Division of Archives and Records Service

Classification and Big Bucket Retention

Rebekkah Shaw
November 14, 2018

Co-authored by Archives and Records Service RIM Specialist Rebekkah Shaw and Chief Records Officer Kendra Yates.  

We received feedback that record officers are confused about why we are consolidating the General Retention Schedules (GRS) and what a big bucket approach is.

Why are the General Retention Schedules being consolidated?

Back in July, we discussed what classification means in records and information management: to determine/identify records with shared characteristics that should be kept/stored together so as to maintain the integrity and usability of the information. The classification scheme is the way an organization’s information assets are labeled and organized, or categorized and arranged.

The GRS was originally organized to double as a classification scheme for some agencies. However, taking into account the digital world in which we work and the variety of functions and situations that agencies have, it became more important for the general retention schedule to appraise the value of records consistently and establish the required retention (its mandated purpose). We’re consolidating the schedules in order to eliminate duplicates or contradictions as well as to simplify access and allow more flexibility in applying them.  Records officers will need to identify the records they create, organize them into a classification scheme that meets their needs, and then find and apply the general retention schedules accordingly.

What is a classification scheme?

Imagine you are going to Crazy Ed’s grocery store where fruits, vegetables, meat, bread, and dairy products are all stocked together – you would spend all your time searching. Grocery stores have “rules” for organizing their goods so that similar products are grouped together – dairy products, fresh fruits, and canned goods. The problem at Crazy Ed’s is that he puts products on the shelf wherever he can find space.

In the world of information and records, classification provides those “rules”–an organized folder structure and a consistent vocabulary–for putting things in the right place and for retrieving what you need when you need it. The best classification schemes are function-based, rather than subject-based. This means records are classified based on why they exist (the activity that caused the record to be brought into existence) rather than on what they are about. This places the records in the context of creation and use and can make it easier to understand their value.   

What are “big buckets”?

The goal is to have more inclusive general retention schedules that describe functions so that as you categorize your records within your own classification scheme, there is a retention schedule broad enough to apply to the record regardless of technology changes, the type and size of the agency, or the format of the records. A big bucket schedule applies to paper or electronic records. It also can apply to a variety of specific record series.


Thinking of our GRS and the grocery store analogy, if I wanted to find a retention schedule for my free-range chicken eggs, where should I look? In a classification scheme, I might categorize them under chicken eggs, which might be categorized under all eggs (if my agency also had ostrich eggs, for instance). But with a big bucket general retention schedule, I need to think of broader categories, so I would look for a GRS for “Dairy products.” Perhaps the milk, cheese, and eggs all have the same value (i.e., retention need), so there only needs to be one retention schedule for them all.

Now let’s apply this to records.

Let’s say my office manages the contracts created as a result of both constructing and maintaining our agency’s building. I have one file for purchasing contracts, and another for property maintenance contracts. While in my office they’re organized into record series by contract type, and the classification scheme recognizes them as part of two separate business processes (construction vs. maintenance). For the agency’s retention schedule, however, a big bucket for “contracts” works well for both types, so all the contracts follow the same retention schedule.

We hope the consolidated general retention schedules will make it easier for you to use them in your own classification scheme. If you ever need help using the new interface or finding a retention schedule, let us know at 801-531-3863 or