1982 Principles for Local Government Records Adopted by the National Association of State Archives and Records Administrators (NASARA)


The National Association of State Archives and Records Administrators recognize local government records as one of its major concerns. The importance of local government and their records deserves renewed emphasis. During much of the nation’s early history, before the expansion of state and federal services so prominent today, local governments were the most important political entities in terms of impact on people’s lives. Today, many local governments have extensive home rule powers and also function as the administrative arms of state and federal agencies, delivering services and enforcing mandates from these higher authorities.

The records of local government document the origin, evolution, and current operations of local government programs. These records provide evidence on policy formulation processes and on administration of those policies. The records include information on taxation and on the management and expenditure of public funds. Information is also present on the legal rights and obligations of the government itself and on the births, deaths, marriages and property holding and legal rights of its citizens. Finally, selected local government records have enduring value for historical and other research.

The information contained in local government records is now more in demand than ever – by administrators concerned with the origin and continuity of public servants; by genealogists and family history researchers tracing their “roots”; by historians studying community or regional history themes; and by other researchers studying social groups or trends in demography, land use, transportation, or economic development.

A number of factors have combined, however, to limit applications of sound records management and archival techniques in the creation, maintenance, disposition, and preservation of records. Local governing boards and councils often do not recognize the essential role of records in the efficient administration of modern government operation or the need for systematic records management. Local records custodians frequently take office without previous training or experience in records management or archival techniques, and the everyday pressures and duties of their offices leave them little time to give adequate attention to records issues. There are few publications and training courses on local government records management, and exchange of information on workable records-keeping practices is limited. As a result, records are often not as well managed as their administrative, fiscal, legal and historical importance would warrant. Important records may be difficult to locate when they are needed or they may be inadvertently discarded. On the other hand, obsolete records may be retained longer then necessary, creating an unnecessary and expensive storage burden and competing for space with newer or more important records.

This statement of principles is designed to provide guidance to local government officials and state archival and records management officers interested in improving records management and archival practices. It is intended to courage a working partnership between state and local officials to ensure sound records management. The principles are general and must be interpreted and applied in light of state and local laws and traditions.

I. Legislation. State legal authority should extend to all the records of all local governments. State law should recognize the responsibility of state archival or records management agencies to ensure uniform procedures in the management of non-current local government records and should cover the following areas:

1.Definition of records. The legal definition of what constitutes a “record” of local government should be precise but broad enough to encompass microfilm and modern information-carrying or storage devices such as electronic data processing tapes and discs.

2.Legal custody. The local government authority responsible for the custody of records should be designated. This may vary, depending on the type of government, state and local laws, and municipal charter provisions. Possibilities include the chief executive officer, clerk, department heads, or the local governing body.

3.Disposition, including destruction or transfer. Disposition procedures, including supervisory authority of the state archival or records management agency, should be spelled out.

4.Preservation and protection.

5.Microfilmed records. The law should permit microfilmed copies of records to be substituted for originals, provided the standards established by the state archival or records management agency for identification targeting, archival quality, and storage are met. Such microfilm should be legally admissible in court in lieu of the original records.

6.Tampering with, defacing, or stealing records. Specific penalties should be provided for these crimes.

7.Access to researches and the public. The law should state that records are open to the public with certain exceptions; e.g., situations when disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, impair collective bargaining negotiations, disclosure trade secrets, or interfere with ongoing polic or judicial proceedings.

8.The law should provide that state and local governments may seek the return of official records that have been alienated from government custody.

II. Principles of good management.Local government administrators and records custodians should recognize the importance of the records created by local government operations and the information these records contain. Records should be managed systematically, effectively, and economically.

1.Responsibility for management, preservation, and legal disposition of records should be clearly assigned.

2.Records should be easily accessible to government officials and to the public through the use of indexes, systematic filing systems, and other techniques.

3.Inactive or non-current records should be segregated from active records and stored away from busy office areas.

