SPR Bulletin 02-96

TO: Public Records Custodians
SUBJECT: Designation of Records Custodian
EXPIRATION DATE: Until superseded
PURPOSE: This bulletin defines the term custodian as it applies to public records, and provides guidance for providing access to and ensuring the security of government records.

It is the responsibility of government officers who create, receive and maintain public records to ensure their safekeeping and availability to the public. Access to public records ensures public involvement, and participation and provides a mechanism for holding government accountable for its decisions and actions. Custodial responsibilities are governed by the Public Records Law and complementary Public Records Access Regulations. G. L. c. 4, § 7(26); 950 C.M.R. 32.
Custody of public records is in the office that creates, receives or maintains the records for use. Each officer in charge of a government office or department is the custodian of the records held by that office or department and has the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of the records, providing access to those records and ensuring their authenticity. Where an office, board or commission does not have a clerk designated by law, it is required to appoint a clerk to keep its record books and to designate an employee to have custody of its other public records. G. L. c. 66, § 6. These responsibilities are inherent in the office and cannot be delegated or contracted to another entity.

In some cases, public records are not maintained with the officers who created them or those that are primarily responsible for their use and maintenance. These records may be in the care of a records center, a central file room, a data processing department, a private contractor providing government services, a private information services vendor, or another government officer who has agreed to care for the records. In all these cases, the entity maintaining the records is acting as an agent of the record custodian, providing only for the physical care of the record, and may not take action with respect to the records without the specific authority of the custodian.

1. Access to public records is through the custodian. Contractors, records centers, data processing departments, vendors or other entities which may have physical care of public records must make those records available when directed by the records custodian.

2. Security of public records is the responsibility of the records custodian. Where records are in the physical care of entities other than the custodian, the custodian shall make ample provision by contract, memorandum of understanding, or other means to ensure that the security of the records is ensured.

3. The records custodian is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of all information in the records in his custody, and must take all precautions to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the records.

4. The records custodian is responsible for ensuring that where disclosure of certain records is prohibited by law, those statutory mandates are observed.

5. Disposition of records is on the authority of the custodian only. Records may not be destroyed or otherwise disposed of without the specific authorization of the records custodian and the Supervisor of Public Records.

Questions regarding access to public records should be directed to:

Public Records Division
1 Ashburton Place, Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108
Phone 617-727-2832
Fax 617-727-5914
Email pre@sec.state.ma.us

Questions regarding this bulletin should be directed to:

Records Management Unit
Massachusetts State Archives at Columbia Point
220 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
Phone 617-727-2816
Fax 617-288-8429
Email recman@sec.state.ma.us