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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.

How long should we keep records?

Records are required to be retained for the time period listed on Records Retention and Disposition Schedules approved by the Library of Virginia. The Schedules have been organized by function and are available here.

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 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), contact the University Records Manager (records@odu.edu) 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 Manager 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 the Retention Schedules.

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

Offices which are regularly audited by University Audit or Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) should retain their financial records until their annual or regular audit is complete and then follow the retention instructions. 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 Manager will maintain a list of special investigations, legal holds, audits and/or public records requests for reference in approving the 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 authorization by the University Counsel or University Auditor.

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. 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 Data Classification Policy or contact the University Records Manager (records@odu.edu) for more information.

What are the most common laws cited at ODU for confidential records?

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

  • 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.

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 states:

All public records except as otherwise specifically provided by law 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. ODU's FOIA policy can be found at http://www.odu.edu/about/policiesandprocedures/foia.

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

The University Records Manager 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 Manager (records@odu.edu) for a consultation before you begin imaging. 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 Manager or Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist.

Email Management

When can I delete my email?

Electronic mail (e-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.

What is ODU’s retention policy regarding email?

ODU's e-mail policy is to retain messages only as long as necessary for business purposes. E-mails are automatically deleted after a specific period of time unless they are moved to default folders that have pre-assigned retention periods. Retention policies for messages are as follows:


Retained for 1 year from the date of the message

Sent Mail

Retained for 2 years from the date of the message


Retained for 30 days and then moved to the Deleted Items folder

Junk E-mail

Retained for 30 days and then moved to the Deleted Items folder

Deleted Items

Retained for 3 days and are available for users to recover from the server for 30 days

Evaluate your e-mail(s) and determine whether they meet the legal definition of a university record. If so, retain it in accordance with the type of record (the content of the e-mail) as listed on the Records Retention and Disposition Schedules (insert hyperlink to Schedules) for the records series of the email and follow the retention instructions. Please go the Email Management page 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.

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 a record is considered a public record "if it is produced, collected, received or retained in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business." Private email accounts used in this capacity can also be subject to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The fact that public records reside in a personal email account is irrelevant. Likewise, you should limit the use of a public (ODU) email account 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 Manager 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 Manager (records@odu.edu) 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 Manager 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.

What About Historically Significant and Other Permanent Records?

Records of permanent historical, legal, or administrative value should be transferred to the Special Collections for permanent retention and cataloging after they become "inactive" (i.e., are no longer needed in your office during the course of business). The Archives staff will review all records transfers to determine their retention status. If in doubt, please send us the records. Please Note: Although some of the state's Records Retention Schedules mention transferring files to the Library of Virginia, this does NOT apply to institutions with on-site Archives as is the case at ODU and most other Virginia colleges and universities. ODU's permanent records are housed in the University Library's Archive/Special Collections.

Contact the University Records Manager to review your historic records and assist with your transfer (records@odu.edu) or Sonia Yaco, the Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist (syaco@odu.edu 757-683-4483)

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 Manager (757-638-7017) 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.