Record Disposition

How a Retention Schedule works

Notification and review


Updating the computer catalog after disposition

Methods of Disposition

Recycling Commitment

No record is forever, at least in terms of Records Management. Very few records are retained beyond 15 years, and most retention periods are much shorter. Some records process into the College Archives (in Rauner Special Collections Library) for permanent historical retention, but most eventually end up being recycledshredded, or in the case of digital records, securely deleted.  As discussed in the Retention section, this entire disposition process is governed by the Retention Schedule, negotiated between the Records Custodian, the Records Manager, and the Records Management Policy Committee. (See The Scheduling Process for more information.)

How a Retention Schedule works.

Upon cataloging, each box of physical records is assigned a disposition date. Digital record disposition dates are calculated based on metadata when they are ingested into the system.  These dates are calculated automatically by adding the retention period for that series or file plan node to the last date of the material. For instance, a record with a last date of 6/30/2005, and a five year retention period, would be disposed on 6/30/2010.

NOTE: Retention periods and disposition dates are not calculated using the date the material is transferred to Records Management.  Most retentions are based upon the actual date of the material itself.  In some cases, "event dates" are used to calculate retention, which may be different from the date of the material itself.  For instance, a series might have retention calculated on a student's graduation date, even if that record was generated years earlier.

Twice each year (beginning in July and January) Records Management conducts a round of disposition. In order to be eligible for disposition, a record accession must meet the following criteria:

If an accession meets all of these criteria the system will automatically make it eligible for disposition.

NOTE: As a rule, partial boxes of physical records are not disposed. The entire box is either disposed or retained.

Notification and review.

During each disposition round the Record Custodian will receive an electronic notification that details all material currently eligible for disposition. It will be sent with a return receipt attached, which is returned to Records Management to indicate the Records Custodian has read and been informed of the pending disposition.

NOTE: A disposition method of "Archives" does not guarantee that the material will be retained in the historical collection of the College. The Archives may elect to dispose of some or all of a particular group of records, if it duplicates existing holdings or is otherwise not suitable for permanent retention. For this reason, no record should process into the Archives until its administrative value is completed.


Circumstances may demand that a particular record accession must be held beyond it's scheduled disposition. This is normally due to litigation, an audit, or a pending project. Should placing a hold become necessary, the Records Custodian must contact the Records Manager or the Records Analyst either before a scheduled disposition, or before the end of the five day grace period (see note above). The box or boxes can then be placed on a temporary hold, and the Records Custodian will be contacted again at the next scheduled disposition round to review the status of the material.

Records Management asks that material only be placed on hold for valid and specific administrative reasons. It is important from a legal standpoint, should Dartmouth's retention practices ever be challenged, that the institution can document a high level of consistency in applying disposition. If a specific reason cannot be found for holding a particular accession, and the Records Custodian is still not comfortable with the disposition, then that may indicate that the retention period needs to be revisited and extended.

Updating the computer catalog after disposition.

The final step in this process is to update the Records Management computer system to reflect the disposed material. Even though material may process out of the facility, it remains in the data system, flagged as disposed. This means that Records Management can tell you not only what is currently in storage, but also all files which have been disposed. (The exception to this are those records disposed before the digital tracking system was adopted in June of 1994. Box and File data on those records was not retained.)

Methods of disposition.

Not all disposition is created equal, and not all disposition means "destroy." When the Records Custodian receives a notice of impending disposition this may include a variety of disposition method codes. For reference, here is a complete glossary.

  • D: Discard (Recycle). This is the standard, non-confidential destruction method. Material scheduled under this method may be purged of reusable stock (such as file folders or binders) and then sent for recycling. In practice, due to the economics involved, all material with this disposition method is currently being shredded prior to recycling.
  • S: Shred. Material under this method is processed under strict security. For paper records, destruction is accomplished via secure on-site shredding by a third party vendor who provides certificates of secure destruction. The shredded material is then recycled. Note that non-record material can also be shredded.  For digital records, they are deleted using technology ensuring they cannot be recovered.
  • A: Archives. This designation is for material to be processed into the permanent historical records of the College. Note that this processing is done by the College Archives. The Archives works with individual departments during their processing. Records of enduring legal, fiscal, administrative or historical value are retained. Records duplicating information found elsewhere may be discarded.
  • M: Imaging. Physical records falling under this designation will be converted to digital images, after which, the original paper documents will be destroyed. The digital images then receive a new classification, with it's own retention period (longer, and in most cases, eventually destined for the Archives).
  • P: Purge. This special designation is for record sets which need to be purged before destruction. Usually this means removing material based on a specified criteria. The remaining material is then recataloged under a separate record classification with a longer retention period, and the remaining material is securely disposed.
  • R: Return. Material with this designation is returned to the originating office when the retention period is complete. Records Management discourages this disposition method unless the originating office has specific plans for processing or purging the returned material.

Recycling commitment.

Records Management has a commitment to ensure that all possible record material is recycled upon disposition.  This includes paper, and digital media. The program works closely with Dartmouth Recycles, as well as third party vendors to ensure that wherever possible all material isis diverted from overcrowded landfills.

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