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State Records Survey

State Records Survey


A records survey is a complete inventory of an agency's records holdings. It identifies all records, where they are located, and in what quantity. The survey includes all media types including paper records, diskettes, magnetic tapes, microfilm, maps, and drawings. An essential first step in the development of a records management program, the survey becomes the working document for preparing a records retention and disposition schedule.

View the state survey form with Adobe Acrobat (.pdf format) here:

Law of Thirds

After completing a records survey, agencies usually discover that many records can be destroyed or moved to inactive storage, upon the approval of the State Records Board. Agencies often find that approximately 1/3 of the total volume of records can be destroyed, 1/3 transferred to the State Records Center, and 1/3 retain in the active files.

Statutory/Regulatory Requirements

K.A.R. 53-4-1(2) requires records officers for Kansas state agencies to "prepare and maintain an inventory of each record series in the custody of the agency in cooperation with the archives staff."

Survey Methods

The methods used to gather records survey data can vary depending upon the size and structure of the agency. In all cases, it is recommended that agencies base their records survey method upon a direct physical examination of records followed by the completion of a survey form for each record series. The physical inventory should be supplemented with interviews with records custodians to gain a broader understanding of the nature and purpose of each series. A physical inventory, combined with interviews with records custodians, generally results in the most thorough and accurate survey of agency records.

Elements of a Records Survey

The survey should include the following steps, details of which will be discussed below:

  • Obtaining management support.
  • Selecting and training personnel to perform the survey.
  • Examining records and completing a survey form for each series.
  • Interviewing records custodians.

Management Support

Management support is critical to the success of the survey project and to the entire records management program. Before initiating a survey, an agency records officer should obtain a written commitment from the agency head authorizing them to proceed, granting them access to all records, and requiring agency wide cooperation. A directive should be sent to middle management or to the entire staff describing the objectives of the survey and requesting the participation of everyone concerned. Management support legitimizes and establishes priority for the records management program overall, and the program starts with the survey.

Personnel Selection & Training

Records officers for small agencies may choose to perform the records survey themselves. In larger agencies, however, it is often most effective to designate one or more staff members from each subunit to conduct the survey with the records officer serving as the project coordinator.

A key element in the success of the survey is adequate training for the individual(s) selected to carry out the project. To ensure that complete data is gathered in a uniform way, survey staff should receive detailed instructions on survey techniques as well as background information on records management terminology. The Historical Society's Records Management Section staff are available to advise agencies on approaches to staffing a survey project and to provide training for records survey personnel.

Data to be Collected

Survey data should be recorded on a standard form or worksheet. A separate form should be completed for each record series. Although an agency may design its own form, the Historical Society's Records Management Section has designed a survey form which is available for state agency use. A copy of this survey form is included at the end of this chapter.

Regardless of the form used by an agency, the survey worksheet must contain several vital pieces of information about a record series including:

  • Agency and subunit names
  • Record series title
  • Inclusive dates
  • Description of the records series
  • Physical format (paper, microfilm, magnetic tape, etc.)
  • Quantity of records in the series
  • Public access restrictions

Basic Records Management Terminology

Record- Any documentary material regardless of physical form or characteristic made or received by an agency in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of official business or bearing upon the official activities and functions of the agency.

Non-Record - Certain kinds of materials maintained by agencies are not considered records. These materials include blank forms, published items acquired and used exclusively for reference purposes, and convenience copies of documents produced solely for ease of reference. Non-records material should not be included in the records survey.

Record Series - A record series is a group of records normally used or filed as a unit that relate to a particular subject or result from the same activity. An easy way to understand the record series concept is to consider the progression of information units in records management. The smallest unit is the individual page or document. The next largest unit is the file, which consists of related documents. The record series--groups of related files--is the largest unit and is the level at which records serveys are performed.

Completing the Survey Form

Survey personnel may use self-designed or other survey forms, but the survey worksheet included at the end of this chapter works well in most applications, and can be reproduced for use by state agencies. By using this form a surveyor may answer most, if not all, pertinent questions regarding a record series. Not all portions of the form will always require completion, but the more complete a form is, the more useful it is.

Each space for information on the form is called a field. The fields are numbered for ease of identification. A brief description of the information that should be recorded in each field is outlined below.

