The Archives and Special Collections office is located on the second floor of Tanenbaum Hall, room T-251.
Head of Archives and Special Collections
**Beginning 3/07/2022 Biddle Archives will be reopening for on-site research visits. Please allow two weeks notice for scheduling research appointments.
The following site is designed to be a resource for understanding records management practices at Penn Law and how it relates to the University Archives.
What is records management?
Records management is the systematic control of records throughout their life cycle—from the moment they are created to the moment they are destroyed or transferred to the Archives for permanent retention.
Why is records management important?
Ultimately, records management ensures that institutional records of vital historical, fiscal, and legal value are identified and preserved, and that non-essential records are discarded in a timely manner according to established guidelines. Benefits of records management include more effective management of your current records (both paper and electronic); a reduced/eliminated level of record-keeping redundancies; reduced costs for records storage equipment and supplies; and increased usable office space through the elimination of unnecessary file storage. In addition, records management provides institutional accountability, a historic record of Penn Law's activities, and timely access to information.
What topics does this site cover?
What is a Record?
The Society of American Archivists defines a record as:
Everything the Penn Law community creates - both in hardcopy and electronically - is considered a record, regardless of physical form or characteristic.
Every day at Penn Law, records are created. After a record is created, it goes through various stages of use, known as a record's lifecycle. This is known as a process for organizing, storing, and using records. The University Archivists and the Penn Law Archivist help documents through this process.
What is a record lifecycle?
This model portrays the life of a record as going through various stages or periods, much like a living organism.
The life cycle model not only describes what will happen to a record, it also defines who will manage the record during each stage. During the creation and active periods, the record creators have primary responsibility for managing the record, although records managers may well be involved to various degrees. In the semi-active stage, it is the records manager who takes center stage and assumes major responsibility for managing the records. Finally, in the inactive stage, the archivist takes the lead in preserving, describing, and providing access to the archival record.
Records vs. Archives
Some records become archives at the end of their records lifecycle. Archival records are those records that have permanent value of the following nature:
A record’s value is defined as: the usefulness, significance, or worth of something to an individual or organization.
Records with short-term value are saved by departments or stored at the University Records Center. Records with long-term historic value are saved by the Penn Law Archives or the University Archives. Determining a records value can be a subjective exercise, the following questions are designed to assist record creators in evaluating the value of their records:
What were the circumstances of creation?
What information does the record contain?
What was the past use and potential future use of the record?
What are the institutional or political considerations for saving or destroying this record?
What is a retention schedule?
A retention schedule is a list of the the types of records (record series*) created by an office or department. An organization implements a records retention schedule in order to ensure that its records are kept as long as legally and operationally required and that obsolete records are disposed of in a systematic and controlled manner. The records retention schedule is intended to ensure that employees adhere to approved recordkeeping requirements, and that they do so consistently.
The University Archives has created retention schedules to help departments understand what should happen to their records: https://archives.upenn.edu/records-center/resources/retention-schedules
What is an active vs. inactive record?
Active records are documents which are still actively being used by an office. They are usually referenced on a daily or monthly basis. Often times, if in paper, these records will be located in a handy place within the office since they are used frequently.
Inactive records are documents which are no longer referenced on a regular basis and tend to be stored in a less accessible place since they are not used frequently. Records retention schedule tell you what to do with inactive records.
Understanding Penn's retention schedules
Here is an image of Penn's retention schedule for Academic and Student Records:
The column on the left is a list of the types of documents that fall within this records series*. The column on the right tells you how long the record should be kept once it is determined to be inactive. Your office or department should determine if inactive records will be store on-site or at the University Records Center.
NOTE: If the column on the right says permanent, that means the record should be kept indefinitely, and often these records are transferred permanently to the University Archives.
Records at Penn Law have four different paths they can take. Records can stay in an office or department, be sent to the University Records Center, be sent to the University Archives, or be sent to the Penn Law Archives. Office and departments should consult with the Penn Law Archivist to determine the best course of action for their records.
Office or Departmental storage
Records stored in an office or department are generally records that are still being used on a daily basis.
University Records Center
Office or departments can chose to send their in-active records to the University Records Center. The purpose of the University Records Center (URC) is to provide records retention and retrieval services that assist faculty and administrative staff in the ongoing operation of the University. Storage is provided for University business, academic, historical and medical records which are generally no longer needed on a daily basis but which must be retained to meet legal, fiscal, administrative or historical requirements. Records sent to the URC are generally governed by a retention schedule and remain under the control of the office or department that sent the records to the URC. Once the time obligation of a records retention schedule has been met, a record may be destroyed, sent to the Penn Law Archives, or sent on to the University Archives.
The University Archives is the permanent repository for historically significant materials. Records are generally sent to the University Archives once their retention schedules have been met and it has been determined that the records have enduring historic value and become permanent records of the University. However, some records are sent directly to University Archives if it is determined they are historically significant documents or other materials that reflect the University's origins and development and the activities and achievements of its officers, staff, faculty, students, alumni, and benefactors.
Penn Law Archives
Materials sent to the Penn Law Archives are generally materials that do not meet a formal University retention schedule, materials that are outside the purview of the University retention schedules, or it has been agreed upon between Penn Law and University Archives that certain types of records are best kept at Penn Law.
These documents are still being edited and processed by the archives, so please stay tuned for the addition of this content.
The following is a list of frequently used archives and records management terms, as defined by the Society of American Archivists: