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Trustee Support Resources


Libraries should bear in mind the Public Records Act when drafting policies and procedures to assure that the intent of the law is followed.

Are library trustees required to take any training on public records?

No. Although they are required to have training on open public meetings, they are not required to be trained on public records. However, a board’s staff member or clerk who posts meeting notices and agendas, and maintains minutes, may benefit from training on the open public meetings requirements under the OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act).

Additional information may be found in the Open Government Training Act Q & A and on the Open Government web page from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

What are examples of library records that would be considered public records?

As laid out in RCW 42.56.070(3), policies, reports, budgets, and minutes are examples of the types of records a library must make accessible to the public. In addition, statistical information, based on library records, would be considered a public record if it does not readily identify a person.

Are e-mails or photographs considered public records? What about social media such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, and Twitter?

According to the Open Government Resource Manual, Chapter 1, “The definition of a public record (other than a record of the Legislature) contains three elements:

  • “… The record must be a writing…. A writing includes not only conventional letters and memoranda, but also emails, videos, photos and computer data.
  • “… The writing must relate to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function. Virtually every document a government agency has relates in some way to the conduct of government business or functions.
  • “… The writing must be either prepared, owned, used or retained by the agency. A writing may include data compiled for the issuance of a report (as well as the report itself), even though the agency had not intended to make the underlying data public.”

See also WAC 44-14-03001.

The Washington State Archives provides helpful information on electronic records management, including identifying electronic public records, on their Records Management web page.

What about e-mails or documents related to agency business created by agency employees using their home computers, iPhones, or smart phones?

As stated in WAC 44-14-03001:

“Sometimes agency employees work on agency business from home computers. These home computer records (including e-mail) were ‘used’ by the agency and relate to the ‘conduct of government’ so they are ‘public records.’ … However, the act does not authorize unbridled searches of agency property. If agency property is not subject to unbridled searches, then neither is the home computer of an agency employee. Yet, because the home computer documents relating to agency business are "public records," they are subject to disclosure (unless exempt). Agencies should instruct employees that all public records, regardless of where they were created, should eventually be stored on agency computers. Agencies should ask employees to keep agency-related documents on home computers in separate folders and to routinely blind carbon copy ("bcc") work e-mails back to the employee's agency e-mail account. If the agency receives a request for records that are solely on employees' home computers, the agency should direct the employee to forward any responsive documents back to the agency, and the agency should process the request as it would if the records were on the agency's computers.”

The Washington State Archives includes a link to information about electronic public records on their Records Management web page.

What are some of the categories of records that must be made available to the public?

According to RCW 42.56.070(3), the categories of records that must be available to the public include:

(a) Final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases;

(b) Those statements of policy and interpretations of policy, statute, and the Constitution which have been adopted by the agency;

(c) Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public;

(d) Planning policies and goals, and interim and final planning decisions;

(e) Factual staff reports and studies, factual consultant’s reports and studies, scientific reports and studies, and any other factual information derived from tests, studies, reports, or surveys, whether conducted by public employees or others; and

(f) Correspondence, and materials referred to therein, by and with the agency relating to any regulatory, supervisory, or enforcement responsibilities of the agency, whereby the agency determines, or opines upon, or is asked to determine or opine upon, the rights of the state, the public, a subdivision of state government, or of any private party.

Is a public agency required to provide some sort of finding aid for those records?

RCW 42.56.070 requires an agency to provide an index to its records issued, adopted, or promulgated after January 1, 1973, or to publish a formal order explaining why it is unduly burdensome or would interfere with operations.

Does the Public Records Act PRA) apply to court case files?

No, court files and judges’ files are not subject to the act. Access to such files is governed by court rules and common law. (WAC 44-14-01001.) See also Open Government Resource Manual, Chapter 1.3.

Is it permissible for an agency to provide lists of individuals that would be used for commercial purposes?

RCW 42.56.070(8) prohibits agencies from giving, selling, or providing access to lists of individuals that are requested for commercial purposes unless specifically authorized or directed by law. Chapter 1 of the Open Government Resource Manual states, “The limitation on commercial-use requests has three elements:

  • List of individuals;
  • For a ‘commercial purpose;
  • Where the disclosure of the information is not ‘specifically authorized or directed by law.’”

However, RCW 42.56.070(8) provides for the following exception:

“PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That lists of applicants for professional licenses and of professional licensees shall be made available to those professional associations or educational organizations recognized by their professional licensing or examination board, upon payment of a reasonable charge therefor….”

WAC 44-14-06002 states that "The act and other statues contain hundreds of exemptions from disclosure and dozens of court cases interpret them. A full treatment of all exemptions is beyond the scope of the model rules.  For a discussion of several commonly used exception, see these documents on the attorney general's office website: Open Government Resource Manual (the manual contains a discussion and summaries of many exemptions, links to statures, and links to many court decisions and several attorney general opinions); and, the doe reviser's annual list of exemptions in the state code, available at

Are there laws related to the retention of public records?

Chapter 1.4 of the Open Government Resource Manual lists the genera PRA procedures which require agencies to implement several procedures for processing PRA requests.

 WAC 44-14-03005 provides additional information about the retention of records. Retention schedules are available on the Washington State Archives website.