Public Records: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Public records play an important role in democratic governance. In this lesson, you'll learn the definition of public records. You'll also learn why they are important and be provided some examples to illustrate the concept.

Public Records - Definition & Importance

Imagine, if you will, that you lived in a dystopian state where all government action is kept secret. You have no way to know what the government has been doing and how its activities may positively or negatively affect your life. As the old cliché goes, knowledge is power. A government that keeps all the information locked up tight exerts a high degree of power over its citizens. The importance of public records really can't be overstated because it helps ensure transparency and accountability in government. So, just what the heck is a public record?

A public record is information that is recorded and stored by a government which a member of the public has a right to access and review. Records can be in tangible forms, such as paper, photographs, and maps, or stored on electronic media, such as CDs, DVDs and computer databases. How the information is stored doesn't really matter, it's the nature of the information that determines whether it's a public record.


So what type of information falls within the purview of public records? Typical public records include, but are not limited to:

  • Court records
  • Birth records
  • Death records
  • Marriage records
  • Licensing records
  • Statistical data
  • Business records, such as articles of incorporation
  • Meeting minutes
  • Voting records
  • Correspondence
  • Budgets
  • Government financial records
  • Manuals
  • Statutes and regulations and interpretations regarding the same
  • Directives, orders, and interpretations regarding the same
  • Studies and reports
  • Transcripts of hearings and meetings
  • Administrative policies and procedures
  • Government contracts and leases
  • Historical records
  • Research records

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