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Legal Obligation to Properly Manage Electronic Public Records

This statement of legal obligation was adopted by the OhioERC at the June 19, 2008 meeting and subsequently revised at the January 25, 2012 meeting.

(PDF version as of January 25, 2012)

Section 149.43(B) of the Ohio revised Code requires every state and local public office to organize, maintain, and understand its public records. The law states that the office must "organize and maintain public records in a manner that they can be made available for inspection or copying" within a reasonable amount of time. The law also states that the public office must "have available a copy of its current records retention schedule" and must post its public record policy in all locations where the public office has branch offices. If a request is denied in part or whole, the office must provide “an explanation, including legal authority, setting forth why the request was denied.” Last, if a requester makes an ambiguous or overly broad request or has difficulty in making a request for copies or inspection of public records, the office must inform the requester "of the manner in which records are maintained by the public office and accessed in the ordinary course of [business]."

If a public office fails to satisfy its recordkeeping obligation under state law, the Ohio Public Records Act allows an aggrieved party to sue the public office in court. The party may request an order directing the public office to manage its records, explain its system or process of management or provide access to public records. In addition to obtaining the court order, an aggrieved party may be awarded fines, attorney fees and court costs, and statutory damages. O.R.C. 149.43(C)(1)

On the other hand, if a public office has control of its records and recordkeeping practices, not only will it be in compliance with the Public Records Act, it will be better equipped to locate and retrieve records. Thus, the office will become more productive and efficient and will reduce risk of future non-compliance with the law.

Federal and State Rules of Civil Procedure

Federal and state rules of governing litigation are another source of a public office's obligation to organize, maintain and understand its records and recordkeeping processes. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is law governing litigation filed in the federal courts. Similarly, the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure is law governing litigation files in state courts. Each time your public office sues or is sued in court, it is subject to these rules.

The rules of civil procedure dictate how the parties obtain information from each other during lawsuits. In the past these court rules were behind in addressing technology. However, in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court adopted changes in the federal rules specifically to address management and disclosure of electronic records. In 2008, The Ohio Supreme Court followed suit by updating the state rule to be consistent with the federal rules.

Both the federal and Ohio rules specifically address electronic records. Under Federal Rule 26(f), shortly after a lawsuit is filed, counsel for both parties must "meet & confer" on electronic records. Parties have an obligation to disclose to each other, prior to any requests for records from each other, a copy or description by category of all documents and electronically stored information that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses. In addition, both parties have an obligation to evaluate their capacity to comply with document or information demands from the other party.

The amended rules also provide two protections for public offices in litigation for those public offices who already appropriately manage their records. First, , under Federal Rule 26(b)(2)(B) and Ohio Rule 26(B)(4), a producing party does not have an obligation to produce electronically stored information identified as not reasonably accessible due to undue burden or cost. As a result, by identifying the electronic records early in the process and identifying those that are inaccessible, the responding party can avoid unnecessary expenses and delays in providing records in difficult forms and formats. Second, Federal Rule 37(e) and Ohio Rule 37(F) provide that absent exceptional circumstances, the court may not impose sanctions for failing to provide electronically stored information lost as a result of the routine, good-faith operation electronic information system.

Unlike the Ohio Public records Act, the federal and state rules of civil procedures are enforced fairly quickly by the judge overseeing the case. If a party is unprepared to explain its management of records, cannot identify the form or formats in which the information is available, or cannot suspend the destruction of relevant information in a timely good faith manner, then the judge has the discretion to impose additional obligations, adverse references, or other sanctions against the unprepared party. For more information regarding the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures visit: Federal Rules of Civil Procedures

Superseded June 19, 2008 version with minor link revisions as of August 4, 2011(PDF)


Databases as Public Records

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist State Agencies when responding to public records requests when the requested public records are contained in an electronic database. These guidelines are general in nature, they are not intended to address all the various issues that can arise in responding to such requests, and they are based on Ohio's public records laws as of December 2001. Specific questions on an agency's obligations and responsibilities in responding to public records requests should be addressed to in-house counsel or to the Office of the Attorney General.

Download: Databases as Public Records Guidelines

Digital Document Imaging

The intent of these guidelines is to provide and explain requirements, guidelines and best practices for digital document imaging projects that meet the criteria for records as defined by the Ohio Revised Code.

