Preparing for the Future: Responsible Electronic Record Keeping Habits
In a constantly evolving landscape of electronic records creation and storage, it can be a daunting task to keep abreast of best practices; however, all levels of government must work together to ensure that electronic records created today will be available in the future to protect citizens’ rights, document government, and preserve history. As government employees, the records we create and keep are key to documenting the policies, actions, and intent of our various agencies and the contributions we each make.
What are considered electronic (or digital) records?
- Text, images, audio, video, GIS files, email, CAD files, databases, websites, social media accounts, etc.
If I created it, shouldn’t I always be able to access it?
- Not quite. The software and hardware you use is constantly being updated and these update cycles may eventually cause your files to become inaccessible. In order to best ensure future access, you should save files in a preferred preservation format. Think about how rapidly changing technology is - do you have a way of accessing files on that zip drive from 2003? Or a 3.5” floppy disc? Just because it is saved, does not mean it is accessible.
- It is also important to organize your files and use descriptive metadata so files are able to be found. Even if a file is saved appropriately, will someone who needs that file in the future be able to find it?
What are examples of preservation formats for electronic records?
- TIFF, PDF, MP4, MOV, EML, and MBOX
But I save all my files anyways...
- Saving and storing files in your day-to-day work life is a passive act which we all do; however, when we are talking about long-term access, we are ultimately talking about preservation.
What are the differences between digital storage and digital preservation?
- Storing electronic records includes the acts of saving them to a personal workstation drive, a shared network drive, or even removable media such as a USB drive. Storage is a short term act that best serves the day-to-day operations. Typical storage media actually has a limited lifespan.
- Preservation on the other had ensures long-term access, authenticity, integrity and trustworthiness. A preservation system and the accompanying preservation acts help to ensure that records are accessible through multiple generations of technological advancement.
- When thinking about the future and long-term access of electronic records, we need to consider saving and storing electronic records in preservation formats. Preservation formats will ultimately allow for successive generations to understand the undergirding work we do every day that bolsters our service to the public trust.
- Be mindful of your Department’s retention schedule. Retention periods apply to the same type of records, whether they are digital or paper-based.
State Archives is here to help! Archivists are available to answer questions regarding records retention, electronic records management systems, electronic records preservation and access. State Archives is also in the process of setting up a trusted digital repository to ensure permanent electronic records are migrated as technology improves, to maintain legal authenticity of such records, and to be able to catalog and search for electronic records within it for generations to come.
The Council of State Archivists' annual Electronic Records Day raises awareness about the crucial need to manage and preserve government electronic records. Electronic Records Day is part of CoSA's State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI).