVA Recycling before your building/floor’s regular day for recycling pick-up and inform them that you have confidential records in boxes at your location to be picked up.  You may need to confirm during the phone conversation that you have completed the RM3 process with Records Management and provide information about the exact location of the boxes.
  4. On the day of pick-up, have the UVA Recycling employee sign Line 9 of the RM3 (Certificate of Records Destruction) before they remove the boxes from your secure location.

You may also take boxes of confidential records to UVA Recycling – please visit their website and contact them to confirm the best time.

Do we need to shred confidential records before calling/using UVA Recycling?
No, shredded material actually costs UVA more to recycle, than intact paper.  Since all paper is recycled in a secure and confidential manner shredding is not necessary.  UVA Recycling takes custody of confidential records when they pick up the records from your office and has assured the Records Management Office that they will protect these records until destroyed.  Locked transport bins are used before and during transport to the bonded contractor’s recycling facility.   Their signature on Line 9 of the Certificate of Records Destruction (which you should obtain prior to removal of the boxes) is your assurance that the records will be handled in a responsible and confidential manner.

How can I destroy records if they are not listed on an approved Records Retention and Disposition Schedule?

Contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162). We will discuss the nature of the records with you to determine if the records have historical value. If the records do not have historical value, we will work with you to identify a current records series or create a new records series (requires Library of Virginia approval) so that the records may be destroyed once they have met their retention period.


Electronic Record & Scanning

The University Records Management Office is working on policies and procedures for the reformatting of paper records to electronic format. More information will posted to this page as development continues.

Are the documents and other records on my computer also "public records?"

Yes, the Virginia Public Records Act states:

Regardless of physical form or characteristics, the recorded information is a public record if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business. The medium upon which such information is recorded has no bearing on the determination of whether the recording is a public record.

Do I have to keep the electronic version of a record and a paper version?

Records that your office has in both electronic and paper formats which are exact duplicates should both be destroyed once they have met the retention periods in the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules approved by the Library of Virginia. You may destroy one format of the records (either paper or electronic) if you plan to retain the other for the retention periods listed in the schedule. If you have scanned the paper records and plan to destroy the paper, please review We have an imaging system. Do we have to keep the paper? below before destroying paper records after imaging.

Computer storage is cheap. I’ll just keep my computer records.

The best practice is to destroy all records that have met their retention requirements at the same time, regardless of format. Records in paper and electronic formats that have met their retention period but continue to be kept are still subject to public inspection, audit and litigation/legal holds. Maintaining electronic records beyond their approved retention periods can be used to show lack of compliance with state laws and regulations in a legal or an audit proceeding.

We have an imaging system. Do we have to keep the paper?

No, however, records with retention of more than 5 years from creation and records which document financial, contractual or legal actions should be maintained in a "trustworthy” digital system. A "trustworthy" system is one that can prove that the digital copy is an exact duplicate of the original paper throughout its lifecycle. A digital copy (scanned image) can replace the original if held in a "trustworthy" digital system. Please contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu for a consultation to review the digital imaging system you are using/implementing or attend the training Going Paperless? Planning a Digital Imaging System. Paper records with a retention of permanent or with instructions to transfer to Library of Virginia/University Archives/Special Collections should not be destroyed after imaging before consulting with the University Records Management Office about Transfers to Special Collections.


Email Management

When can I delete my email?

Electronic mail is just as much a record as any traditional paper record and must be treated in the same way. It is the content of each message that is important. If a particular message would have been filed as a paper memo, it should still be filed (either in your email program or in your regular directory structure), and it should be retained the same length of time as its paper counterpart. It is inappropriate to destroy email simply because storage limits have been reached. Review the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules for the records series of the email and follow the retention instructions. Please go the Email Management page for more information or attend the training called Email Management, for more information about how to properly manage your email.

Do I have to print my email to file it?

No, email can be retained in electronic format for the entire length of its retention, however, you must be able to access the email during that entire retention period. For more information on proper retention please go to the Email Management page or attend the training called Email Management.

I use my personal email account for work. No one can see my personal email.

The best practice is to avoid using personal resources, including private email accounts, for public business. The Virginia Public Records Act states that records are public records "if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business." The fact that public records reside in a personal email account is irrelevant. Likewise, you should limit the use of a public (U.Va.) email for personal email.


Records Storage

Storage of Public Records

Currently the University does not provide consolidated storage of public records. Each office is responsible for the storage of their records in accordance with the Public Records Act to properly protect and preserve records with long retention periods. The University Records Management Office can assist offices in making decisions about proper storage and solutions for their records.

Where can we store paper records which need to be kept but that we don’t need daily access to?

At this time, storage is the responsibility of the office.  Best practices for storage includes:

  1. Store records that you need access to daily in the working office;
  2. Store records which have occasional use/reference (12 more times per year) in easily accessible storage;
  3. Store records with little or no access needs and have retention beyond 5 years off site.

Contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) for a consultation on locating and evaluating storage options and solutions for paper records.

Can I store our unused records in such places as the basement, attic, outdoor shed, or other off-site location?

Public records are public property. While we encourage offices to find places to store records that do not take up too much valuable office space, the selected space should be dry, secured, and free from pests and mold. Your office must ensure that records stored away from your main office area are well protected from natural and man-made problems while remaining readily available to your staff and the public. The University Records Management Office provides consultation services on storage options and solutions.

Can I burn records to a CD or DVD for long-term storage?

CDs and DVD's are not recommended for long-term storage (5+ years) of electronic records. If this is the only storage option, follow these best practices for use of CDs or DVD's:

  1. Create three copies of all records to be stored on CDs or DVD's, one copy for access purposes on a regular CD or DVD, and two copies on Gold Standard media. Store one Gold Standard copy in the office and the other off site.
  2. Check 10% of the collection – all three copies – yearly to make sure the CDs and DVD's are readable.
  3. Every 5 years copy all files from the old media to new media and migrate to new software versions or new versions for continued readability.

How should we store electronic records for long term retention?

Best practice is to store records on a server which is backed-up on a regular basis with the back-ups being stored off-site. Long term retention of electronic records requires continual maintenance to make sure the media is usable, backed-up and readable when needed. Use standard file formats and upgrade to new software versions when new versions become available. For more information on electronic records management, visit the Electronic Records page or attend the training, Electronic Records Management.


Transfer of Records to Library Special Collections

Do you have records with historic value that are scheduled to be transferred to the University Special Collections or the Library of Virginia?

Contact the University Records Management Office to review your historic records and assist with your transfer: records@virginia.edu or call 434-243-9162


Disaster Recovery

What should I do in case of fire or flood?

Secure the area, and keep everyone out until fire or other safety professionals allow entry. Then call the University Records Management Office (434-243-9162) for advice on how to handle damaged records.

What help do you give in case of an emergency?

We can assist you in appraising the records that have been damaged so that precious resources (and especially time) are not spent on records with lesser value. We can provide lists of professional recovery vendors that you can contact to preserve your essential and permanent records.


Records Management Training

What types of training do you offer?

We offer a series of records management workshops through Human Resources Training and Development. You can sign up for any of these workshops at http://hrs.virginia.edu/development. We also offer onsite workshops (minimum 15 attendees) for individual offices and departments. Contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) for more information about a customized workshop for your specific needs.

Our basic workshops are:

Records Management I (An Introduction) (1 hour)

Learn the basics of the Virginia Public Records Law and the policies on records at the University of Virginia. Includes review of Virginia Public Records Act, management of paper and electronic records, resources available for compliance, and how the Records Management Office can assist you with your records needs.

Records Management II (In Detail) (2 hours)

Get more detailed information on records management requirements, processes and laws. Includes in depth review of the Freedom of Information Act, laws and best practices for confidential records storage and destruction, transferring records to University Archives/Special Collections as well as plenty of time for your specific questions.

Electronic Records Management (90 min)

Learn about electronic records management in conjunction with the Virginia Public Records Act. Includes overview of the complexities surrounding life-span of electronic records, how to organize your electronic records and issues about long term storage of electronic records.

Email Management (90 min)

Too much email in your in-box? Not sure what to keep and what to trash? Come to this workshop and learn about email as a public record, email deletion, appropriate content for email distribution, handling attachments, and avoiding email clutter.

Going Paperless? Planning a Digital Imaging Project (90 min)

Planning to go paperless in your office? Before you do, attend this workshop on digital imaging. Includes information about benefits and key concepts of digital imaging, planning process elements, legal, risk management and records management concerns, indexing and labeling, budget issues, technology assessment and selections.

Piles of Files? Organizing Your Records (90 min)

Not sure how to organize you paper and/or electronic files? Learn about strategies for developing a filing system that works for you. Includes information about inventories, analysis of your filing system, organization strategies and organizing electronic files.

Personal Records Management (1 hour)

Not sure how long to keep those receipts, or the statements from your credit cards? Learn the standard time periods to keep your personal records as well as the preservation of personal electronic records, including digital photographs. Includes retention of personal financial records, email, electronic records, digital photographs and other types of personal records.

Will you design a training especially for our office?

Yes. Contact the University Records Management Office (records@virginia.edu or 434-243-9162) about a specialized workshop for your office. We require a minimum of 15 attendees for onsite workshops.

Is there a fee for training?

No. The University Records Management Office provides assistance to the University and Medical Center free of charge.


For More Information

Where can I get more information?

You can contact the University Records Management Office at 434-243-9162, email: records@virginia.edu or via our website http://www.virginia.edu/recordsmanagement/ to obtain more information on records management issues and training schedules.