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Packing Records and Labeling Boxes

Listed below are guidelines to assist you in correctly packing records and labeling boxes. The Washington National Records Center (WNRC) will not accept shipments with boxes that are taped closed or improperly marked or packed. The WNRC will return such shipments at the agency’s expense.

Person packing records into a box

Packing Records

  1. Choose the most appropriate box type for the records in the accession.
  2. Leave all guides and tabs in the records if they will help federal records center (FRC) personnel service the records (e.g., to find a file to be returned to your office).
  3. Keep records in the same order in which they were maintained while in use.
  4. Pack the records into the box as if it were a file drawer.
    • Place letter-size records in the box with files facing the numbered end of the box.
    • Place legal-size records in the box with files facing the left of the box as you face the numbered end of the box.

    Diagram showing letter-sized and legal-sized documents in a box

  5. Arrange undersized records, such as index cards, into small packages and tie with string. Place packages in rows within the box with cardboard dividers between layers.
  6. Remove papers from hanging file folders or binders and place in manila folders. All papers should be in labeled folders.
  7. The box should be at least ¾ full.
  8. Do not overpack the box. Leave at least 1 inch of space in the box to facilitate efficient search and retrieval. Leave extra space if you anticipate interfiling additional records before the box is transferred to the FRC.
  9. Do not place materials flat on top of items already in the box.
  10. Improperly packed box with materials on top
    Do not place files on top

    Box packed too loosely
    Do not underpack box

    Box packed too tightly
    Do not overpack box

    Properly packed box
    Properly packed box

  11. Do not seal the box with tape. Close box by interlocking the four flaps on top.

    Box closed using the four-flap method

Labeling Boxes

Correctly labeled FRC box

  1. Write all labels directly on the side of the box that will be most visible when placed on a shelf. For pre-printed boxes, this is the side with the accession number and box number. Letters and numbers should be at least 1 inch high and written with a permanent, black ink, felt-tip marker. Do not use adhesive labels of any sort. Never cross out letters or numbers—always use a new box instead.
  2. Accession number – Write the number on the lines provided in the designated block on each box. For boxes without the pre-printed block, write the number in the upper left corner of the box.
  3. Box number – Number boxes sequentially as you pack records. Write the number in the space provided in the designated block. When you are finished packing all records in the accession, write the total number of boxes in the space provided in the designated block. For boxes without the pre-printed block, write the number of the box and the total number of boxes in the accession in the upper right corner of the box. Write the numbers in the following format: box number/total number of boxes in accession (i.e. "1/10," "2/10," "3/10," etc.).
  4. Agency name – Under the block designated for the accession number, record the name of your agency in the following format: NIH/Name of Unit (i.e., "NIH/NHGRI," "NIH/NIDCR," "NIH/OD/ORS," etc.).
  5. Media codes – In the bottom left corner of the box, write the 3-letter media codes that correspond to the non-textual media records in the box. The list of media codes is available in Section E of NIH Manual Chapter 1742, Transfer, Withdrawal and Destruction of Records at the Washington National Records Center.

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