The relevancy of the National Archives Act for the management of websites and any related online information.
Roper and Miller (1999:1) listed the benefits of electronic records as resulting in increased access to information, flexibility in the creation and use of information, improved efficiency and effectiveness, increased economic and business opportunity and improved capacity for audit and compliance. It is these benefits that should make all organizations and states ensure that electronic records are managed properly and remain accessible. In this paper, the author is going to discuss the relevancy of the National Archives Act for the management of websites and any related online information.
The National Archives Act of Zimbabwe (1986) is an act of parliament published in 1986 enacted to provide for the storage and preservation of public archives and public records; for the declaration and preservation of protected historical records. The act was also enacted to repeal the National Archives Act (Chapter 309). On the other hand web definition of a website is “a location connected to the internet that maintains one or more web pages”. While online information simply means any information available or information which can be accessed through the internet.
According to the National Archives Act (1986) section 6 the word record is defined as “any medium in or on which information is recorded.” Basing on this definition of a record one may be tempted to think that the management of electronic records is covered by the National Archives act of Zimbabwe. However, the author argues that the management of websites and other online information is not well covered by this act. Although the National Archives Act defines records defines the word record as any medium used to store information, the act do not give practical guidelines on how electronic records should be preserved despite the fact that the government is producing a lot of electronic records in form of websites, emails and other electronic records storage media such as compact discs etcetera.
The National Archives Act of Zimbabwe should have gone a step further to explain that the management of websites and other online information must comply with the ISO 16175-2;2011 named the “Information and documentation_ Principles and Functional Requirements for Records in Electronic Office Environments” and its part two titled “Guidelines and Functional Requirements for Digital Records Management Systems.”
The ISO 16175-2:2011 articulates a set of functional requirements for digital records management systems. These requirements apply to records irrespective of the media in which they were created and/or stored. The requirements are intended to define the processes and requirements for identifying and managing records in digital records management systems; define the records management functionality to be included in a design specification when building, upgrading or purchasing digital records management systems software etcetera. It should be noted that the national archives act of Zimbabwe excludes specifications on the design of websites and other online sources.
The National Archives Act again is unclear on the qualifications of the Director of the National Archives of Zimbabwe. We so happen to find out that the Director in not an information management practitioner but a historian who may not be in a position to advise or lead in the crafting of sound electronic records management policies. The National Archives Act of Zimbabwe should have given guidelines on how electronic records should be managed from agency level right up to the National Archives.
The standard Archives law should state how electronic files should be managed be managed. File naming is important part of any records management program. Thus the archives law of Zimbabwe should have emphasised on the capturing of electronic records metadata be captured and preserved with the records. The purpose of metadata as summarized by IRMT (1999:22-23 ) includes identifying records, authenticating records, administering terms and conditions of access and disposal, tracking and documenting uses of records, enabling access/location, retrieval and delivery for authorised use; and capturing in a fixed way the structural and contextual information needed to preserve the record’s meaning. Metadata can be defined as a set of data elements used to describe, represent, and manage information objects over time. It is unfortunate the National Archives Act is silent on the capturing of the records metadata.
The National Archives Act of Zimbabwe do not have electronic records readiness.Mnjama and Wamukaya as quoted in Ngulube (2012:89) says “ Given that African governments have largely operated in paper –based environments for very long time, the change process from paper to electronic systems is bound to be more complex than is often realised.” This clear in case of Zimbabwe by the way the National Archives Act was written, it does get into details on how electronic records must be managed. The act falls far short of giving any guidelines on how government websites should be managed or give any starndard guidelines on the building and maintenance of government websites.
National Archives Act of Zimbabwe should have included in its clauses that file naming policies of organisations should be straight forward and simple, scalable, unique; file names should be comprehensible and should make sense to users, not just the persons who created the file. There must be policies to determine how to manage different reasons of the record. Some of the organisation includes a version number in the file name.
The National Archives Act should have spelt out how emails should be managed in creating agencies up to the National Archives itself. E-mail messages both sent and received, that provide evidence of a government transaction are considered public records. Agency and local Record Officers must ensure that email is organised for convenient retrieval, maintained, and disposed of in accordance with an approved record retention and disposition schedule, and accessible as technology is upgraded or changed.
The effort to develop and implement an e-mail management policy is the responsibility of the National Archives together with each agency or locality and involves a cooperative effort between records management staff, administration, legal counsel, and information technology departments. While IT is necessarily involved in many aspects of records management, such as server maintenance and destruction of backup tapes, creation and dissemination of e-mail management policy is the responsibility of the Records officer. The National Archives Act should have made room for e-mail management policy which spell out how e-mail is stored, archived and disposed.
The National Archives Act should have also direct web content Management. Government web sites contain records that document public transactions just like paper records and, as a result, a web site must be retained like any other record because of the volatile nature of web sites, however, web record retention has remained a challenge for Archives and Record Managers across the country. Static sits are uncommon, especially in government, where policies, procedures, and public notifications posted on web pages changes frequently.
The National Archives Act Zimbabwe must have specified how database are to be managed. Databases must incorporate at least the following features if they are to be properly managed. First databases must enable the user to take and store file off-line. Second, databases must be able to identify records that have reached the end of their retention period. Lastly, databases should have ability to allow users to attract records from the database for the purpose of disposal.
The National Archives Act should also have included on its clauses how electronic records should be preserved; the electronic records plans must consider the probability of hardware and software obsolescence and guarantee long tern access to records. Proprietary software will eventually become obsolete as companies upgrade or stop producing the product altogether.
There are several approaches to electronic records preservation. This includes emulation; emulator programmes simulate the behaviour, look, and feel other programs, thus preserving the functionality of the records in their original format without the necessity of saving the original equipment and software. Other methods include encapsulation, migration, and conversion.
The last issue in the management of electronics is their storage. The National Archives Act should have set out environmental conditions for the storage of electronic records such as floppy disks, compact disks, DVDs; USBs should be specified in the National Archives Act.
This paper had attempted to discuss how the National Archives Act can help in the management of electronic records. It had discussed the management of emails, databases, web content, electronic files, electronic storage media and preservation of electric records.It is the view of the author that the National Archives Act falls far short from being an ideal act in the management of electronic records. The author concludes that the National Archives Act of Zimbabwe needs a complete overhaul in order for it to address electronic records management requirements.
Roper & Miller, (1999), Management of Electronic Records, IRMT, UN
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Ngulube P,2012, National Archives 75 @ 30, 75 years of Archives Excellence at the National Archives of Zimbabwe, Harare, National Archives of Zimbabwe
Mutero E,2011, “The Responsibilities of the National Archives in the Management of Electronic Records.” Online, found on
http://archivesessays.blogspot.com/2011/08/responsibilities-of-national-archives.html accessed on 18/03/2015
Mutero E, 2011, The Flaws of the National Archives Act. Online found on http://ramsoz.blogspot.com/2011/05/flaws-of-zimbabwe-national-archives-act.html accessed on 18/03/15
Etiwel Mutero holds a Bachelor of Science Honours Degree in Records and Archives Management through the Zimbabwe Open University and a National Certificate in Records and Archives Management from Kwekwe Polytechnic.You can contact him on 00264817871070 or firstname.lastname@example.org