An Overview of NARA's Newest Guidance on Digitizing Permanent Federal Records
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. We identify, protect, preserve, and make publicly available the historically valuable records of all three branches of the federal government.
NARA is also the nation’s records manager. That is to say, NARA’s Office of the Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government leads records management throughout the federal government and assesses the effectiveness of federal records management policies and programs. Part of that work is to issue guidance to federal agencies on a wide variety of records management topics. One of NARA’s newest guidance products to federal agencies is regulations with digitization standards for permanent records.
These digitization standards are a critical component of the overarching goal for the federal government to transition to a fully digital environment and a strategic goal for NARA to only accept transfers of digital records after June 30, 2024. These digitization standards provide requirements on several areas needed to create digitized images that will one day become a part of our nation’s archives. These areas should sound very familiar to AIIM members involved in digitization projects!
PREPARING FOR DIGITIZATION
Agencies must first establish intellectual and physical control of the source records (the records to be digitized). A records inventory should identify the records’ completeness, any gaps in coverage or missing records, the presence of mixed-media records, the records schedule, date range, access or use restrictions, and storage location. Agencies must also identify any relationships between the source records and ensure that the relationships are also retained in the digitized versions.
SCANNING AND IMAGING
When scanning documents, agencies should use appropriate hardware and software to ensure high-quality images. Technical attributes, such as resolution, color depth, and file formats, must meet the technical standards in the regulation and the specific needs of the records.
METADATA AND DOCUMENTATION
Accurate and comprehensive metadata is crucial for the successful management and retrieval of digitized records. Metadata should include information such as record titles, dates, descriptions, and unique identifiers. Documentation should cover records management activities, the digitization process, equipment used, file formats, quality control procedures, and any deviations from standards.
Establishing a robust quality control process is essential to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and integrity of digitized records. Quality control measures may include random sampling, visual inspections, error reporting, and ongoing monitoring. Agencies should implement quality control procedures at appropriate stages of the digitization process to identify and rectify any issues promptly.
STORAGE AND PRESERVATION
Digital preservation strategies should be in place to safeguard the long-term accessibility and integrity of digitized records until they are transferred to NARA. Proper storage infrastructure, backup systems, and regular data migration are crucial to mitigate the risks to digitized records. Consideration should be given to file formats, file-naming conventions, and adherence to preservation standards.
VALIDATION AND DISPOSITION
Validation is a key step in the digitization process. It allows agencies to affirm the quality and completeness of their digitization work, and to move to the disposition of the source records and the digital records they have created.
NARA continues to work on products to help agencies implement these digitization standards. We created a website with a variety of resources related to federal digitization, including a series of blog posts explaining the different parts of the digitization standards. These resources and the digitization standards are also available to the public. We hope that AIIM members will find them interesting and useful in the ongoing work of intelligent information management and digital transformation.
Photo by David Samuel, User:Hellodavey1902
About Lisa Haralampus
Lisa Haralampus is the Director of the Records Management Policy and Outreach program in the Office of the Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government at the National Archives and Records Administration, a role she’s held for the past 10 years. Ms. Haralampus is a seasoned professional with a distinguished career in federal records and information management. With a deep commitment to the effective management and preservation of federal records, Lisa leads a program of dedicated professionals in developing records management policies and guidance to federal agencies, including guidance related to electronic records standards, technology, and processes. Ms. Haralampus supports federal records management through engagement and advocacy related to the transition to digital government and compliance with records management requirements.
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