Dear archives: What records should you make or keep?

Published: 9th October 2020

By the Queensland State Archives

Welcome back for our second Dear Archives column!

We’re keen to hear what you’d like to know about records. What do you find confusing? What records should you make or keep? One popular question we’re often asked is–is mixing personal and public records ok? Can I? Should I? Do I have to keep the whole record? Can’t I just redact the personal part? Let’s find out!

In your everyday life, your work and personal life mix and often quite unintentionally. You might send an email to a co-worker, Mary, asking how her weekend was and then ask for approval for a project budget. You get a detailed reply about Mary’s weekend shenanigans as well as approval for the budget. Now you have an email that has very detailed information about Mary’s personal life and important approval for budget expenditure. Is this email a public record? Is the whole email a public record or just the bit about the budget approval? The short answer is yes, it’s all a public record. 

As soon as an email contains information about your business activities, it’s a public record. Given information about business activities and someone’s personal life are blended into the same email doesn’t mean you can just block out the personal information. If you did that it wouldn’t be a complete and reliable record. The same goes for whatever application or format you’re using. Whether it’s an email, chat in Microsoft teams, a WhatsApp message, a text message, a letter or a post on social media … it doesn’t matter. As soon as one part of the record includes business activities, the whole thing is a public record. So what to do? We recommend you keep your business records and personal records separate wherever possible. Don’t mix them together if you can because once mixed, they’re almost impossible to undo. If you were making a cake you wouldn’t try to remove the eggs once you’ve added them to the mixture!

Queensland State Archives

This letter doesn’t contain personal information but imagine if it had included details about Mary or Bob’s exploits on the weekend!

Some records we create might be kept forever. This letter from the Archives was written by the Town Clerk of Brisbane City Council in 1918. This letter doesn’t contain personal information but imagine if it had included details about Mary or Bob’s exploits on the weekend! That wild weekend would have been part of the State’s archival collection forever! Something to think about when you write your next email!

Want to know more? Come and ask us at Dear Archives! Email any questions for our next column to and we’ll give you an answer next quarter! Or, if you can’t wait until then, just email us at the same address and we’ll get back to you. 

Look forward to hearing from you soon! – QSA.