Records Retention

What is a Retention Schedule?

A retention schedule is a policy document that identifies and describes an organization's records, usually at the series level, and provides instructions for the disposition of the records throughout their life cycle.

The Scheduling Process

The Records Retention Schedule is formulated by Records Management and the Records Custodian of each department. This document is reviewed periodically (typically, once each year) to ensure that new record series and classifications that have been created since the last round of retention scheduling are covered, and to verify that current retention decisions should remain in effect. The following information is on the retention schedule:

  • Record series names
  • Series descriptions
  • Retention periods 
  • Disposition methods
  • Approval dates for each series
  • For digital records, the existing File Plan is displayed, along with the Retention Periods and Disposition Methods for each node

IMPORTANT: Retention periods are usually measured from the actual date of the material itself, NOT the date the material was transferred to Records Management. 

The final step in the process is the presentation of the retention schedule to the Records Management Policy Committee (RMPC). This group is charged with reviewing and approving all retention schedules. The RMPC contains representatives from the following departments (in most cases it is the department director who sits on the committee):

  • Archives
  • Business Affairs
  • ITC
  • Controller
  • Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action
  • Human Resources
  • OGC
  • Library
  • Records Management
  • Risk Management
In most cases approval is quickly granted and the retention schedule approved. However in some cases a member of the RMPC may request additional information or voice concerns.  The Records Manager will then work with the department and the RMPC to ensure that all parties' concerns are addressed and the retention schedule gains approval. 

Safeguards Against Improper Disposition

No record is ever disposed without an approved retention schedule. Until this document is approved and implemented, all records are retained. The Records Manager is only authorized to dispose of records for which the retention scheduling process has been properly followed.In addition, once the schedule is in place, the Records Custodian will be notified in advance of any records to be disposed, and be given the opportunity to place those records on hold if necessary. See the Disposition section of this website for more information on this process.

How Long Should We Keep Our Records?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive guide to formulate a retention period. Each record series within your file plan must be examined individually in regard to usage patterns, departmental needs, historic value and legal issues.Records Management currently holds material anywhere from 1 to 99 years, depending on a variety of factors. Even records that may appear similar between two departments often have very different usage patterns, and thus require very different retention strategies. However, the following approach may help you to formulate proper retention periods.


Many Records Custodians have found it helpful to evaluate their records based on the "HALF-Life" Model. In this model, we find that a record typically displays value in each of four categories:

  •  Historic: Does the record document an important part of Dartmouth's history? Will it be a valuable resource to researchers many years from now?
  •  Administrative: How often do you actually use the material? What is the value of the information to your daily operation? At what point would not having the material available cease to be a serious hardship?
  •  Legal: Are there any external requirements to maintain the information, either from governmental or granting agencies? Does the record help to prevent a legal liability? Or does it perhaps pose a liability, even after the administrative value has disappeared?
  •  Fiscal: Is the information necessary for tax or audit purposes? Is it helpful in future budget and fiscal planning?

After evaluating a record series or node of your file plan in each of these four categories, in most cases you will have a good sense of how long the records should be kept.

If you would like more guidance in determining record retention periods and disposition methods, contact the Records Manager.