Download: Digital Document Imaging Guidelines
View: OhioERC's Document Imaging Guidelines Seminar @ WGTE Knowledgestream
Download: Digital Document Imaging Return on Investment (ROI) Worksheet Tool (developed 2003)
Download: Digital Document Imaging Inhouse vs. Outsource Worksheet Tool (developed 2003)
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Document Imaging

Electronic Records Management

This publication is about maintaining accountability and preserving important historical records in the electronic age. It is designed to provide guidance to users and managers of computer systems in Ohio government about:

  • the problems associated with managing electronic records, special recordkeeping and accountability concerns that arise in the context of electronic government,
  • archival strategies for the identification, management and preservation of electronic records with enduring value,
  • identification and appropriate disposition of electronic records with short-term value, and
  • improving access to state government records.

These guidelines may be utilized by Ohio state government agencies. These guidelines apply and extend the policies and practices for records management to problems resulting from the transition from paper-based to electronic recordkeeping.

Download: Electronic Records Management Guidelines
Download Tip Sheet: The Case for Managing Electronic Records
Download Tip Sheet: Unique Characteristics of Electronic Records

Hybrid Microfilm

The development of document image processing has evolved to include the conversion of digital images to archival quality microfilm via a device commonly called an “archive-writer.” The Ohio Electronic Records Committee (OhioERC) recognizes that this evolution of hardware and associated software provides a long-term eye-readable preservation option for records that have been born-digital or converted to digital via image processing.

This document provides guidance for Ohio public sector agencies for the conversion of records to microfilm, which were either born-digital or converted via image processing, for the purpose of maintaining official records in an eye-readable, micrographic format and/or as a redundancy or back-up copy.

This guidance is intended to assist Ohio state agencies, local governments, and public educational institutions with ensuring that the records they convert from a digital format to microfilm are authentic, reliable, have integrity, and are usable. It is not the intention of the OERC to impose standards upon a public body that will reduce the intended benefits of the recordkeeping system. The ultimate criteria are that the records be legible and accessible for their intended use.

Download: Hybrid Microfilm Guidelines
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Hybrid Microfilm

Managing Email

The intent of these guidelines is to provide and explain requirements, guidelines and best practices for electronic mail (e-mail) messages that meet the criteria for records as defined by the Ohio Revised Code.

These guidelines have a two-fold purpose. First, they are intended to assist state agency employees in complying in their use of e-mail with Ohio public records law. Second, the guidelines promote best practices and suggestions that facilitate the effective capture, management, and retention of electronic messages as public records.

These guidelines apply to State of Ohio executive agencies. Other governmental entities may also wish to follow these guidelines as appropriate.

Download: Managing Email Guidelines
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Email Management for IT Managers [NEW]
View: OhioERC's Email Management Guidelines Seminar @ WGTE Knowledgestream

Managing Web Content

The intent of these guidelines is to raise awareness of and provide and explain the currently available requirements, guidelines and best practices for managing and preserving web resources that meet the criteria for records as defined by the Ohio Revised Code.

These guidelines have a two-fold purpose. First, they are intended to assist state agency employees in complying their management of web resources with Ohio public records law. Second, the guidelines promote best practices and suggestions that facilitate the effective creation, management, and retention of web resources as public records.

Because technology is changing so rapidly, records management tools are not keeping pace with the tools we use to create and distribute information. Consequently, these guidelines will offer the best advice that is currently available. These guidelines will be updated as more research is performed and new tools are developed to enable records management and preservation in the electronic environment.

These guidelines are appropriate for State of Ohio agencies, boards and commissions. Other governmental entities may also wish to follow these guidelines as appropriate.

Download: Managing Web Content Guidelines

Ohio Trustworthy Information Systems (TIS) Handbook

The Ohio Trustworthy Information Systems Handbook can help information systems developers, policy makers, and current and future system users to be confident that information systems can ensure accountability to elected officials and citizens by creating reliable, authentic and accessible information and records.

The Handbook provides tools so you can:

  • Understand why trustworthy information systems are important
  • Apply statutory and legal mandates and policies to information management
  • Evaluate the level of government accountability that your records and information embody.
  • Determine the importance of your government agency records and information
  • Establish how much documentation or evidence in record keeping is adequate
  • Use the trustworthy information systems criteria effectively

Records and information in government are important for the following reasons:

  • They facilitate government business
  • They demonstrate government accountability
  • They serve as evidence of government activity for current and future users of government information

In the face of the rapid growth of information technology, government information systems must demonstrate accountability through sound information management practices that provide documentation of government activity.

