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JOUR 2311: Multiplatform Reporting & Writing

Public Records

Public records are documents that are made freely available to the public by the agency that holds them. Public records are considered to be primary sources.

Examples of public records: police reports, court documents, criminal records and marriage licenses.

Are Public Records Online?

Public records may or may not be online, depending on the resources of the state or county from which the records originated. You may have to go to a physical location such as a county court house to actually see the records. Check at the website of the agency holding the record first, but be prepared to call or travel to the location if necessary.


Sources for finding public records

Start in the city, county, or state where the records originated. Below are some ideas of where to start. Begin by finding the website of the agency. Then if nothing is available online at their website (or they may not have one), contact them to find out how to access records in person.

  • County courthouses
  • City Hall of any municipality
  • State agencies such as Dept of Health, Dept of Motor Vehicles, etc.
  • Human Resources office of an employer
  • Large public or university libraries (staff usually have a good idea of local records sources)
  • Historical societies
  • Archives

Confidential or private records

Access to some public records such as employee records, student transcripts, patient health records, etc. is often restricted by the agency holding them.  In that case, you may be required to file an open record request before gaining access to the info. This can take a few weeks. (Note: you can usually see your own records by request with proof of identification).

Public Records and Libraries

Libraries typically do not have any more access to public information than you do. However, library staff can help you navigate and find what you need, even free information on the WWW -- our job is to help people search for information wherever it may be, so don't hesitate to ask us for help!

NOTE: the Ohio University Archives, on Alden Library's 5th floor, is the repository for historical public records at OU such as executive meeting minutes and internal reports. The only other public record at the library is the "salary book" that lists salaries of current OU employees, located at the 2nd fl desk in Alden Library.

For more information about obtaining public records, see "Open Records & Meetings (FOIA)" from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Subjects: Journalism