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Records Management for Local Government

Records are Important to Government and to Your Community

Record-keeping is one of the most important functions performed by local government officials. You must, ensure that records created and held by your office are processed, kept on file, and stored so that they are accessible not only to your own staff but to other agencies and, in some cases, to the public.

A significant portion of your budget is no doubt devoted just to managing information. Records take many forms: paper files and documents; docket books and registers; microfilm and microfiche; optical disks; computer tapes and disks; blueprints and engineering drawings; photographs and videotapes.

These records are legal documents, but they also hold the story of your community. All of them contain human stories about, families, neighbors, their homes, the way they live, the way they govern themselves, the way they settle disputes, and the way they join themselves together.

Preserving these records and managing all that information can be a big job and, sometimes, a big problem. But setting your records straight through a records management system can mean big savings in your budget and to the taxpayers.

What Savings can Records Management Provide?

Records management can save you time and money while improving staff efficiency. By controlling the flow of records into your office, you know exactly where to keep each record and for how long. The cost of running your office goes down and, at the same time, your office efficiency goes up because you can find records faster land easier.

You will also use less space. Space is a critical need when managing and preserving local government records. However, the answer to your problem is not more space and is not more people. The answer is better records management.

What is Records Management?

A records management system establishes how records will be created, organized, kept, used, and, ultimately, preserved or destroyed. It provides a way, to gain and maintain control of and keep control of whatever documentation your local government produces.

Where Do We Begin?

Here are the steps to take to implement records' management in your local government:

1. Find out what you are required to keep by law and how long you are required to keep it.

Check with your state archives and records management agency to see what assistance or guidance they can provide. Many of these agencies offer advice and technical services to help local government officials get their records management program underway. They may already have a records management program that you can benefit from. Review your state laws and local ordinances governing records. There are probably a number of specific requirements already in place for certain types of records.

2. Determine what records you have.

You need to find out what types. of records you have, how many of each type, and where they are located. To do this you should conduct a systematic inventory of all of the records in your custody. Specific guidance for conducting this, inventory and sample inventory forms are readily available. Contact the the Iowa Historical Records' Advisory Board (IHRAB) at the address on the back of this pamphlet.

3. Evaluate your records.

Once you know what records you have, you must determine which ones should be

  • Retained for use in the office
  • Stored somewhere else, or microfilmed
  • Destroyed (or otherwise disposed of)

Deciding what to save is determined by your judgment based on your knowledge of your community and what, you are required to retain by law.

4. Establish a records control schedule

A records control schedule sets up guidelines for the physical management of all the documents and records generated by your office. It establishes many procedures for handling them so you know where each record is to be kept, and for how long.

Your records control schedule will provide for keeping the documents you need for current activities in or near your office. Other records will likely be stored somewhere else as long as " they are accessible, well-protected, and in good order. Last, but very important, the schedule should provide for the permanent preservation of historically valuable records. Take advantage of all of these sources of information and advice that are available to you. Many other local government agencies in your state and nationwide have already developed records schedules. You can benefit from their experience and save yourself a lot of hard work.

5. Implement Other Records Management Procedures 

There are other techniques of management that can help you cut down the generation of unnecessary records and help you become more efficient and productive. The organizations in the resource list (available" from the Iowa Historical Records Advisory Board) can help you find more information on records management topics.

What are the Benefits of Good Records Management?

  • save tax dollars
  • improve the administration of your local government
  • give your fellow citizens better access to documents and information that is vital to protecting their rights, interests, and heritage
  • increase the speed of routine work such as issuing licenses and permits
  • make it easier to record, transcribe, and use minutes
  • give officials ready access to required information such as contracts, legal instruments, and policy documents
  • help in complying with Freedom of Information laws
  • help in determining if computers, microfilm, digital imaging, and other office automation technologies will repay costs. 

A sound records management program is the key to the transition to new technologies.

Where Do I Find the Help I Need to Get Started?

Remember, no matter how limited your time or budget, you can start a records management program. The Iowa Historical Records Advisory Board can help you find agencies and organizations that are ready to help you with publications, in-person advice, and other technical assistance.

Effective records management costs staff time and dollars, but you will see your efforts pay off from the start and you will see them continue to pay as time goes on.

It's your responsibility. Act now.

The documents entrusted to you are your legal responsibility to maintain. They are also the source of your community's heritage and tomorrow's history. You are the guardian of your community's past, of your community's memory, of your community's future. You can't put a price on that.


The Iowa Historical Records Advisory Board (IHRAB) is an official advisory board for historical records planning in our state. It participates in and supports the grant award process for Iowa's Historical Resources Development Program in the Documentary Collections category. It also advises the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a federal granting agency affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration, that supports historical records projects to determine ,priorities for awarding its grants and approving specific awards for projects in Iowa.

IHRAB has created a Resource Library available in six sites around the state that cont - ain books, pamphlets, and guidelines on a wide-range of records related topics. These materials are available on temporary loan or for on-site use at one of the six cooperating institutions. Addresses of the Resource Library hosts as well as a list of the materials that are of particular interest to local governments is available on request from IHRAB (see address below).

The State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) also has established a Technical Advisory Network to provide assistance and advice to recordkeepers of 91 types, including local government officials. Contact IHRAB to take advantage of this resource.

For assistance or additional information, contact:

Iowa Historical Records Advisory Board (IHRAB)
Jeffrey Dawson, Archives Supervisor
State Historical Society of Iowa
600 East Locust, Des Moines, IA 50319

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