Freedom of Information Rights and Responsibilities
The Rights of Requesters and the Responsibilities of the Science Museum of Virginia under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act:
- The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located § 2.2-3700 et. seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials and public employees.
- A public record is any writing or recording—regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording or any other format—that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
- The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for the supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia.
- If the Science Museum determines it will require more than one hour of staff time to access, search for or gather requested records, it may require that the requestor pay a reasonable fee for that staff time. The fee charged will be determined by the staff member's regular hourly rate at the time the records request was made. The Science Museum will estimate the number of hours needed to fulfill the request, will provide a fee estimate and will seek approval of the estimate before the work begins.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
- The Freedom of Information Advisory Council has an online public comment form allowing any FOIA requester to comment on the quality of assistance provided by the Museum.
Making a Request for Records from the Science Museum of Virginia
- You may request records by U.S. mail, fax, email, in person or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.
- Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
- Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of the Science Museum of Virginia, nor does it require the Science Museum of Virginia to create a record that does not exist.
- You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by the Science Museum of Virginia in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from the Science Museum of Virginia, direct your request to:
Courtney Moyer, Deputy Director of Communications & Administration
2500 West Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23220
You may also contact her with questions you have concerning requesting records from Science Museum of Virginia. In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email at [email protected], or by phone at 804.225.3056 or (toll free) 1.866.448.4100.