Friday, May 20, 2011

Today's Electronic Records Issues for University Archivists

By Marian Matyn

I recently attended the SAA (Society of American Archivists) Electronic Records (ER) Records Workshop in Rhode Island. I thought the workshop was very informative and interesting. I learned all kinds of fun phrases like hash, checksums, password crackers, TRODS, CERP, and “endowing a terabyte.” Now I understand them. There are so many issues that have to be considered with electronic records: time, temporariness of the records and formats, and the impact of quickly changing technology. Archivists now have to deal with deleted files which aren't really deleted and could be illegal, and we need to run forensic analysis to discover these “hidden records.” All the different types of ERs at universities now have to be considered by archivists, including websites, metadata, intranets, emails, and videos, and postings on Blackboard, YouTube, and Facebook. Archivists must also consider involved access and security issues, including the ability to copy and change or prevent changes to records, and the staff time and costs involved.

A couple of important questions arise when making decisions about ERs.  Are all of these university electronic formats really records?  How do state laws and university description of a record says affects what we must define as a record? Our current, voluntary record retention schedule at CMU defines a university record as "all records, regardless of their form, prepared, owned, used, retained by, or in the possession of an individual in the performance of an official function of the university."   Obviously, records generated by students, staff, faculty or the public in an unofficial capacity do not meet CMU’s definition of record.  Let’s be clear: ERs are not permanent in any format, and they are a part of our lives now.  Archivists and their archives are going to have to begin to seriously deal with the plethora of ER issues and ERs themselves soon if they haven’t already.