Access to Wisconsin State Agency Records | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Access to Wisconsin State Agency Records

Access to Wisconsin State Agency Records | Wisconsin Historical Society

Preservation of Records

The State Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society plays an important role in the preservation of non-current state records. The Society works closely with the Public Records Board and Department of Administration to provide record services for agencies.

Wisconsin statutes provide for the orderly disposition of all public records through the approval of a Records Retention Disposition Authorization (RDA) by the Public Records Board. Information on the preparation of RDAs can be obtained from the Records Management Section of the Department of Administration at 608-266-2996. Visit the Public Records Board website to view more information on records retention schedules and guidelines. State Archives staff can review RDAs prior to submittal to the Public Records Board, and recommends this step for agencies submitting RDAs scheduling records for transfer.

Many state agencies store their non-current records at the State Records Center prior to their legal destruction or transfer to the State Archives.

Records determined to have permanent value can be transferred to the Wisconsin Historical Society, an independent state agency with statutory responsibility to collect, maintain, and make available for use the permanently valuable records of the state. The home for these records is the Library-Archives Division at the Society's headquarters building located on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Interested in transferring? See our How to Transfer State Agency Records to the State Archives page.

Confidential Records

The State Archives has statutory authority and the ability to administer confidential state government records under Wis. Stat. 16.61(13)(d). Provisions in the 1991 Biennial Budget Act (1991 Wisconsin Act 39) altered the status of confidential state government records at the State Archives. Formerly, state records that were confidential while in the possession of the creator remained confidential after transfer to the State Archives. With the concurrence of the creating agency, the State Archives can establish policies that permit legitimate research while protecting the privacy of individuals in those records.

By the provisions of Wis. Stat. 16.61(13)(d), for the first seventy-five years following creation of a confidential state government record that record will remain confidential after transfer to the State Archives. However, Wis. Stat. 16.61(13)(d)(2) allows for the confidential record to be presumed open to public inspection seventy-five years after creation unless the Society's Board of Curators determines that the record should remain confidential pursuant to the Open Records Law.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) defines policies, procedures and guidelines for maintaining the privacy and security of individually identifiable health information.

The State Archives does not meet the definition of a covered entity as defined by Health and Human Services (HHS) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Access to health records at the WHS is governed by Wis. Stats. 146.85.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

Access to educational records in the State Archives is governed by Wis. Stats. 118.125.

Creating Agency Access

The State Archives makes every effort to facilitate access for an agency that has turned over its records. State Archives staff cannot undertake extensive research for an agency, but will provide easy access to the records so the staff of the agency can perform the necessary research.

Public Access

All state government records from the State Archives holdings, except confidential records, are open to the public. In addition to providing access to researchers who visit the State Archives, information or copies of records will be sent to those who call or write.

All records held by the State Archives can circulate within the Society's Area Research Center Network. An Area Research Center is located at each four-year University of Wisconsin campus (except Superior) and at the Superior Public Library. Thus, if a researcher near a Center wants to use a record stored in Madison, that record can generally be sent to the Center. In addition, records in microform are available via interlibrary loan.

Additional Information for Agency Records Officers

Agency records officers are encouraged to work with State Archives staff to address any records scheduling, preservation or transfer issues.

Fees and Services

See the Library-Archives fees page.

Have Questions?

For access to records, contact Jacob Riehl by phone at 608-261-1037 or by email below: