ksmith1.jpgPlanning and Implementing Electronic Records Management: a practical guide  (Hardcover) by Kelvin Smith (Author), Publisher: Facet Publishing (Oct 2007), ISBN-10: 185604615X. Available from Amazon. Chapter 8 concerns Preservation, especially ‘long-term’, which is defined (p.130) as being ‘greater than one generation of technology.’ Unlike other books I have read so far, Smith’s approach is largely standards-based.

Smith begins by making the interesting point that there is still “a certain amount of distrust” of electronic records (p.129), and that people still seem to be happier with paper for preservation. This is no longer acceptable.

Smith then looks at four core challenges (authenticity, reliability, integrity and useability) in the light of ISO 15489. Authenticity is not an either/or thing: there is a sliding scale of authenticity, and the higher of number of requirements which have been met, the stronger the presumption of authenticity. Likewise, integrity does not mean that a record is unchanged: it means that only authorized and appropriate changes have been made.

Other standards relevant to digital preservation are

  • ISO 17799 Information security management (a revision of BS 7799)
  • BIP 0008 Code of practice for legal admissability etc of electronic information
  • e-GIF the UK e-Government Interoperability Framework
  • OAIS Open Archival Information System
  • BS 4783 Recommended environmental storage for digital media
  • BS 25999 Business continuity best practice

File formats

Smith says there is a case for creating the records properly in a sustainable format to begin with. [See I have a cup of coffee. AA] It’s more cost-effective for an organisation to take preservation factors into account at the beginning of the life cycle than halfway along. TNA have guidance on selecting good file formats, and e-GIF is useful here too.

But if you decide to create records in a short term or proprietary format then you need to mull over migration vs. emulation. Smith summarises the usual pros and cons. The only interesting additional points he makes are that (a) migration should always support business needs as well as preserve record content, ie. you don’t want to migrate to a format you cannot directly search or copy from, and (b) any migration strategy should integrate with existing corporate policies and procedures (especially BIP 0008). His RM policies mindset is coming through clearly here.

Databases

Smith’s book is the only one I have read so far to include a section on database preservation, and it’s short (less than a page). Preservation depends really on what sort of database it is: in some DBs old data is overwritten by new data, while in others data is never removed or overwritten. Similarly, some DBs are time or project-limited (such as surveys) while others carry on indefinitely. The usual approach is a simple all-or-nothing snapshot of the data which is then converted to some standard form rather than its native one. In addition some systems preserve an audit trail alongside, capturing every alteration made to records.

Implementing the preservation strategy

Smith then finishes the chapter with an excellent three page summary of the key steps you need to undertake, practically, to implement a strategy. A 6-point summary of his 11-point summary:

  • work with records creators and archivists to appraise and select records for permanent preservation
  • identify the right people within your own organisation to carry out preservation
  • decide on a technical preservation approach, and work with ICT people to see that it is carried out and properly tested
  • verify that the approach has worked ok. And keep a temporary backup of everything until you know it has worked
  • keep metadata and documentation on everything
  • keep all the stakeholders in the loop.

He also recommends getting authority to destroy the original e-records when the preservation has been carried out successfully, ie that the records are usable, authentic and reliable.

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