Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Collection Development for State Agency Records

Collection Development for State Agency Records | Wisconsin Historical Society

Our Mandate

"The historical society, as trustee of the state, shall be the ultimate depository of the archives of the state, and the board (Public Records Board) may transfer to the society such original records and reproductions as it deems proper and worthy of permanent preservation, including records and reproductions which the custodian thereof has been specifically directed by statute to preserve or keep in the custodian's office." Wis. Stat. 16.61(13)

The Society maintains the State Archives to fulfill this mandate. The Society has archivists on staff to respond to questions from state agencies regarding records of historical value.

State government records in the State Archives can be accessed by the public and state employees through Reference Services. If you have questions about local government record keeping, check the Local Government Records page.

Collection Development

The State Archives preserves records for research if they provide substantive evidence of government operations or information on the history of the state and its citizens, broadly defined. In general, the State Archives is usually more interested in records emanating from a higher level in the agency rather than from a lower level; in records in their most compact form when multiple versions exist, such as microfilm versus paper; and in summary information rather than raw data. In addition, because of the scarcity of many early important records, some routine administrative records prior to 1900 are preserved to show the functions of the territorial and early state government.

The list below illustrates the types of records generally appraised for retention in the State Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Because of the complexity of the information generated by state government, this list does not detail every type of record that should be scheduled for transfer; rather it is intended as a guide to some of the types of information the State Archives often acquires. Since appraisal and retention decisions should be made within the context of all the information generated by a program or government unit, the State Archives encourages agencies to schedule all related records at the same time. Records often scheduled for preservation include:

  • Formal Minutes and Supplementary Materials of governing boards and commissions documenting substantive policy and procedural decisions.

  • Substantive Policy Records created by or on behalf of agency heads. When these types of records are created at the division or bureau level and do not duplicate the agency level file, they are also scheduled for transfer. These series may include correspondence with the Governor's office, the Legislature, other state agencies, private organizations and individuals; internal agency memoranda; narrative or statistical reports; budget estimates and justifications; and other records on the substantive programs of the agency. The State Archives is not interested in acquiring routine housekeeping records, requests for information, personnel or procurement records, etc., which should be scheduled separately from the policy records.

  • Legal Opinions, Administrative Rule making, and Legislative Files including records of agency legal counsel that interpret existing laws and regulations; records of the development of administrative rules; and agency comments on proposed legislation that concern the agency's principal mission. The State Archives is not interested in obtaining files that contain only printed copies of proposed legislation or rules.

  • Narrative, Statistical Reports, and Special Studies of the agency's programs or client groups may have permanent value if they are not duplicated in published form. (Three copies of state agency publications are to be deposited with the Society's Library Division.)

  • Records of Internal Agency and Interagency Committees and Task Forces that address major issues dealing with the agency's mission.

  • Selected Formal Directives, Procedures, and Operating Manuals created by the agency, if they provide substantial information on major agency programs. The State Archives is not interested in these records if they deal with routine administrative functions or office operating practices.

  • Public Relations Records including speeches, addresses, and comments of agency heads and senior officials; news releases; and publicity material.

  • Formal Agency Histories and selected background materials.

  • Selected Visual, Audio, Graphic, Cartographic, and Electronic Records that were created by or on behalf of the agency. These include a variety of media and are defined as public records by state law. They have to be appraised on a case by case basis.

  • Selected Case Files for cases that lead to precedent setting decisions, involve extensive litigation, or receive widespread public attention. Case file series may also be preserved in their entirety when they provide aggregate data for social science research. In most instances, the State Archives cannot retain complete runs of case files and will negotiate a procedure with the agency for the identification of significant cases.

There are other records in addition to the types listed above that may merit preservation in the archives. These are evaluated by State Archives staff on an individual basis. For additional information on the scheduling of records for transfer to the State Archives, contact the State Archives staff.