Records may have any physical form or characteristic. You may find them on card, disk, magnetic tape, microfilm, paper, or any other medium. They may be letters, memoranda, reports, or other materials commonly found in office files. They may also be books, databases, drawings, instrument readings, laboratory notebooks, maps, motion pictures, photographs, or sound recordings.
The official records of NIH are created by or for NIH or received by NIH in the course of doing business. The essential point about these records is:
These records are the property of the U.S. government and must be handled according to federal requirements. They do not belong to individuals.
However, not everything found in your office is a record. Non-records fall outside the above definition and are specifically excluded by law (44 U.S.C. 3301) from the records of the federal government.
You are responsible for distinguishing record material from non-record material. Because classifying material can often be confusing, caution should be used in making the determination. You should keep in mind that some material that appears to be non-record may in fact be record material, albeit temporary record material. Improperly classifying documents as non-record material could lead to the illegal disposition of government records and result in arrest and/or fines. If you need assistance identifying records, contact your IC Records Liaison.
Official records contain valuable information and give evidence of the department's activities and operations. These records may document the agency's accomplishments as well. Official records are often used to provide organizational accountability for the use of time, funds, and other resources.
Non-records offer little or no documentary value. These materials may include items you use to complete your job, but which serve only a short-term admininstrative need. Follow-up materials, such as "tickler" or suspense copies of correspondence, that are used to support operations, but do not document those operations, are examples of non-records. Blank forms, duplicate material, and items created or used in tangential activities, such as carpool locators, charitable fund drives, and employee recreation and welfare activities, are also not government records. Materials disseminating transitory information or used exclusively for reference purposes, such as directories, manuals, and phonebooks, would also be classified as non-record material.
Once you have identified something as a record, the next step is to determine the records series. Determining the series means identifying the group of like records to which it belongs. A records series consists of documents or file units arranged according to a filing system or kept together because they relate to a particular subject or function or result from the same activity. Personnel records, grant records, travel records, etc., are examples of series.