How to Read and Implement a Record Retention Schedule

A record retention schedule is a list of records maintained by all or part of an organization together with the period of time that each record or group of records is to be kept. Record retention schedules apply to records in all formats (including paper, photographs and videos, e-mail and other electronic records such as scanned paper records, word processed documents, spreadsheets, records in databases or document management systems, digital photographs and videos, etc.) Each of Princeton's record retention schedules includes a list of records or record series (groups of related records) and they include the following information:

At a minimum, each record/record series entry includes:

  • A record/record series title;
  • An Office of Record (identifying the office responsible for maintaining the official copy of the record for the time period indicated); and
  • A retention period indicating how long the record/record series must be kept by the office of record.

For some record series, the retention period will be "permanent." Records identified as warranting permanent retention are transferred to the University Archives in Mudd Library after they are no longer actively used in the department, typically 3-10 years after creation.

Steps for using a retention schedule:

  1. Identify the record series that include(s) your records. The record schedules can be browsed by function and keyword searched within each functional schedule. If you are unable to find information about a particular set of records, please contact Princeton University Records Management for assistance.
  2. Determine which office is responsible for maintaining the official copy of the record(s) (specifically, which unit is the Office of Record).
  3. If your office is the office of record, retain the records for the indicated retention period. The retention period begins at a specific time depending on the type of record. For example, the retention period for a financial record starts on July 1 of the following year. For another example, the retention period for the records of an employment search begins on the date that the hiring decision is made. Count the time from the date the retention period begins, retain the set of records for the indicated time, and then destroy the records when the retention period has ended. In the event of pending or actual audit or litigation, the retention period is suspended until the matter has been resolved.
  4. If another office is identified as the office of record you may destroy your office's copies of the records when they are no longer useful (typically within 2 years), but in no case should you retain them for longer than the official retention period.
  5. In the event that your unit is the office of record for records deemed to have permanent value, transfer the records to the University Archives in Mudd Library when they are no longer actively used in your department (typically within 3-10 years).

It is sometimes necessary for records to be retained for a time beyond their immediate usefulness to the department responsible for maintaining them. It is important to remember that the retention periods are based on the University's obligation to comply with Federal and New Jersey State laws and regulations, and records affected by such obligations must be kept in such a way that they can be produced in an efficient and timely manner when there is litigation or audit.

It is also important to remember that records that have reached the end of their retention period must be destroyed in a consistent and timely manner unless the retention period has been suspended due to pending or actual litigation, claim, or audit. When records become part of the University's evidence in these matters, they must be retained until the matter has been resolved and final actions have been taken. At this time the responsible University official (usually the Office of General Counsel) will inform involved units of the completion of the process and the retention period is reinstated.