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Electronic Records

Yes. Records retention schedules cover all records created or received by University employees, whether in paper or electronic format. Both the state and the federal government define a record as information “regardless of physical form or characteristics”, so by definition, an email, database, or word document is also a record. And since every record has a specific amount of time it must be retained before it can be destroyed, this retention requirement applies to electronic records as well. At the end of the retention period, electronic records should be deleted or transferred to the University Archives (if listed as “Archival” or “Potentially Archival” on a UW Records Retention Schedule).

Yes, it's fine to move from paper to electronic records. However, be aware that electronic records are governed by the same accessibility and retention requirements as paper records. When moving to electronic forms or designing a database you need to consider the retention period of the record and ensure it is accessible and readable for the full retention period. You must also ensure that it can be deleted or wiped at the end of the retention period. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at or 543-0573 to discuss this further.

Backups are considered to be duplicates. Duplicates can be destroyed once they have served their reference purpose. We highly recommend using backups only to restore data in cases of a disk failure, accidental deletion, or for disaster recovery purposes. We recommend that full backups should not be kept for more than 6 months and that partial backups not be kept for more than 3 months.

It depends upon the type of changes that are being made to the web page.

If you are only modifying the layout or display, or making other revisions that don't substantially change the content, then you do not have to keep a copy of old web pages.

If the changes to the web page include revising, adding or removing substantive information like policies or procedures, requirements, deadlines, program or course descriptions, then the site must be retained permanently as a historical or “Archival” record. Other sites that contain research data should be kept for 6 years after the end of the research study under which the data was created.

There are 3 simple ways to retain an old web page/site:

  1. Before making the changes, print a copy of the page/site and file it chronologically with previous changes/updates.
  2. If your website is capable of it, use version control. Number each revision of your web page. As you update a webpage, save the new page under a new version number which will enable you to pull up previous versions when needed.
  3. If your page is the official location of policy, procedure, or program descriptions you can contact John Bolcer, University Archivist for information on how to transfer these web sites to the University Archives for permanent preservation.

Since the state defines a record as information regardless of physical form or characteristics, IM, tweets, texts and any other forms of written communication fall under retention requirements and are subject to public records requests. Because it is so difficult to capture these communications we strongly advise not using them for approvals or to provide customized or unique advice to a student or employee. Those messages are best relayed through email.

Like email, the content of the message determines the retention. Generally, most if not all of these messages can be considered transitory and will fall under the listing for email you can delete in the UW Email Best Practices.

If approvals or unique advice is communicated to a student or employee via IM, text, or a tweet, we advise that the message be forwarded to an official UW email account and retained based on its retention on a UW Records Retention Schedule. (6 years after graduation or last contact for messages regarding a student; 3 years after termination of employment for messages regarding an employee).

Like all other electronic records, the retention for Facebook and all other social media is determined by the content of the post. If social media is used as a marketing tool and any information posted can be found on an official web site or imbedded in written policy and procedure, then the content of the social media site can be considered a duplicate record. Duplicates can be destroyed as soon as they have served their reference purpose. In addition, we suggest taking down content that is not up-to-date.

If your Facebook account or other social media sites are the official location of policy, procedure, or program descriptions that are not posted in another location, you can contact John Bolcer, University Archivist for information on how to transfer these sites to the University Archives for permanent preservation.

If the messages are sent, received and archived in connection with the transaction of University business they are considered to be a public record; therefore, they should be retained using an approved UW Records Retention Schedule. 

Retention is based on the purpose of the listserv and the content of the emails.  Most listserv messages can be considered transitory and can be deleted once their reference purpose is served.  Messages containing final recommendations or approvals for actions taken must be retained for 6 years.  For more information on Retention Periods see

If you are an administrator of the listserv, an email to UW-IT begins the process.  Simply send an email to, identify your listserv and direct them to delete the messages, giving them date parameters (any messages older than 6 years, for example).  UW-IT will then delete the messages on your behalf. 

Note: prior to notifying UW-IT, review the account for any messages which may be currently needed for an audit, litigation or public records request.  These must be retained until the action has been resolved.