National Archives of the Netherlands (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science)

Retention schedules

An archive is formed (or weeded) through a process of appraisal. Appraisal is a necessary aspect of good information management. It enables an information manager to destroy archival records that are superfluous to the needs of an organisation.

Archival appraisal is compulsory for the government. Only through the process of appraisal is it possible to meet the legal requirement of keeping or delivering government archives in a proper, organised, and accessible state. In keeping with archival legislation, each government organisation must formulate a records schedule for both paper and digital archives. These schedules must cover all information that is produced throughout the government.

Destruction or transfer?

Appraisal determines the destiny of archival records: either destruction or preservation. Those that are destined for enduring preservation must, after twenty years, by transferred to a repository for public archives such as the National Archives. In the case of dossiers, transfer must occur when the last item is twenty years old. However, early transfer or suspension of transfer may also be possible.

The retention schedule must specify a term of retention for those records which are destined for eventual destruction. The retention term varies for different types of archival records and is usually anywhere between three and twenty years.

Government information managers have thus two possibilities for disposal of records and for maintaining proper information management practices:

  • destruction
  • transfer

Accessibility for citizens

Retention schedules are also important for citizens. The schedules are public and provide a good overview of the information held by the government, which information the government is keeping, and dwhen certain information is to be destroyed. This knowledge can, for example, be important when submitting a request to inspect government information as allowed by the Open Government Act. With a retention schedule citizens can also discover whether certain information is or should already be available in a publicly accessibly repository.

Citizens must also be able to trust that information scheduled for destruction has been destroyed and that is has really has gone. If the retention period has expired, then the records must be destroyed as soon as possible. That is only possible as a result of the retention schedule. Government records must not be destroyed until such time as they are identified in a retention schedule. The government may not just destroy information out of the blue. More information about the rules for destruction is available here.

The formulation of a retention schedule is decisive, though interested parties, including citizens can provide feedback and register objections. Citizens thus can have their say in the formulation of a retention schedule.