Records Management

The university has a commitment to the efficient and reliable maintenance of its records. The records management program, as established by the Ethics and Compliance Office, provides direction and support to departments and divisions about how to properly identify, retain, and dispose of records in their possession so that records of vital, historical, fiscal and legal value are identified and preserved, and that nonessential records are discarded in a timely manner according to the established guidelines of the State Records Act.

The State of Illinois’s Records Management Manual for Illinois State Government Agencies will also help guide an employee through the life cycle of a record.

In sum, university records are considered records of the State of Illinois, regardless of format (paper, digital, etc.), and may not be destroyed without the advanced approval of the Illinois Records Commission per the State Records Act, 5 ILCS 160. The information provided below guides an employee through the following steps:

  1. Identifying what is a record
  2. Inventorying records
  3. Creating a record retention schedule
  4. Proper storage
  5. Archiving
  6. Disposal (to include destruction)

The university’s records management policy will help you understand the purpose of the records management program. 

Records are defined by the state records act as:

  • Books, papers, digitized electronic material, maps, photographs, databases or other official documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics.
  • Made, produced, executed or received by any agency in the state in pursuance of state law or in connection with the transaction of public business.
  • Preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its successor as evidence of the organization, function, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the state or of the state government, or because of the informational data contained therein.

If a record meets all the criteria above, it may not be destroyed, altered or otherwise disposed of unless its corresponding retention schedule is followed. A flowchart (DOCX) has been developed to guide employees on identifying records and associated disposal guidelines.

For example, a record includes business emails, personnel files, general correspondence, emails, minutes of the meeting, purchase order, budget documents, and class rosters. A record is not personal email (unrelated to NIU business), extra copies of documents preserved for convenience of reference, an announcement of office events and meeting reminders.

If an employee is unsure whether a record classifies as a "record" under the State Records Act, it is best to consult with the records officer at

If material doesn't fall within the definition of a record, it may be considered a non-record. The retention and disposal of non-record material isn't governed by the State Records Act. It can be disposed of without prior approval from the state. However, it may be of value to a division or department and may be kept locally. Non-record material may also be considered a public record, as defined by the Freedom of Information Act (5 ILCS 140).

Examples of non-record material include:

  • Academic research data.
  • Personal correspondence and junk mail/spam.
  • Non-university publications and catalogs.
  • Working papers and drafts of published papers or reports.
  • Duplicate material including recipient copies of internal communications.
  • Blank forms and stocks of printed or reproduced documents kept for supply purposes.
  • Material created and preserved only for reference or convenience purposes.
  • Books, periodicals, newspapers, posters and other library and museum materials.
  • Private materials neither made nor received by the university in the transaction of public business.
  • Material used to facilitate operations but not to support, enable or document administrative action.
  • Material considered as university records that has been duplicated or migrated to another format in accordance with state requirements.

Transitory messages are also considered to be non-record material. These messages are created primarily to communicate information of short-term value. Transitory messages come in many formats, such as email, instant messaging (IM), text messaging (SMS) and paper correspondence. Examples of transitory messages include:

  • Reminders to employees about scheduled meetings or appointments.
  • Telephone messages (whether in paper, voicemail or other electronic form).
  • Announcements of office events.
  • Recipient copies of announcements of campus-sponsored events, such as exhibits, lectures and workshops.

To identify a university's record, it is important to create a records inventory. A records inventory identifies the scope and quantity of the department's or office's record, which will become part of the university's entire record series.

The information that comes from the records inventory serves as the basis for all decisions concerning the lifecycle of the record, including what should be retained, for how long and any special circumstances that may require a longer retention period. Each university department may conduct their own records inventory by using the inventory worksheet, found under forms.

When creating a records inventory, the records must be appropriately appraised. The appraisal process includes determining what value the records have, as described below:

  • Administrative Value – The primary administrative use for most records is exhausted when all the transactions related to them are completed. From that point they begin to lose their value quickly; however, records that contain the basic facts of an agency's origin, policies, functions, organization and significant administrative decisions are preserved long-term to provide a historical perspective to understand the agency's operations.
  • Legal Value – Records have a legal value when they contain evidence of enforceable rights or obligations of the State. These records can include legal decisions and opinions; fiscal documents, such as leases, titles and contracts; and records of actions, such as claim papers and legal dockets.
  • Fiscal Value – (Financial Transactions) Records that have served their basic administrative function may still have sufficient fiscal value to justify their retention in storage for a defined life-cycle for litigation or audit purposes.
  • Research, Historical or Archival Value – Records have enduring value when they reflect significant historical events or document the history and development of an agency or policy.

The appraisal process guides the department on establishing an appropriate retention period. For example, if a record has significant historical value, they will likely be retained permanently, as opposed to records that have short-term administrative value due to transactions related to the record being completed in the short-term.

After the records have been appraised, the appropriate retention period is established. An important factor impacting the retention period, and how the records are stored, is how often the records are used.

Retention Period Examples

Below are examples of retention periods, as guided by how often the records are used:

  • A record that has a retention period of six years and is frequently referenced during the first two years, then infrequently after that time, will likely have a retention period that states:
    • "Retain two (2) years in office, then transfer to the State Records Center for four (4) years, then destroy in a secure manner ...
  • A record that has a retention period of 10 years and has a high reference rate for those 10 years will likely have a retention period that states
    • "Retain for ten (10) years after the date of generation, then destroy in a secure manner or delete from the system…"
  • A record that has an administrative reference value of three years, but also has archival or historical value, will likely have a retention period that states:
    • "Retain three (3) years in office, and then transfer to the Illinois State Archives for permanent retention."

The term "permanent", when used for archival and retention purposes, means forever. Using the term permanent to define a record's retention means that it has lasting value. The term permanent should not be confused with the term "indefinite". Retention periods of 20 or 40 years for a record are not uncommon, but such retention periods are not referred to as permanent.

After the records have been inventoried and appropriate retention periods have been established, the completed inventory worksheet should be submitted to the records officer at for submission to the Secretary of State. This inventory will serve as the basis of the record retention schedule. The state will then approve of the schedule and the document will become part of the university's records management program.

View a current list of all active record retention schedules.

It is recommended that records are stored in a secure location that is only accessible to those who are permitted to have access to the information. Departments need to be mindful of state and federal laws that impact who may have access to the records, including the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Records should be kept in a location that does not damage the records. For example, records should not be kept on the floor of the basement of a building as it could be subjected to water damage. Additionally, records should not be kept loose or removed from their box/file cabinet.

Digitizing records and microimaging is the process of making digital files from paper records or microfilm. In order to easily access records and save on space, many departments on campus are digitizing records. However, before that decision is made, it is recommended to view the Decision Tree for Scanning Projects, provided by the Secretary of State's Office. This is a useful resource and provide important considerations for the department prior to embarking on a scanning project. Retaining temporary records in the format in which they were created is generally more cost efficient than moving them to another format. There is little value in scanning records that only have to be retained for a short period of time.

Before making the decision whether to scan a series of records, the department must view the applicable record retention schedule. If the retention period is (10) years or more, then you may consider scanning the paper records into the appropriate digital file format. The best choice for scanning different file formats is as follows:

  • Text: Portable Document Format/Archives (PDF/A)
  • Still images: Tagged Image File Format (TIFF)
  • Spreadsheets: Comma Separated Values (CSV)
  • Audio: Broadcast WAVE Format (BWF)
  • Video: Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG-4)

When digitizing a record, the integrity and authenticity of the record shall be preserved so that the images or digital surrogates are authentic copies of the paper-based documents. The digital surrogate must serve the purposes for which the original records were created or maintained and the surrogate much contain all significant record detail needed for probable future reference. It is recommended to contact the records officer prior to digitizing files to ensure that an appropriate file format is chosen and the integrity and authenticity of the record stays intact.

After digitizing the records to an appropriate file format, the department may dispose of the original paper record without the need to fill out a Records Disposal Certificate and obtain approval from the State Records Commission to allow their disposal.

At this point in time, microfilm is the only storage medium that is appropriate for permanent retention due to its ability to last for centuries. For records with other long-term value, the State has provided a list of sustainable file formats for electronic records.

For more information about digital reproduction and management of electronic records, please consult the State Records Commission Rules, sections 4400.50 through sections 4400.80.

If a record has historical or administrative value, or your records schedule requires submission to the University Archives, please contact the university archivist for transfer.

Regional History Center / University Archives
Founders Memorial Library, room 400
Northern Illinois University

Acceptable items to send to archives:

  • Copies of any written unit or program histories.
  • Annual reports.
  • Program reviews.
  • A run of all newsletters or other serial publications.
  • Minutes of core committees, boards, councils.
  • Accreditation reports, charters, constitutions, by-laws.
  • A sample of syllabi, exams, student papers.
  • A selection of identified photographs.
  • Brochures, special events programs.
  • Memorabilia (buttons, banners, posters, seals, etc.)
  • Administrative correspondence (colleges, centers, vice-presidents only).
  • Administrative correspondence for university-wide committees/councils.
  • Copies of faculty publications and vitae.

Items not acceptable to send to archives:

  • Any individual student records in any form.
  • Any individual personnel record.
  • Raw data or research files.
  • Budget, purchasing, or accounting records.
  • Publications produced outside your unit.
  • Minutes of meetings produced outside your unit.
  • General correspondence files (except as noted above).
  • Class rosters, schedules, old catalogs.
  • Unidentified photographs or newspaper clippings.

When records are sent to the university archivist, it is important to keep a list of what was sent. Information to include is the date that the record was sent, the corresponding record schedule number, a description of the record, date range of the record, disposition of records (sent to Founders Library Archives) and name of who sent the records. Due to the records that are sent to the university archivist being considered permanent in nature, this information must also be kept permanently in a secure location.

Most records maintained by the university may be disposed of when the record retention period has expired, so long as there is no audit or legal hold on the record. Disposal may consist of permanent destruction or transfer to the State Archives or State Records Center.

To dispose of a record, the department or division must submit a records disposal certificate, to the records management specialist, who will then submit the information to the Secretary of State's Office. This certificate must be completed thirty days prior to any disposal or destruction of the record. Additionally, the Secretary of State must provide their approval on the certificate before the record may be disposed of.

After approval from the state is obtained and the certificate is returned to the university, the department or division may dispose of the document. If the destruction of the record is approved, the department or division may utilize university shredding services by submitting a shredding request form. The department or division is responsible for any incurred expenses.

If the documents that are to be disposed of contain personal information, you must review the univeristy's Identity Protection Policy.

Contact Us

Ethics and Compliance Office
Health Services Building, 2nd floor