Email Preservation Advice for Federal Agencies
In some of Tameran’s blog posts, I talk about how governments can simplify and improve how their records are managed, digitized and preserved. I read an interesting article in The New York Times this morning related to the former Secretary of State email controversy that has been making a lot of headlines recently. In today’s paper, The Times reports the State Department had no way of routinely preserving senior officials’ emails until last month. Instead, the department relied on employees to figure out if emails should be designated as public records, and if so, transferred to a record-keeping server or printed out and manually filed for preservation. The Times also reports many federal agencies’ current document retention and preservation strategy is to save emails by printing them out and storing them in files.
This article is a good reminder that federal government agencies need a better strategy for managing, accessing and preserving their documents. The article states agencies are in charge of setting their own policies for which emails should be preserved and which ones should be deleted. As an expert with forty years of experience in document imaging and preservation, it’s very apparent agencies need a stronger plan for preserving vital records. They should be archiving their records both in a digital form and in an analog form such as microfilm.
Digital records storage could help government agencies be more responsive and transparent if records are requested. It’s great for quick access and distribution, but digital records are susceptible to hackers and need to be migrated over time to avoid technology driven obsolescence.
Document copies on normal office paper may also not be the best long-term solution for preserving documents. It can deteriorate and requires massive storage space. Microfilm costs the same as a paper copy, and it can be easily made from digital documents. It’s also unalterable and has a 500 year life cycle. That means it may be a better choice for long-term document preservation.
How should federal agencies preserve their email records?
Tameran Graphic Systems recommends a hybrid-approach to document archiving. We recommend federal agencies convert their emails into a common digital format (.PDF or .TIFF), transfer them into a digital record keeping system and then preserve them on microfilm. They’ll have instant access to all their documents and a long-term backup of their critical records.
Why should federal agencies spend time and money converting and archiving documents?
They’ll increase agency productivity, reduce operating costs, stay in compliance and create a long-term archive of their documents. Capturing documents in a common digital format makes them easier to store and distribute. Preserving them on microfilm can provide the safest, most durable and permanent archive. A hybrid-approach to document archiving combines digital and microfilm storage to make a strong reference archive.
What are some essential do’s and don’ts federal agencies should understand about document preservation?
Do. Understand a digital archive is not document preservation.
Don’t. Think the cloud is the best place to store long-term archived data.
Do. Establish a clear plan to digitize appropriate documents and also preserve them on microfilm.
Don’t. Store your archived documents at one location.
Do. Consult an expert in document imaging and preservation to help your agency.