Preserving the Colorado General Assembly’s Sessions

Preserving the Colorado General Assembly’s Sessions

Introduction

The National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC) awarded the Colorado State Archives (CSA) with a State Government Electronic Records (SGER) Grant to convert born-digital proprietary format audio recordings of the Colorado General Assembly's legislative sessions. From 2002 to 2012, these audio recordings were recorded using software developed by the Dictaphone Corporation known as Freedom System Manager (FSM). FSM is a proprietary digital audio recording system purchased by the General Assembly for the recording of legislative sessions. It was originally designed to operate in a Windows XP environment and between 2002 and 2012 it created over 180,000 compressed audio files with G.723.1 codec. These records are born digital, recorded on a voice-activated system, and  represent the primary resource available for undertaking legislative historical research, particularly with reference to establishing legislative intent. In the past, FSM and its recordings were managed by the General Assembly’s Office of Information Technology, in a completely separate branch of government from the State Archives. The General Assembly’s IT Department no longer supports the Freedom System and the collection has been transitioned to the control and ownership of the State Archives. This collection represents the first born-digital collection that CSA will be stewarding in a purely digital format and undergirds Colorado’s ongoing jurisprudence and statutory revisions.
 

Process
The greatest challenge to this project  was seeking an appropriately efficient workflow that could be applied to this rather large digital preservation project which has minimal technical and developmental support. An example of this is that FSM lacks an API and thusly,  all appropriate metadata associated with the audio files required manual extraction from the software interface. We cooked up a very MacGyver solution which involved capturing screenshots of the data from the FSM interface and importing them into Excel worksheets. This was collated with the inventory creation process as well and ultimately proved to be quite effective.

FSM exhibits a number of idiosyncrasies with regards to exporting files. This made some of the processes feel like wrestling a lynx or some other sort of large, feral, cat-like creature. These idiosyncrasies included; audio files exported as multiple copies, single audio files which are split into multiple files, and audio files which could not be exported altogether. In order to  address these challenges, a quality assessment process was developed to best guarantee all viable FSM audio recordings were converted and preserved according to specifications we defined in procedural documentation.

 

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Where are we?
As of late Spring 2017, we have completed Phase I of this project. All audio recordings have been converted to an accepted and universally accessible WAV format. We are currently in  a quality control phase to ensure accuracy of associated metadata and we are working on an appropriate workflow for the cataloging and access of a dissemination file format (MP3).
 

Next
This project is serving as a test bed for the creation of CSA’s digital preservation policy. CSA  does not currently have any official policies regarding born digital materials. Furthermore, this will also involve the development of appropriate legislative policy regarding future collections with the state legislature. Policies, procedures, and workflows developed through this project will lead to the creation of a comprehensive statewide model for the future control and guardianship of born digital materials for all state departments, municipalities, and stakeholders with statewide programs and collections.

 

This article was published in the SRMA Summer 2017 Newsletter, which may be viewed: Here