Posted by: stackedfivehigh | October 20, 2011

Managing Electronic Records – MARAC conference

Today was full of workshops at the MARAC Conference in beautiful Bethlehem, PA. First, entirely off subject, I need to mention the enormous store filled with Christmas decorations, a couple stores away from a handmade chocolate shop. It’s a fantastic place to be. Now back to the workshop.

I was in a workshop today, hosted by Geof Huth, on managing electronic records. This was an 8 hour workshop, so we covered quite a bit. I typed 20 pages of notes, if you were curious. The major points to take away is to be flexible, to be realistic, use open standards where possible, compromise where necessary, and break the issue into manageable parts.

7.5 hours before we got to that summary, we talked about some of the areas in which electronic records management differs from paper records management, as well as how they are similar. One of the crucial differences, and one that can actually be impossible to work around for some collections, is the need to gain control of the records long before they come to the archives. If you have a manuscript repository and your donations are spontaneous, there’s little you can do to get control of electronic records to encourage preservation. If, however, you are in a corporate or government setting, establishing a retention schedule is a good first step in encouraging retention. The problem with not getting early control is that people delete the records, the files become corrupted, the storage devices are obsolete, etc.

Electronic and paper records are similar in that they have similar steps – appraisal, accessioning, description, preservation, access, security – this exists no matter the medium of the record. With electronic records, however, appraisal has to consider things like whether a repository will be able to maintain readability and functionality. Preservation is also complicated by inevitable obsolescence of hardware and software.

There was a significant discussion of the ubiquitous metadata, but the greatest focus was preservation. Types of normalized file formats for various media were explained, as was data migration, strengths and weaknesses of media formats, and the major guidelines for caring for electronic media.

Access is also an area of much discussion, as levels of access and security must be maintained on the system this is an area that has to formally defined. Redaction is typically approached differently – though repositories have been known to make a hard copy that they can make physical redaction on – and this usually involves file redundancy, with one version of the record available for researcher use. Another key difference in relation to access is that staff need basic IT training in addition to archives training. Staff must be able to use the system and provide basic troubleshooting to researchers.

The last major area of discussion was establishing an electronic records program. Assessing the options available for platforms, for internal and external supports for the program, identifying training needs, and setting priorities and realistic time-lines are all useful steps in creating a functional electronic records program.

It was a really great workshop – I know I glossed over the details, but it was very helpful for understanding how to approach electronic records from an archival management perspective, especially how to control the collection and how to best establish a program for control.

Tomorrow will be two shorter sessions. I will report back soon.

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