What Is a Record?
The term archive often describes storage of any material that’s no longer being used regularly, or that is simply just old (e.g., you can “archive” e-mails when you want to clean out your inbox). An archive as it relates to records is an institution that is responsible for the long-term preservation of permanently valuable historical records. Archivists process and describe permanent records and oversee their care and use by researchers. Traditionally, an archivist’s work begins at the end of a record’s “life cycle,” when it is no longer actively used by its creator.More >
Broadly defined, information in any format created or received by a person or organization constitutes a record. Documents, photographs, e-mails, databases, Tweets, and videos create millions of records in a single day. Few of these records fall into the permanent category, that is, worthy of long-term preservation in an archive or other repository. What elevates a record to this status?
A record’s value exists in two categories: Evidential value provides information about the origins, functions, and activities of the creator of the record, and informational value is the significance of the record based on its content. The types of value are not mutually exclusive and can shift over time. For example, a report published by a committee initially has evidential value by documenting the committee’s activities, but the content of the report still has worth after time has passed through the information on an issue or piece of legislation that it provides.
Much of the work of the House takes place in its committees. Standing committees, as well as select and joint committees, focus on matters in their jurisdiction, which encompass a range of issues that affect most Americans. In the course of their consideration of these issues, committees review proposed legislation, hold hearings, and conduct investigations. These records are important to preserve because they document the committee’s organization and functions, capture the specialized subject matters in the committee’s jurisdiction, and track legislative intent and legislative history.
Permanent records typically generated by committees include:
- bill files, which can include drafts, amendments, markups, and other material related to the development of the legislation
- hearing files, which can include background files, briefing books, statements for the record, transcripts, and other files related to the hearing
- meeting minutes
- correspondence with executive branch agencies, members of the public, and other interested parties
- news clippings
- press releases
- committee reports
- copies of bills, resolutions, and public laws
- executive communications
- petitions and memorials
- docket books
- committee calendars
- subject files
- staff files
- files related to investigations of public issues, problems, or actions and oversight of operations of executive branch agencies and the administration of its programs, including document production, deposition transcripts, and investigative reports
The National Archives and Records Administration’s Center for Legislative Archives in downtown Washington, D.C., preserves and makes accessible House records in accordance with House Rules.
Files generated by a Member’s congressional office are not official House records and instead remain the Member’s property. In 2008, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 307, declaring that the papers of Members are “crucial to the public’s understanding of the role of Congress in making the Nation’s laws,” and each Member of Congress should "take all necessary measures to manage and preserve" the Member's congressional papers. Many Members choose to donate their papers to a repository, such as a college or university, where their records are preserved and made accessible to the public. Information about researching the records of a former Member of Congress can be found here.