Finding the Needle in a Haystack

Guest Author Records Management

Guest Post by Chaz Leech,Records Storage Specialist at the Utah State Records Center

For records officers who have visited the Records Center in Clearfield and seen firsthand the vast number of boxes located here, they will understand the complexity of locating a record that has been requested. For those individuals that have not seen the ocean of boxes located in our facility, let me give you a glimpse.

2 pictures. First is a picture of the many rows of records at the State Records Center. The Second is a single row of boxes.

Records at the Utah State Records Center

We are currently storing records from hundreds of state and local governments, municipalities, schools, and special districts. As such, finding a specific requested record can sometimes be a daunting task. Fortunately for us, and for you the requester, we have a system in place that identifies where each box is. While that system gives us the specifics of where a box is, it does not detail what the contents of an individual box are.

For this reason, it is critical that each agency that transfers a box to the Records Center submits a completely filled out Records Transfer Sheet (RTS). We take the box information that you provide on the RTS and enter your boxes into our system. In addition to the information we receive on the RTS, we will assign a Records Center Box Number, sometimes referred to as Records Center Location Number (RCL), to each box. The RCL coincides with the location (row, bay and shelf) of the box. After receiving the boxes, we send the Records Officer a report containing the box information necessary in order to request records in the future.

Requesting Records

The Records Request Form will ask for the following information:

Requester Information: The Agency Records Officer or another person authorized by the records officer to recall/request records.

Recipient Information: This should have the name of the individual that we will send the file to. It is important that the address is correct for the individual that will be receiving the file. If the information is incorrect or incomplete it will hinder how promptly it is delivered.

Series number: The record series number assigned to a particular set of records. If you do not know the series number(s) for your agency you can search at:

Agency (User) Box Number: This is the number that your agency assigned to a particular box when it was transferred to the Records Center.

Records Center Box Number (RCL): This is probably one of the most critical pieces of information that we need in order to locate the box/file you are requesting. It is the number that is assigned to a box by the Records Center.

File Name or Number: You can request a single record or the whole box. Enter the file name or you can put “Whole Box.” We do require a separate file request to be submitted for each record requested.

Special Instructions: This section can be used for requests such as a whole box or if you have other instructions regarding this request. If there are no special instructions you can leave this blank. Note: This is the only part of the form that can be left blank.

The Problem

If the RTS is submitted with incorrect or missing information, our ability to serve you will be limited. Sometimes when a new Records Officer takes over, they don’t receive the information necessary to request records from us. If your particular office does not have a list of the boxes currently being stored at the RC, we will gladly provide that information upon request. The list can be generated for a specific series number, or it can be an all-inclusive list of boxes for the agency.
What we cannot provide is a list of the files inside each box. That needs to be documented by your agency in a box inventory—with one copy placed inside the box and one copy retained in the office in a place where multiple staff members can find it. Many agencies have a system that they have used consistently for years to catalog and index their records. These agencies have much more success recalling records when needed than agencies that have no established method.

3 individuals standing among boxes

Caption: State Records Center Staff: Lisa Catano (Manager), Jim Duke, Chaz Leech

Because we want to help records officers in need, we have spent a lot of valuable time looking through boxes trying to find their records. With a staff of only three people, this can be taxing, especially if the agency has over 1,000 boxes. It’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. Or like locating a single file among 139,264 boxes. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to find the file; sometimes we are not. But the real crux of the matter is that it is your agency’s responsibility to know which box holds the records you need. It is our job to know where your boxes are and to help you in any way that we reasonably can, and we love being of service to you!

If you have questions about the process of requesting a file or box, transferring records, or anything not covered here, please email or call us at or 801-525-3020.