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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Major Issues that are Considered in the Preservation of Electronic Records


Etiwel Mutero
Considering the benefits of electronic records to organizations such as increased access to information, flexibility in the creation and use of information, improved efficiency and effectiveness, increased economic and business opportunities, and improved capacity and compliance, it is therefore, necessary to preserve electronic records so as to preserve their authenticity.  In this paper, the author is going to evaluate the major issues that are considered in the preservation of electronic records and recommend the way forward.
According to Brown et al (1999:27) electronic records are:“Any component of information created electronically that forms part of an electronic record and that is usually stored separately within the digital file making up the electronic record as a whole:.  Electronic records can also be defined as series of 1 and Os that require computer hardware and software to interpret and present.  Unlike paper bared records or micro forum records, electronic records are not human readable but machine readable.
The first and important step to take when considering to preserve electronic records is to identify the characteristic of the record, including all the objects or components that make up a record which is called “characterisation:.  Failure to understand the technical qualities of an electronic record will also make it impossible to preserve the electronic record in an accessible and authentic forum.
Brown et al (1999) explains that the acting of “characterisation” involves identifying the record, validation the record and extracting core metadata about the record, as general at the time the record was originally created and actively used.
It is necessary to know the precise computer file format and version of the digital objects to be preserved.  The format of the record whether it is a word processed document, the software which was used to store the document,if it’s a photographic record, the type of a camera used to take that particular photograph ought to be known and how that photograph was transferred to digital storage in a computer.
Roger (1999) goes on to say that it is important  also to confirm that the digital objects still retain the properties given when first created for instance, to preserve a word processed document created in Microsoft word 2000, it is necessary to know that the record still exists as a Ms Word 2007 document or as a text file or an ASCLL file.
Extracting metadata is also import when considering preserving electronic records.  Metadata is information about a certain record for example, knowing the type of compression used to store a digital image can be essential for determining an appropriate method of migration.
The library of Virginia (1999) published an electronic document found on its website entitled “Electronic Records Guidelines” in 1999.  According to the guideling, when one is considering electronic records; the content of an electronic record must be accurate reflecting a particular business transaction.  The context could be numbers, text, symbols, data, images ad sound.  Failure to observe this rule, organisations will loose money due to efforts to preserve inaccurate and useless electronic records.
The above paper goes on to say, “contextual information is crucial to the evidentiality function of records.  If a record fails to record every information about its creator, the time of its creation, or its relationship to other records, its value as a record is severely diminished or lost entirely...” As a result, contextual information (of electronic records) should always be collected, structured and maintained with the record at the time of record creation.  This involves identifying and labelling (or tagging) records and linking them to contextual information.
The library of Virginia document mentions the issue of electronic records structure.  It says and the structure is defined as the appearance and arrangement of record’s context, including the relationships between fields, entities, language, style, fonts, page and paragraphs, breaks, links, and other editorial devices.  Recordkeeping systems must capture and preserve information about the structure of records either as part of the metadata associated with the records or in separate documentation. 
It is also advisable (Virginia Library 2009) to base record structure on open standard to avoid dependence on a specific company or organisation.  Two examples of open standard include Standard Generalised Mark up language (SGML) and extensible mark up language (XML).
Another issue to consider before preserving electronic records is the legal requirement for preparing records.  Some countries like Israel had a law specifying how electronic records could be preserved.  If such law exists, then they have to be adhered to.  Besides the legal requirement, there are also standards to comply with, be it organisation or intervention. These standards maintain readability of electronic records.