For these reasons, records in government need to be reliable and authentic. With electronic records and information in digital formats, we cannot demonstrate reliability and authenticity as easily as we can with paper records. We cannot see, touch, or examine electronic records in any intelligible way without the assistance of hardware and software. The Handbook provides the next best thing—the tools needed to examine government information systems for trustworthiness.

Download: Trustworthy Information Systems Handbook

Social Media

As society shifts from traditional methods of recordkeeping to electronic recordkeeping, the issues surrounding the management of electronic records have become more significant. The use of social media by governments is growing rapidly because it creates new avenues for and dramatically speeds up communication between public offices and their constituents. This guideline provides insight into what social media is and the records management challenges associated with social media use in the public sector.

Download: Social Media: The Records Management Challenge
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Social Media Use
Download: Plan for Social Media Engagement
NEW Download: 2012 Workshop Agenda, Presentation, Challenge Scenarios and other support materials

Tip Sheets

Download Tip Sheet: Records Management's Role in E-Discovery
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for “Who Should be at the Table?”
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Cloud Computing
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Email Management for IT Managers [NEW]
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Document Imaging
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Hybrid Microfilm
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Social Media Use
Download Tip Sheet: Tips for Public vs. Private Media Tools


OhioERC Guidelines: Best Practices for Email Management and Digital Imaging (2010)

The Ohio Electronic Records Committee (OhioERC), in cooperation with the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board (OHRAB), and with funding by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) offered a series of seminars based on the OhioERC’s Guidelines for Managing Electronic Mail and Digital Document Imaging Guidelines. Each 3-hour seminar covered both topics, along with contextualizing them in a records management program, and concluded with a panel discussion consisting of state and local government experts who have implemented email management and imaging systems within their offices. The seminars, hosted in Columbus, Dayton, and Elyria, were attend by more than 300 representatives of state, county, and municipal government and private sector organizations.

The OhioERC received additional support from the local chapters (Columbus Dayton, Cincinnati, and Cleveland) of ARMA International, the records and information management professional association.

Knowledge Stream, a self-enhancing learning community from WGTE Public Media, recorded our afternoon session in Columbus, and has made it available streaming on the Web. WGTE Filmed our presenters and spliced the Powerpoint® presentations into the video. The seminar can be viewed at:

@ WGTE Knowledgestream PDF version of Presentation
Email Management GuidelinesEmail Management Guidelines
Document Imaging GuidelinesDocument Imaging Guidelines
Panel Discussion

Social Media: The Records Management Challenge(2013)

The Miami Valley Communications Council, Municipal Training Academy hosted morning and afternoon sessions of the OhioERC's Social Media: The Records Management Challenge seminar on January 22, 2013. MVCC filmed our presentations and breakout sessions, then spliced in the PowerPoint slides and edited the finished video to make available online. The OhioERC is extremely grateful to the MVCC for all of their efforts in producing this video. The seminar can be viewed at:

Social Media: The Records Management Challenge

Download: Social Media: The Records Management Challenge Handouts

A 2005 Study of OhioERC Guidelines Usage

This report—Electronic Records in the State of Ohio prepared by David Landsbergen and Angela Crandall with support from Raimund Goerler and The Ohio State University Libraries—assesses the Electronic Records Committee’s (ERC) contribution to the development and implementation of electronic records policy in Ohio. The report includes the results of:

  1. an online survey of municipalities, and county and state government agencies;
  2. an environmental scan of the activities of similar initiatives in other states; and
  3. an informal report on the willingness of local government professional associations to work with the ERC.

The report finds that the ERC’s work is being utilized throughout all levels of Ohio government. Especially promising is that municipalities are already utilizing the ERC’s work at a higher rate than state agencies. Study results suggest that the ERC should now make a systematic effort to include representatives of local government on the ERC committee. The primary barriers to implementing electronic records policy in Ohio are staffing and training issues. The most compelling recommendation for future action is for some kind of organization in Ohio, perhaps the ERC, to represent the interests of state and local governments in the ongoing development of electronic records law and policy.

Download: Electronic Records in the State of Ohio: A Study Prepared for The Electronic Records Committee of Ohio
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