Action plan, Part 1 of 2 – Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities

Action plan, Part 1 of 2 – Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities

October 27, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


Now it is time to set up your action plan. In this section of the New York State Archives’ webinar on Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities, we will offer some suggested steps that will help to set up an action plan that you could follow for your institution. When determining your initial goals it is often a good idea to start small and select one or maybe two, at the most, targeted areas to focus your attention on. Then set up a process to address this specific area and document the steps you follow for transferring records to the archives. But remember, no matter how much time you spend or how detailed your plan is, you must plan for change. As we all know, change is the only constant here. It is important to remember that you can’t do everything and address every department and users’ needs within every area unless you have an unlimited budget and unlimited staff, which I doubt is true for any of us. This is another reason to go slow in your electronic preservation efforts. We have broken down the preservation steps into 6 areas. Each of these areas will be discussed in more detail later on within this webinar. Planning includes efforts such as developing your initial strategy for the program, creating awareness of the issues, and garnering support in identifying your initial focus area. Inventorying what records each area has, including those departments that you may have worked with in the past, as well as those that may not have needed you assistance with physical records, but may have needs with electronic records. Once your inventory is done and you found out what is out there, you need to analyze the findings to determine the best approach, including researching best practices. You should also reconfirm the support that was promised, both from the department, and possibly from others within your institution, such as IT and senior administration. The design phase focuses on the overall infrastructure, both process-based and IT-based. The implementation plan should include a pilot group and the specific record series to test the designed processes on. And then there are the on-going activities such as refining your process and ensuring the proper quality control steps are in place. You will always be educating departments and users out there and creating awareness of the issues related to preserving electronic records, and the benefits you can offer them. In the planning phase, this is where you develop your initial strategy for the program including your mission statement. Whatever your initial strategy is, you further refine the strategy as you move forward into other phases. You should list all the functional areas within the institution. You may think you know them, but put them down on paper. As you move forward some departments may be broken down into separate functional units, some of which you may start with, and others you may want to put off to later as your program further develops. All of these areas should have specific contact names listed. Pick 1 to 2 target areas to start with, since you can’t do them all. You may want to start with existing users of your services because of the relationships you have already developed. A good idea is to find people you can partner with and potentially use as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of. Look both within your institution, as well as outside your institution, to find people you can work with including other colleges, universities, local governments, and consultants. As we discussed earlier, creating awareness is a continuous process but special effort may have to be done up front, not only among users but also senior officials, too. Consider doing workshops, preparing flyers, posters, or sending out e-mails to get the word out. Having senior administration discuss the importance of record preservation at staff meetings will demonstrate commitment and support for your program. You may also want to consider one-on-one meetings for certain departments or individuals as you see key to support your efforts. Garnering and solidifying support from those who approved your initiative, as well as who may provide on-going support, is key, such as IT and legal among others. As you develop your program, it is important to gather data to back up the need for your program. This can be simple stories or experiences that departments may have had or potential issues they could face. It is always a good idea to have these experiences at hand when you need to promote or justify your efforts. If you don’t write them down, you may forget them at a key moments in time when they are needed most. Within the inventory phase, it is important to closely define the scope of your project and efforts. Do not try to do everything or take on too many departments all at once. I would suggest starting small with a focus on 1 to 2 departments at most. Identify the key contacts. Maybe these are departments you have a strong relationship with already regarding preserving their physical hardcopy records. There are five areas to consider in your inventory work. Obviously you have to know what is out there. You may want to use the adopted retention schedules of your institution to help identify records and to help jog the memories of those you are talking to. Often, people forget about certain records and it is easy to overlook even important records since they may only be created or handled on an annual basis and not on a daily basis. Identify the owner, which may not readily be apparent. Is it the one who created the electronic file, the department head, or was the file created as part of a collaborative effort? In any case, you must define who is the owner who will take responsibility for that record? The third area is determining where the files are actually stored and the format of those files. Sometimes users may not be fully aware of where the “server” is or what a file server is, or storage device is for that matter. This is where you may need additional help from your IT staff. Also, determine the official copy of a record. Is it the electronic record, or the physical print out that is kept in the file cabinet? You may not need to preserve the electronic version if the hard copy is deemed the official record. Asking if there are additional electronic copies is important, especially if they are sent to other departments who may also try to preserve that same file, but in another area within your institution. It is also important to identify the application that created the file and the version of the application used during your inventory process. Although the file extension can be the same, the version of software that created it could be different. Although you don’t want to perform a detailed business process analysis, or get too bogged down in the workflow within a department, it is important to get a general idea of the process followed relating to the files you are working with. This will help you find out what other copies may have been created so you don’t duplicate your efforts when working with other functional areas or departments as well as finding out about the potential for different renditions that may exist for that particular file. For example, you may come across a file that was created in Microsoft Word, but also was saved to a PDF format to post on a web site. Or one that was printed and scanned into a content management system. Do you really need to worry about preserving all the renditions of this file or focus only on one? Now that you discovered and collected the information, it is now time to analyze what you found. After identifying the records used, determining the retention requirements and their specific preservation needs must be performed. What are the file formats used and are there any proprietary systems or applications out there? You should do research into best practices, as well as find out what your peer institutions, or other organizations have done when faced with the same or similar situations. What type of access to these files will be needed in the future? And how often will they need to be accessed, once a day, a few times a year, or are they unlikely to be accessed at all? You will also need to determine roles and responsibilities such as who the “official” owner of a record is. Is it the creator of the record, or is it the department head or other individual? Who maintains the generating applications? Is it done in the department or is IT the owner of the application? Who will handle the day-to-day network issues and provide advisory or technical support services? Part of this is determining who has the rights for folder administration and file naming rights for server-based directories and storage repositories. Often it is a good idea to develop a liaison within each functional group, such as a preservation coordinator. They become your eyes and ears within a department and are the point of contact for the daily administration of your preservation efforts. In the analysis phase, this is where you also determine what metadata is needed to help describe the content, context, and structure of your electronic records. What is needed to describe the original bit stream, or native file, in the generating application that was used? How do we best classify and organize the collection? What is needed to facilitate easy searching and locating of the desired items? How do we best provide the records to users in the proper context? What metadata can be system-generated or manually entered or created? These are some of the areas that need to be considered.