Danielle Emerling, Adriane Hanson, Laura Litwer 2015-01-26 13:58:20
Between February and April 2014, the Survey Working Group of the Congressional Papers Roundtable’s (CPR) Electronic Records Committee conducted a survey to better understand the kinds of policies, strategies, and tools that repositories holding congressional collections are using to manage their digital records. Other goals were to bring together resources for other archives to use as they start to build their own digital archives programs and to compare progress made since CPR conducted a similar survey in 2009. The survey was sent to CPR and the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress email lists; 19 responses were received out of an estimated 250 potential respondents. While this is not a huge response, the answers given do provide useful insights about what respondents are doing or plan to do to manage digital records. We’ve identified some of the key findings in each of the areas the survey addressed. A report of the results for each survey question is available on the CPR website (http://www2.archivists.org/groups /congressional-papers-roundtable). About the Respondents Although our survey focused on congressional collections, the demographics of our respondents suggest the results are applicable to a broader archival audience. Most respondents are state-funded university or college archives with a digital component for 10 to 50 percent of their holdings. The records themselves include a wide range of formats, from simple (e.g., text and photographs) to complex (e.g., databases or websites). Policies for Digital Assets Most respondents report having some policies in place to govern their digital records. The most common policies are donor agreements and access policies, with fewer institutions having other policies, such as processing, collection development, or disaster planning. Based on these responses, many archives are making some progress toward developing digital archives policies for bringing materials into the archives and for research use, but there is still a need to invest more time on short- and long-term digital records management. Donation and Accession In this section of the survey, we looked at the strategies and tools institutions use when talking to donors about digital records, receiving files, and working with files once they are received. There are many similarities among the respondents in each of these areas, as well as room for wider adoption of best practices. Most institutions are discussing formats and other technical issues with their donors before accepting digital records. However, few institutions are asking for information about the donated content, indicating that they are not obtaining all the contextual information necessary to fully understand the records. Additionally, few institutions reported setting expectations with the donor about what archives can do with digital records. Given that long-term preservation of digital materials is a developing field, the profession will benefit if more donors have reasonable expectations about how their files will be managed. Almost all respondents transfer files to the archives on removable media (e.g., Cds or flash drives) or external hard drives; however, the use of disks has decreased since 2009. Upon receipt of the files, they take basic steps to secure the data, such as copying it from the unstable transfer media and conducting virus scans. Five institutions are making disk images. These are sound basic practices, but only a few institutions make use of clean work stations and write blocking technology. This suggests that we need a deeper understanding of the technical implications of our accessioning practices to ensure we do not inadvertently alter files. Processing and Preservation The processing and preservation section asked institutions how they perform appraisal, arrangement, description, and long-term preservation. While most responding institutions appraise digital materials similarly, additional steps taken to process digital materials vary greatly, suggesting that we should work to promote adoption of best practices to guide these steps. More than half of the respondents currently appraise and deaccession materials, which is a significant increase since 2009. The materials being deaccessioned include duplicate files, empty folders, files outside the collection scope, and files with sensitive personal information. Respondents are appraising files using summaries, such as lists of files, and some are reviewing all files. We received a broad range of answers about additional steps being taken to process digital files, including migrating file formats, arranging digital materials, and adding description. Preservation questions focused on the media institutions use to store digital records, how they plan to monitor fixity, and how they deal with obsolete hardware and software. More than half of responding institutions answered that they store digital records in more than one place, the most common locations being the original media, institutional servers, and external hard drives. Only three respondents have preservation plans, which include monitoring fixity, using digital repositories, and generating checksums, and a few more are migrating data from obsolete hardware and software. The responses to the preservation questions indicate that this is an area we need to improve significantly. Constituent Services Systems A major challenge for congressional papers archivists is accessing and managing the proprietary data contained within Constituent Services Systems (CSS), also called Constituent Management Systems (CMS), which are content management products used in congressional offices. These products traditionally manage incoming mail, but increasingly offices are using them to store more types of records. This section asked from which vendors repositories have received data, the types of data received, and the types of data and services repositories would like to receive from congressional offices and CSS vendors. Not all institutions with congressional papers have received CSS data, as reflected in respondent participation. A little more than half of respondents answered CSS-related questions, and most of these institutions are unsure of the vendor that provided CSS records. Of the respondents who have received CSS records and have been able to open them, most found that correspondence is included, and some also received constituent files and attachments in their native forms. Institutions responded that they would like to receive information about how the data in CSS systems are structured and full metadata related to storage and access. The responses to this section indicate that archivists need to work more closely with donors and their database vendors to obtain data in a more usable format. This section asked respondents about their access strategies and tools. Respondents were asked to select from a list the types of digital records most used by their researchers. The most commonly selected responses to this question were “Digitized materials” and “Do not know.” That a significant percentage of respondents do not know what kinds of digital records are most used by researchers suggests that collection of digital materials usage statistics is an area in which congressional papers repositories might improve. Nearly identical questions asking how researchers access digital records were included in both the 2009 and 2014 surveys. The percentage of respondents providing access almost doubled from 2009 to 2014. In 2009, respondents indicated significant use of optical media, particularly Cds, to provide onsite access. In 2014, no respondents indicated that they used optical media to provide access. Instead, almost all respondents whose collections were accessible to researchers rely on “onsite access to repository server or hard drive,” and two said they either have or will have a virtual reading room, which suggests that archives are working to keep up with technological changes that may facilitate access. Final Thoughts and Next Steps Taken as a whole, our results suggest that the congressional papers community is making progress toward pursuing the policies, strategies, and tools necessary for digital archives programs. At the same time, they indicate that there are several areas where archives can improve; for example, by working toward the more widespread adoption of best practices for accessioning, arrangement, description, and preservation. Additionally, archives would benefit from developing closer working relationships with donors and vendors, as well as collecting better use statistics. To promote these improvements, we have recommended that roundtable members engage in more communication regarding digital records. Some progress has been made already, as a few survey respondents shared digital records workflows, policies, and case studies on the CPR website. These findings were presented at the CPR meeting held on August 13, 2014, in Washington, D.C. At that time, the Survey Working Group received valuable feedback from roundtable members and plans to conduct another survey in spring 2015.
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This page can be found at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Where+We+Are+And+Where+We+Need+To+Go%3A+Surveying+the+Digital+Archiving+Practices+of+the+Congressional+Papers+Roundtable/1914220/243618/article.html.