Cornell University Electronic Student Records Systems Project Report

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Appendix C. Electronic Preservation Program Guidelines

Preservation Management Considerations

To insure the retention of the electronic records of an organization, the Archives needs to establish an electronic records preservation program. To be successful:

The electronic records preservation program must include:

Preservation mandate

High-level management should specifically delegate authority to the Archives for insuring that electronic records are preserved and accessible when needed; and, as importantly, to provide sufficient resources and support, if the program is to be successfully implemented.

The archives and records management program might have:

Preservation roles

Support for the preservation program must be established and maintained at all levels of the organization.


The role of management is to make sure that the staff of the organization realizes that preservation is a requirement and an obligation not an option. Records are required to document and support the work of the organization and electronic records are increasingly important to organizations.

Program units

Users are most knowledgeable about the purpose, content and use of systems. Preservation is often more successful when the program unit that is responsible for creating or maintaining records in a system is involved in preservation of the records that are contained in the system.

Information Technology staff

The preservation of electronic records requires that records selected for long-term retention be stored in acceptable preservation formats on archival media accompanied by adequate documentation. Information technology professionals are vital to the successful implementation of a preservation program.

The Archives

The archives is listed last to emphasize the importance of other roles in the preservation process that are often not considered, but also because the archives has ultimate responsible for preserving records in all formats. The archives must commit adequate resources to sustain the electronic records preservation program, if the organization creates electronic records that need to be retained.

Records management for and appraisal of electronic records

An implemented records management program insures:

Effective appraisal and records scheduling practices insure:

During appraisal and scheduling, archivists and records managers must determine the most appropriate method for preserving long-term access to electronic records. The records that are preserved must meet the needs of the primary users of the records. Depending on the reason for preserving the records, such as for evidential value or for informational value, the options for preservation include preserving:

To provide preservation strategies for permanently valuable electronic information, the universe of systems must be known and the subset of systems that require extended or long-term retention periods must be identified.

Preservation program parameters

The preservation program must have defined parameters based on the answers to the following questions:

Electronic preservation resources

An electronic records preservation program requires:
Staff: the number of staff members required for the preservation program depends on the number of electronic files to be preserved, considering the addition of new files and maintenance of older files, and the priority of the program for the organization.
Training: providing adequate training for staff to attain and maintain the necessary expertise is an ongoing process to keep up with new types of records to be preserved and new types of technology available for preservation. The program may require external as well as in-house training.
Equipment: the program will require equipment or contracted services for preservation and reference copying, and preservation processing.
Time: preservation requires a commitment of time for all types of records, including electronic records. Records that are processed carefully when received are easier to maintain over time.
Funding: all of the requirements listed have associated costs. It is difficult to measure the cost of not preserving records. The cost of maintaining individual electronic files decreases over time, but the number of files that are being preserved increases.

Technical support for the preservation program

There must be a balance between (a) establishing a cost-effective preservation program that fits within the resources of the organization and (b) establishing a secure and stable base for the preservation program of the organization. Preservation should not be vulnerable to the collapse of vendor support, contractual disputes over storage costs and requirements, unclear deposit arrangements, or any other variables that could put the records at risk. Technical support for preservation, such as media storage, documentation compilation, file processing, file conversion, software migration, preservation copying and reference services can be successfully contracted out, but great care should be given to the terms of the agreements to avoid the potential risks of such arrangements. Most organizations cannot afford to have full-time staff with the necessary skills and contracting for skills allows for flexible project management. The archives provides the direction, continuity, project management, and core preservation skillset for the preservation program.

Guidelines for the transfer of electronic records to archival custody

The preservation program must establish guidelines for the transfer of electronic records to archival custody. The units that create records are often responsible for insuring that the records are transferred to the archives. Preservation formats for electronic records insure that the records can be preserved over time regardless of changing technology. Access formats utilize current technology to present the records to users in a familiar format. The transfer guidelines should indicate the file formats that have been approved for preservation, identify the steps required to prepare electronic files for transfer, and possibly provide tools to prepare the files. The archives, with appropriate technical support and advice, should prepare such instructions for all software in which permanent and long-term records are created. Tools might include macros to export files and store the files in a particular format or to extract table descriptions from a database software package into a file to provide documentation of the records. These packages will be identified during the scheduling and appraisal process. The instructions should remain current with the organization’s software portfolio.

When admissibility of records to meet legal and fiscal requirements is an issue, the legal and financial advisors for the organization and relevant program unit representatives must be involved. In conjunction with the archives and IT staff, these representatives must insure that the preservation and access formats identified for electronic records to which these requirements relate will meet the admissibility requirements when necessary.

Transfer guidelines are necessary to address the range of hardware and software that is available in most organizations. The archives must be able to define and continually expand the file formats that it can preserve, but the archives should deter the transfer of file formats that do not have known preservation solutions. By monitoring existing systems through the records management program, collaborating with IT staff, and participating in the creation of new systems, the archives can organize its resources to address the electronic recordkeeping needs of the organization.

Hardware-dependency is becoming less of an issue for preservation due to increasing platform interoperability and the influence of Internet applications that can run on any platform; but software-dependency is still a key preservation problem. Retaining software dependent files can appear to be an easy solution, but there are some serious considerations. Maintaining software-dependent files can be an appealing option but will require

For some files, saving a software-dependent file may be the only option until other preservation solutions are identified. For example, currently, there are no good solutions for preserving image files and spreadsheet files with embedded formulae. Decisions about preservation formats should be reassessed over time as new technology presents new challenges and opportunities.

Vital records program and disaster plan

A comprehensive disaster plan and vital records program should be established that includes electronic records. Protecting the physical media on which electronic files are stored is one component of the preservation of electronic records. This component requires the creation of at least two copies of the storage media, one of which is stored off-site in a controlled storage area. Establishing off-site storage of vital and other valuable records is one step in a disaster plan. Other steps include identifying vendors who can assist in the event of a disaster and to insure that the plan is available to all key personnel. Contingency plans should address various types of disasters and the appropriate measures that should be taken.

Restoring files from damaged media can be difficult and costly. Bad files or media can often be recovered, if the cost can be justified. Well-maintained electronic media do not generally require special conservation treatment. This makes secure storage a more compelling preservation requirement.