  • 1-3 Agency/Division/Other Organizational Unit: List the agency maintaining the records subdividing the agency by appropriate division, bureau, section, etc.
  • 4 Location of Records: Include the building and room in which the records are stored. If there is no name, number, or letter for a room, provide an arbitrary designation. When it is possible to do so, indicate the location within a room. If records are on shelving or in piles along a particular wall, for example, specify "west wall." If there is a great deal of shelving, then use any existing numbering system for ranks and shelves or invent one.
    The various files, volumes, or documents in a series may not be stored together, but they still may be listed on a single survey form, so long as the quantity and dates of the records in each location are noted on the survey form (use the back of the form if necessary). However, it is recommended for similar record series located in different places that they be listed on separate survey forms and merged together later. Additionally, similar records generated by two different divisions or subdivisions must also be surveyed separately.
  • 5 Name and Title of Person Responsible for Maintaining Records: In most cases, this will be the records custodian and his/her title.
  • 6 Telephone: Include the telephone number of the records custodian.
  • 7 Records Series Title: Enter a title that accurately describes the record series.
  • A record series is a group of records which are normally used and filed as a unit, and which permit evaluation as a unit for retention scheduling purposes. For example, all travel vouchers for an entire agency or department would be considered a record series.
    The questions to ask in identifying a record series include:
  • Are the records interfiled?
  • Do the records have a common function?
  • Do the records have the same retention and disposition requirements?
  • If the answer to these questions is yes, then the records should probably be placed in one coherent, comprehensive record series.
  • Identifying separate record series is one of the most important aspects of a records survey. In some instances, there may be many distinct record series in the same container. However, sometimes it is necessary to treat different types of documents as a single series. For example, an agency staff member may have several responsibilities yet interfile information relating to his/her various activities. It would be time consuming to document each file folder as a series; therefore, grouping the records in a series called "Working Files" or "Subject Files" could be the most appropriate survey method.
  • 8 Record Series Description: Briefly summarize the nature and purpose of the record series. Avoid repeating the previously recorded series title. Unless it is unusually comprehensive, the series title usually is too brief to provide a clear indication of the nature and purpose of the records. Explain why the series was created and its function. The surveyor also should make a complete list of the types of documents in a series (forms, correspondence, reports, notes, etc.) and describe the nature of the information recorded in the documents. Series descriptions should contain enough detail so that anyone can understand the record series.
  • 9 Inclusive Dates: Enter the earliest year in which records in the series were created on the first line and the most recent year on the second line. If uncertain about the dates, put down the best guess preceded by "ca.", which is an abbreviation for circa meaning "approximately." Always check the contents of the filing equipment containing the record series; the dates on the outside of a filing cabinet, box, or volume may not be valid.
  • 10 Record Format: This section denotes the medium(s) in which the record series is stored. Check the appropriate box indica ting whether the records exists in paper, microform or electronic format. In some cases all three boxes may be checked as the same series can be stored in several formats. If there is a change in format at some point in the life cycle of the record, a schedule update will be required.
  • 11 Arrangement: If most of the information or documents in a record series are in chronological, alphabetical, or numerical order, check the appropriate box. Indicate on the line following "By" the specific nature of the arrangement (e.g. alphabetical by name of payee; chronological by date filed; numerical by account number; etc.). If there is a combination of several types of organization, check the appropriate boxes and briefly explain after "By" (e.g. chronological by year received thereunder alphabetical by name of correspondent). Indicate after "Other" any type of arrangement not covered by the chronological, alphabetical, or numerical categories. Records often are found in no particular order, and if that is the case, write "none" in the blank after "Other."
  • 12 Filing Equipment/Volume: Write on the appropriate line the number of boxes and/or letter or legal size filing drawers containing records in the series. If none of these categories is satisfactory, indicate the type and number of containers on the line designated "Other." Enter the total volume of records, expressed in cubic feet, in the space provided. The total cubic feet often will be an estimate, but try to make it a calculated guess. A standard file drawer is 1.5 cubic feet and a legal file drawer is 2.0 cubic feet. Keep in mind that the volume of any container (in cubic feet) can be calculated using the following formula: Length (in inches) x Width (in inches) x Depth (in inches)/1728.
  • 13 Annual Accumulation: An agency may still retain record series which are obsolete; if so, then check the "No" box. If the series is still being created, check the "Yes" box and attempt to estimate the annual accumulation.
  • 14 Estimated Activity Per File Drawer: This field contains information about the record usage changes that naturally occur during the life cycle of a series. Consult with records custodians and any other individuals who may use the records to estimate how frequently agency staff members access the series at different stages in its life cycle. Record storage requirements should be reevaluated as usage declines. Daily usage represents a high rate of activity indicating that the record series is active and should remain in the office. When file activity drops to a weekly or monthly rate, it may be time to consider transferring the records to less expensive offsite storage at the State Records Center. A usage rate of less than once a month generally demonstrates the need to transfer the records to the State Records Center.
  • 15 Status: The array of office technology--personal computers, laser printers, fax machines, copy machines--used by agencies to conduct business frequently results in the duplication of documents or information from a series. In order to prepare an accurate retention and disposition schedule, it is essential to identify which unit (and often which individual) maintains the agency's official record copy of a series. It is also important to determine if information from the series is duplicated or summarized in another location or in another record series. These questions often will be easier to answer after the survey has been completed and after consulting with the records custodian.
  • 16 Public Access Restrictions: Indicate by marking the appropriate box whether any public access restrictions apply to the record series. Provide citations for specific state or federal statutes and regulations that limit public access to the records.
  • 17 Relevant Statutes/Regulations: Note any statutes or regulations which may affect management of the record series (e.g. laws or regulations that mandate the creation of the series; laws or regulations that authorize the activity that results in the creation of the series; laws or regulations that require the retention of the series for a specific period of time; etc.)
  • 18 Recommended Retention Period: In this section note the records custodian's recommendations regarding an appropriate retention period for the series. Indicate how long the record series should be stored in the office and, if applicable, the length of time the records should be maintained at the State Records Center.
  • 19 Recommended Final Disposition: Note whether the records custodian recommends destruction of the series or its transfer to the State Archives.
  • 20 Vital Records: Check "Yes" if the record series is considered vital. Vital records are records that contain information required by an agency to continue functioning or to reestablish operations in the event of a disaster.
  • 21 Additional Remarks: This space has been provided for any significant information or comments about the records which do not seem to fit elsewhere on the form.
  • 22 Surveyor's Name: List the name of the person who filled out the survey form. Avoid the use of initials.
  • 23 Telephone: Include the telephone number of the surveyor.
  • 24 Date of Survey: Record the date the surveyor completed the survey form.

Interviewing Records Custodians

Survey personnel are advised to consult with records custodians both during and after the physical examination of the records. Interviews with the individuals who create and use a record series can provide surveyors with important information about the nature and purpose of the series, file usage rates, potential public access restrictions, and current retention practices.


The comprehensive records survey serves as the foundation of an agency's records management program. A well executed survey will result in the development of a records retention and disposition schedule, the identification of vital records, and the appropriate use of the State Records Center. The success of a records management program is related directly to the accuracy and completeness of the records survey. The time you spend on your survey is time well spent.