To date, federal agencies are required to submit only email permanent records exclusively in electronic format to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). However, by the end of this year, agencies should be managing all permanent records in electronic format – and that includes record types that extend far beyond just email. In fact, NARA expects federal agencies to manage as many as 11 different types of records, each of which come with unique considerations and dimensions that agencies must consider. Here are a few of the most notable.
Audiovisual records can include films, photographs, sound and video recordings, multimedia productions, and more. These types of records often involve dimensions that are different from analog records and more straight forward electronic documents like emails. For example, if the original record is an audio or VHS cassette, how does the agency transfer the recording into a digital format? Then, what digital format, encoding method (codec), and quality level should the agency use? It has many options. To help, NARA has established preferred formats and minimum quality guidelines for all of these types of records. Agencies can familiarize themselves with NARA’s requirements here. More information about managing audiovisual records specifically is available here.
Social media and electronic messages
In addition to email, federal agencies must also manage other forms of electronic communications, including social media content, SMS and text messages, and other message formats that may be created in specialized applications – including encrypted messages. Many of these types of messages can be transitory and easily (or even automatically) destroyed, altered, or removed before the appropriate retention period has elapsed. As a result, permanent record creation, scheduling, and disposition may need to happen in real-time rather than after-the-fact. Another issue is that preserving these records may be more complicated than just downloading the messages directly or capturing screenshots. Specialized solutions may be needed to capture not just the individual message but the complete conversation in which the message has occurred. Learn more here.
For many agencies, a majority of their records begin life as physical paper documents. For electronic submittal to NARA, these records must be digitized according to specific standards; but as described above, agencies must still choose between numerous archival options. For example, should the agency scan the text in grayscale or in color? Learn more here.
Structured data is stored in defined fields, as in databases and spreadsheets. Agencies might create and use this kind of data for statistical analysis, scientific research, and for logging activities. As such, structured data may be scheduled for permanent archival. In that case, the data must be well-defined and well-formed, and it can be confusing to determine what file formats are preferred and how to best submit them. Learn more here.
If agencies create websites or other online content for the purpose of providing information and services to citizens or others, those web content records must be preserved. This can be more challenging that it seems on the surface: often, web content includes dynamic content that itself must be preserved, and the content may include links to other online information that may need to be preserved along with the original web record. Learn more here.
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