The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will no longer accept analog records from federal agencies after December 31, 2022. Indeed, NARA is doing its best to go all-in on electronic records retention. It’s strategic plan for 2018-2022 includes digitizing “billions of pages of records we hold in analog formats [and keeping] pace with the continuous stream of new records we receive each year.”
In the long run, this digitization offers ample benefits to justify the effort, including cost savings, improved productivity, and easier and more effective records management. Nevertheless, it leaves agencies that need to maintain analog documents facing a significant challenge.
For example, many agencies may find themselves subject to statutory requirements that they preserve analog records. GCN, an IT-focused government news site, reports that nearly half (46%) “of agencies indicated they were bound to observe legal requirements for hard-copy records for multiple reasons, including the need to have a physical copy for backup.”
How can agencies who still need to main such records successfully comply with all applicable requirements?
1. Agencies need to establish a strategy for dealing with both electronic and analog records.
Before anything else, agencies must carefully think through how they will identify, manage, and store records that must be preserved in analog format beyond 2022. Those records will likely still need, simultaneously, to be digitized into an electronic format that can be submitted to NARA as appropriate. These records stand in contrast to physical records whose analog copy can be destroyed after digitization. Agencies must be able to identify which records falls into which category and schedule them appropriately.
2. Agencies should apply the same basic best practices to analog records as they do to electronic.
Most of the same principles that govern good management of electronic records also apply to analog records. In other words, all records need to be well-organized, searchable, and easily accessible. Further, analog records are often stored off-site, which makes a good management system even more imperative to avoid the risk of losing the record permanently.
3. Agencies should use an integrated records management approach that can manage both types.
In other words, agencies should avoid records management approaches that silo analog records away from digital records. Handling each type of record separately just creates added work, complexity, bureaucracy, and delays. The only way to maintain total visibility into all records, whether electronic or physical, is to ensure that the records management approach integrates the two for a complete picture (as TransAccess does).
Fortunately, it’s entirely possible to find approaches and tools that can handle all three steps: an analog records management solution can work in tandem with a digitization/electronic records management system. Together, the system can act as a virtual library system that maintains an up-to-date catalog of hard-copy records and provides check-in/checkout functionality that can be used to generate user activity history for audit trails.
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