Archives and electronic records: Policies and procedures guidelines

The following material was presented by Dr. Charles Dollar during the Saskatchewan Council of Archives Electronic Records Management workshop, and sets out guidelines for the creation of policy and procedures for the management and preservation of electronic records. The SCA would like to thank Dr. Dollar for providing this material and allowing us to reproduce it here.


1. Policy

Recommendation: Develop an archives repository written policy for long-term access to electronic records that addresses the following areas:

  • Program objectives
  • Custody - legal and/or physical
  • Rationale for alternatives adopted
  • Processibility
  • Migration
  • Archives repository or outsource implementation
  • Audit for compliance

2. Quality Control

Recommendation: Develop written quality control procedures that take into account the following:

  • Utilization of the functionalities of the Archival Preservation System software
  • Document any action taken with regard to facilitating long-term access to electronic records
  • Insert documentation records into the encapsulation wrapper that contains the relevant electronic records
  • Periodic quality control audits

3. Environmental Control and Monitoring Program Recommendation: Ensure the continued readability of electronic Records by putting in place a program that provides for a stable storage environment and good care and handling procedures. Such a program should include the following:

  • Maintain a stable storage environment in which the temperature is 59 +/- 5 degrees fahrenheit and the relative humidity (RH) is 40%
  • Install a filter system to remove airborne dust particles and gas pollutants
  • Prohibit the consumption of food and beverages and smoking in the storage facility
  • Implement a program to read annually a statistical sample of the storage media to identify real or impending catastrophic loss of information
    • Select all storage units (eg., videocassette tapes, computer disks) annually if there are fewer than 50 of them.
    • Select a 20% random sample of the storage media when the total number of storage units. ranges between 50 and 1809
    • Select a random sample of 381 items of the storage media when the total number of storage media is 1810 or greater
  • Rewind all tapes under constant tension after processing

4. Transfer of Records

Recommendation: Develop and implement guidelines for the transfer of electronic records that include the following:

  • Select up to three storage media that are widely used by agencies in their current operations (e.g., 3480 tape cartridges, Digital Linear Tape, and CR-ROM) that may be used to transfer electronic records to the archives repository
  • Select a standard archival storage medium and encourage agencies and organisations to use it when transferring electronic records
  • All electronic records transferred must be encoded with a standard encoding scheme such as ASCII or EBCIDIC

5. Reformat Electronic Records

Recommendation: Develop and implement guidelines for the reformatting of electronic records that include the following:

  • Select either Digital Linear Tape or 3480/90 tape cartridges as the storage medium
  • Reformat electronic records at the time of their transfer to the archives repository or when new storage devices and media are installed
  • Ensure the authenticity of reformatted electronic records by employing a strict quality control procedure that may include bit/byte comparisons, comparisons of hash-digest, or digital time stamping
  • Utilize the functionalities of the Archival Preservation System software where possible in order to document fully all actions taken when reformatting electronic records
  • At the time of reformatting, create two copies, one of which would be considered a "backup" that is stored at an off-site location.

6. Copy Electronic Records

Recommendation: Develop and implement guidelines for the periodic copying of electronic records that include the following:

  • Copy electronic records at the time of their transfer to the archives repository
  • Copy electronic records every ten years in the absence of the installation of new storage devices and media
  • Copy electronic records when the annual readability sample discloses ten or more temporary or read "errors" in a dataset
  • Ensure the authenticity of copied electronic records by employing a strict quality control procedure that may include bit/byte comparisons, comparisons of hash-digest, or digital time stamping
  • Utilize the functionalities of the Archival Preservation System software where possible in order to document fully all actions taken when copying electronic records
  • At the time of copying, create two copies, one of which would be considered a "backup" that is stored at an off-site location.

7. Convert Electronic Records:

Recommendation: Develop and implement guidelines for the conversion of electronic records that include the following:

  • The conversion of authentic electronic records from one software environment to another must not result in the loss of any structure, content, or context
  • Convert authentic electronic records whenever there is a software upgrade or a new software application environment is installed
  • Adopt PDF or SGML as a standard storage format. At the time of conversion encapsulate aggregated electronic records along with relevant documentation as SGML records
  • Ensure the authenticity of converted electronic records by employing a strict quality control procedure that may include bit/byte comparisons, comparisons of hash-digest, or digital time stamping. Utilize the functionalities of the Archival Preservation System software where possible in order to document fully all actions taken when converting electronic records
  • Exercise the option of non-conversion of authentic electronic records only as a last resort when the risk of the loss of authenticity or processibility is acceptable
  • At the time of conversion, create two copies, one of which would be considered a "backup" that is stored at an off-site location.

8. Migrate Electronic Records

Recommendation: Develop guidelines and implement procedures for the migration (or nonmigration) of electronic records that include the following:

  • Establish guidelines that unambiguously delineate the circumstances under which migration of electronic records will be carried out
  • Establish guidelines that unambiguously delineate the circumstances under which non-migration of electronic records will be carried out
  • Incorporate into the migration procedure the ten steps for migrating electronic records from legacy information systems that Michael Brodie and Michael Stonebreaker advocate
  • Establish migration quality control procedures that include testing the migration software with a sample of records to confirm that no degradation in the records occurs
  • Validate migrated electronic records with records in the source legacy information system to ensure that no errors occur
  • If financial or technical resources preclude the migration of electronic records without some loss in content, structure, or context, document all the activities undertaken in order to establish the reliability of the new records that come into existence
  • In executing a "non-migration" option that transfers electronic records to paper or microfilm a visual inspection of a sample of these records should be compared with their electronic counterparts

9. Starting a Long-Term Electronic Records Access Program

Recommendation: Develop guidelines and implement procedures that include the following:

  • Develop a policy that calls for an integrated information technology plan that serves the overall goals and mission of the archival repository
  • Develop a five to seven year information technology plan that is based upon a realistic assessment of the financial resources that are likely to be available to the organization.
  • Design a system that is geared to the specific needs and resources of the archival repository and for which computer literate and technically competent staff are available
  • Assess the long-term costs and benefits of a "scaled back program" and where the benefits are marginal consider other storage alternatives such as paper or microfilm

10. Multi-Institutional Cooperative Programs

Recommendation: Develop guidelines and implement procedures that include the following:

  • Develop a formal organizational structure for the participating archives repositories and a formal agreement (and legally binding) with the cooperative electronic records archives repository
  • Guarantee funding of the program for five years
  • Delineate explicitly the tasks to be carried out within specified time periods
  • Require that the findings and recommendations of this report be incorporated into the policy and procedures
  • Contract with a competent, independent third party to conduct an annual information technology audit of the cooperative electronic records repository and deliver a report with recommendations to the participating archives repositories.

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