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Archives and Special Collections

The Archives of Biddle Law Library preserves, promotes, and provides access to the archives of The American Law Institute (ALI), and the National Bankruptcy Archives (NBA), as well as a collection of rare books, manuscripts, and Penn Law historic records.

**Beginning 3/12/2020 Biddle Archives is canceling all on-site research visits until further notice and will have limited availability for remote research requests.

Penn Law Records Management

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?

Topics include:

  • What is a record? 
  • Records lifecycles
  • How to determine a record's value
  • What is a retention schedule?
  • Where do I send my records? 

Understanding Records

What is a Record?

The Society of American Archivists defines a record as: 

  • Data or information that has been fixed on some medium; that has content, context, and structure; and that is used as an extension of human memory or to demonstrate accountability.
  • Data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference.

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.

  • Stage one: 
    • the record is created, presumably for a legitimate reason and according to certain standards.
  • Stage two:
    • the record goes through an active period when it has maximum primary value and is used or referred to frequently by the creating office and others involved in decision making. During this time the record is stored on-site in the active or current files of the creating office.
  • Stage three:
    • At the end of stage two the record may be reviewed and determined to have no further value, at which point it is destroyed, or the record can enter stage three, where it is relegated to a semi-active status, which means it still has value, but is not needed for day-to-day decision making. Because the record need not be consulted regularly, it is often stored in a off-site storage center.
  • Stage four:
    • At the end of stage three, another review occurs, at which point a determination is made to destroy or send the record to stage four, which is reserved for inactive records with long-term, indefinite, archival value. This small percentage of records (normally estimated at approximately five per cent of the total documentation) is sent to an archival repository, where specific activities are undertaken to preserve and describe the records.

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:

  • legal
  • fiscal
  • administrative
  • historical

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 is the position of the record creator to the overall institutional organization?
  • Does this record represent principal activities of the department or individual generating the records?
  • What is the records significance or function in the department’s activities?

What information does the record contain?

  • Are there practical limitations, such as illegible handwriting, that would impede the use of the records?
  • Is this information duplicated physically or intellectually within another record?
  • Does this record contain relevant topical information, about the department or otherwise?

What was the past use and potential future use of the record?

  • How will the Penn Law community and those outside this community use this record?
  • Does this record provide obvious or potential research value?
  • Does this record need to be restricted?

What are the institutional or political considerations for saving or destroying this record?

  • Is this record governed by a specific University retention schedule? 
  • Does this record contain information about or provide evidence of Penn Law’s relationship with other universities, departments, persons, donors, researchers, alumni, community members, etc.?
  • Has this type of record been saved before?
  • Will saving, or choosing not to save, this record maintain a pattern or set a new standard?

 

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. 

Examples: 

  • Accounts payable and receivable records
  • Payroll records
  • Transcript requests

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. 

Examples: 

  • Dean's papers

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.

Examples:

  • Ephemera (such as buttons, flyers, clothing, pins, memorabilia, etc.)
  • Publications (including Faculty publications)
  • Alumni papers
  • Records pertaining to the legal profession or legal history, particularly of the geographic regions of Philadephia or Pennsylvania
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Surveys
  • Student organizational records
  • Penn Law website materials

 

Helpful Documents

These documents are still being edited and processed by the archives, so please stay tuned for the addition of this content. 

Glossary of Terms

The following is a list of frequently used archives and records management terms, as defined by the Society of American Archivists:

  • Archives
    • Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records. 
    • The division within an organization responsible for maintaining the organization's records of enduring value.
  • Archivist
    •  An individual responsible for appraising, acquiring, arranging, describing, preserving, and providing access to records of enduring value, according to the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control to protect the materials' authenticity and context. 
    • An individual with responsibility for management and oversight of an archival repository or of records of enduring value.
  • Active Record
    • Records that continue to be used with sufficient frequency to justify keeping them in the office of creation; current records.
  • Evaluation
    • The process of assessing the value of records, especially as regards their destruction.
  • Inactive Record
    • Records that are no longer used in the day-to-day course of business, but which may be preserved and occasionally used for legal, historical, or operational purposes.
  • Permanent Record
    • Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs intended to be preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator.
  • Record
    • A written or printed work of a legal or official nature that may be used as evidence or proof; a document. 
    • Data or information that has been fixed on some medium; that has content, context, and structure; and that is used as an extension of human memory or to demonstrate accountability.
    • Data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference.
  • Records Lifecycle
    • The distinct phases of a record's existence, from creation to final disposition.
  • Records Manager
    • An individual responsible for the administration of programs for the efficient and economical handling, protecting, and disposing of records throughout their life cycle.
  • Records Series
    • A group of similar records that are arranged according to a filing system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity; a file group; a record series.
  • Retention Schedule
    • A document that identifies and describes an organization's records, usually at the series level, provides instructions for the disposition of records throughout their life cycle.
  • Value
    • The usefulness, significance, or worth of something to an individual or organization.
      • Archival Value
        • The ongoing usefulness or significance of records, based on the administrative, legal, fiscal, evidential, or historical information they contain, justifying their continued preservation.
      • Historical Value
        • The usefulness or significance of records for understanding the past.