4.A vital records program should be developed to ensure the survival of records and information necessary to resume and continue government operations after a serious fire or other catastrophe.

5.Selected records with long legal minimum retention periods, where the original records is no longer needed and a microfilmed copy will suffice, should be considered for microfilming in accordance with guidelines provided by the state archival or records management agency. Microfilm may be substituted for the original records once state standards have been met.

6.Electronic data processing should be employed where warranted.

7.Records personal should be trained in techniques or records and information management.

8.Obsolete records should be disposed of periodically following legal procedures.

9.Historically valuable records should be preserved in a local government archives, designated local or regional repository, or state archives. 

III. Role of state archival and records management agencies. The combined state archival and records management agency should work in partnership with local officials in establishing strong records management and archival programs. Where they are not combined, the actual division or supervisory, regulatory, and advisory authority between the state archives and the state records management agency should be clearly defined in each state to ensure a minimum of overlap and a common approach to local government records problems. State agencies should assume the following responsibilities:

1.Records disposition. State authorities should establish legal minimum retention periods and regulate the disposition of local government records. This responsibility can be carried out by having state authorities: review and approve or veto requests from local governments for approval to dispose of specific records; review and approve or modify records retention and disposition schedules submitted by local government; or promulgate and distribute records retention and disposition schedules with statewide applicability. In regulating records disposition, state authorities should consider the administrative, fiscal, legal and historical and other research value of the records.

2.Records management advice and assistance. State authorities should provide technical advice and assistance on various aspects of records management systems such as legal disposition, handling inactive records, security, protection, indexing, filing systems, storage of inactive records, and electronic data-processing systems. Such advice and assistance may be provided through a combination of field visits to local government offices, workshops and training institutes and publications.

3.Preservation of historically valuable records. State authorities should develop programs to ensure the identification and preservation of records with enduring historical or other research value. This may be accomplished through: (A) providing advice and assistance to local governments to establish archival programs; (B) providing for the transfer of records to designated local or state repositories; or (C) accessioning historically valuable local government records into the state archives. Choice of a method will depend on the state’s laws and traditions. Whichever method is selected, the following minimum standards should be met: (A) records are systematically appraised to identify those with archival value; (B) archival records are properly protected against fire, theft, or other loss; (C) records are arranged and described according to commonly accepted archival standards; (D) records are available for research at reasonable times.

4.Consultation with state and federal agencies. State archival or records management personnel should consult with state agencies whose regulatory, supervisory, licensing, or other activity have an impact on local government recordkeeping. These personnel should also continuously monitor the recordkeeping impact of federal mandates or federal programs administered through local governments.

5.Microfilming. State archival and records management agencies should take the lead in advising local government on an appropriate role for microfilm. This might include advice on: (A) microfilming records with relatively long legal retention periods and disposition of the original records; (B) microfilming of selected records as part of a vital records program; (C) microfilming historically valuable records to make the information more accessible to researchers; or (D) deterring the microfilming of disposable, non-current records. In each case, the state agencies should promulgate standards for identification targeting, and archival filming, processing, and proper storage, based on the standards of the American National Standards Institute and the National Micrographics Association. In addition, state agencies may consider: (A) actually performing the microfilming of local government records; (B) performing quality checks and tests on microfilm; (C) providing secure storage for the master (camera produced) negative of the film; (D) securing a reference copy of film for research use at the state archives; or (E) securing a copy of the film for use by researchers via interlibrary loan.

6.Conservation and restoration. The state archival and records management agency should develop a statewide strategy to meet records conservation needs and the need to repair or restore deteriorated or damaged records. Such an approach might include: (A) organizing workshops or publishing manuals on conservation administration and techniques; (B) developing or designating a private or public institution somewhere in the state to take the lead in conservation training and in performing the most challenging of conservation procedures; (C) using the state records management or state archives preservation lab to perform conservation work for local governments; or (D) organizing and coordinating a statewide disaster assistance program.