It’s RTI Day today! Now we know when people think of Right to Information, they usually think OIC, but what are people asking for when the submit an RTI request? Information! And where is information located? In records! And where are those records stored? Ok, so that depends on the agency, the type of record, the retention period…
Many agencies across Queensland have records at QSA, so RTI day is a great opportunity to take a look at how to maximise the efficiency and success of searches for archival records. We’ll leave the rest to the OIC – they’ve got heaps of information on right to information (see what we did there?).
Firstly, does your agency have archival records at QSA? If you’re not sure, it’s easy to check. Your agency’s records team should be the first people to talk to. Alternatively (or if you are part of your agency’s records team and you’re not sure) you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can provide your agency with a summary of holdings.
It’s important to remember that the records your agency is responsible for might have changed over time due to Machinery of Government (MOG) changes – in short, responsibility for records of a function move when the function moves – but that’s a whole other story for another day.
Another useful tip for RTI Officers (and other people) is that records held at QSA are not necessarily ‘old’ (although we have those too!). In fact, our holdings include records dating right up to 2018! The key is that to transfer records to QSA, they must be assessed as permanent under a current retention and disposal schedule, and should be ‘inactive’ (i.e. not actively being used for business purposes).
Finding archival records
So, what’s the big deal? Surely I just go to QSA’s catalogue, type in the name or subject for my RTI search to find the records I’m seeking? Yes?… Sorry, no.
The catalogue is always a great place to start your search, however there are many archival records that you won’t be able to find this way. Why not?
Well, one reason is that some records are not searchable in the online catalogue at all as their description contains sensitive information and have been restricted to protect that information. So to find these records, you’ll need the assistance of either your agency records team, or QSA staff.
Another reason is that a client’s name and associated information may be located as an entry within a larger register, so the catalogue will only show the title of the register rather than the name of the individuals listed inside it. Successfully finding these records often requires a number of pieces of information.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the things that can help you find what you’re looking for…
Helpful information to assist archival searches
A range of information can help to ensure an effective and thorough search for archival records. Some common examples include:
- Name of client
- Specific dates – like birth or death dates
- Type of records sought (e.g. will, court transcript, case file)
- Approximate dates of the records sought (the more specific the better!)
- Which institution or government agency may have created the records (e.g. School, Court, Orphanage, Hospital)
- Location/region or district (e.g. Mackay area)
Here’s a quick example of how this information can help!
You’ve been asked for records relating to ‘John Kelly’ and the date of birth has been provided.
So, first you searched the catalogue but…
- a catalogue name search for ‘John Kelly’ returned many results but none listed dates of birth, making identification of relevant records impossible without an extensive physical inspection of each record (very time consuming!)
- it is also possible that records relating to this search were not listed by the client’s name.
Going back to the client resulted in some helpful additional information:
- client was seeking orphanage related records
- approximate date/year – mid 1970’s
- location – Rockhampton area.
So how did that help?
The additional information helped us narrow the search to a likely institution – St Joseph’s Home previously known as Meteor Park Orphanage.
While no client records were found following a search of his name matched to the institution, the date range provided further narrowed the search to a small number of registers created by the orphanage.
You can now do a physical inspection of these registers, or request QSA to do this as part of a fee-based search. That search then located entries containing relevant information for this RTI request.
Accessing records held @QSA
One last thing to cover – how do you or your RTI requestor access records that are at QSA?
First, this will usually be for records that are closed or restricted, not ones that are publicly available (those can be accessed easily).
Records can be delivered to your agency (aka the responsible agency) using QSA’s File Issue Service (this is a fee-based service) or accessed on-site at QSA free of charge.
If you or the requestor are going to be accessing records here at QSA, you will need to submit a records access authorisation form signed by your agency’s CEO or authorised delegate. This grants permission for the person named on the form to access the records. For more information on that, see our advice on provide access to closed records.
Need more information? You can find out more of everything on our website. Here’s a few resources that might help:
- Restrict access to records (Restricted Access Periods) – check this out for advice on restricted access periods applied to records when they’re transferred to QSA.
- Access records after transfer to QSA (File Issue service) – this has all the info you need on how to request records back (e.g. if you need to inspect it to determine if the requestor can have access to it, or if you want to give them access at your agency).
- Provide access to closed records – this page has advice on how you can provide access to records at QSA that are closed or restricted, including where they can access the records and filling out the access permission form if they’re accessing the records at QSA.
And if you’re still stuck, contact the QSA Archival Collections team by emailing email@example.com and they can help you find what you’re looking for.
That’s all on searching the catalogue. Until next time…