Records Management and Digital Preservation

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I wondered whether the next two sessions would be a bit dry, but not so. They were both led by an Archivist from the University of London Computing Centre who, in his free time, has a Friday evening radio show on RessonanceFM.

This was a brief intro to RM discussing how it fits in with the digital presentation process. I’ve never been trained in RM so it was useful for me and these are the highlights of what I learned:

RM is the efficient control of the creation, reciept, maintenance, use, retention and disposition of records. It’s an archival skill but overlaps with business analysis and it’s assisted by international standards such as ISO 15489.

Why do we need records? Well, they might be evidence, required for accountability, for decision-making and to record institutional ‘memory’. Good records are authentic, accurate, accessible, complete and comprehensive. They are compliant, effective and secure. I was told that RM assists and supports an organisation’s business processes; it identifies and protects vital records, ensures legal and regulatory compliance, provides protection against litigation, and allows compliance with Freedom of Information legislation.

With the growth of digital records, there’s obviously been a massive quantative increase in information. Digital records share the same issues as paper records such as acquisition, preservation, storage and retrieval but also present additional challenges. Digital records are characterised by being easy to create, copy, share, modify and store in multiple locations. They can be complex, transient, vulnerable, software and hardware dependent.

Good digital records management is an underlying framework to good digital curation.

A sound migration plan is essential to good digital RM and inherent in the preservation planning recommended by OAIS. A migration plan is an essential part of ensuring that formats are retained and readable throughout their lifecycle.

Of course, digital records have metadata which also needs to be managed and assists with the authenication of a record. I was told that good electronic records management policy should cover the creation and capture of all corporate records within the RM system. It should cover the design and management of indexing and naming schemes. It should offer policy on the automated management of metadata, for retrieval and retention. It should ensure that records are ‘locked down’ to ensure their integrity and security. It should also provide guidance on the retention, preservation and destruction of digital records.

We discussed which type of records are selected for management: vital records needed to sustain the organisation’s business; records essential for legal compliance; and records with mid to long-term administrative value. These kind of things should form the basis of a selection policy.
It all sounds like archiving to me with the exception that there’s more destruction in RM. I do see how RM is more business focused though and the issues of preservation are not always so difficult when you might be retaining records for shorter periods of time. Still, there’s no reason why RM shouldn’t fit into an OAIS environment. The main characteristics of selection, validation, fixity, preservation planning, metadata standards and retrieval/access are clearly very simmilar. Perhaps Fiona or Lynda can explain more to me when I get back.

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