Do you create documents on your computer? Your tablet? Do you write texts and posts on your cell phone? Then you are creating electronic records. Think of all the files you create in a week or a year. Then, imagine how many such documents are created by Wyoming state employees in the same amount of time… Where are they all kept? How do we know that we will be able to read and have access to them in the future? These are the knotty problems that your State Archives staff wrestle with every day.
We are participating in Electronic Records Day 10.10.16 this year by telling you about how we are solving those problems via the Wyoming Digital Archives, our system for preserving digital files created in the conduct of state business.
Why do electronic records need special attention?
Consider this tongue in cheek answer from the Council of State Archivists, “Managing electronic records is like caring for a perpetual toddler: they need regular attention and care…”
On a more serious note, they add,
With the increasing reliance on information technology, the challenge to manage, preserve, and provide access to digital records and information continues to grow. Action must to taken to ensure future access to electronic records.
Paper records stored in good conditions can be read centuries afterwards. Typical electronic file formats have a life span measured in decades at best.
Rapidly changing software and hardware environments can leave electronic records virtually inaccessible after just a few years if not monitored.
Electronic records require proactive management. The best time to plan for electronic records preservation is at the time records are created, rather than when software is being replaced or a project is ending.
State Archivist, Mike Strom, says he is most happy that the Wyoming Digital Archives shows how the state of Wyoming is involved in e-records in a substantial way. He says it is good to work with agencies to manage records so that they’re kept the right amount of time, according to our records retention schedules.
The State Archives is already working with fourteen state agencies that are entering their records into the Digital Archives – which contains over 300,000 individual records so far.
Strom’s goals for the future include seeing that all state agencies are engaged in some way with this project. A broader goal is ensuring the long-term preservation and accessibility of all of the state’s records regardless of their format.
Can the public see these records, too? Yes, the Digital Archives has a public access feature so that records which you might be able to see by contacting a state agency (like incorporation or other state reports) will be accessible through a portal on the State Archives’ web page or by a link to that portal from the state agency’s website.
The State Archives operates a Records Center which has rows and rows of boxes, shelved fourteen levels high and served by staff with forklifts. The Wyoming Digital Archives will soon house the same amount of records, but we won’t need a forklift to find the right box or file. We will use online searching to find the information that agencies need to conduct their business – and that you, the public, need to find a court file or school transcript, write a research paper, or dig into your family history.
Still wondering what to do with your own personal digital files? Here are some great tips from COSA. We also hope you join the staff of the State Archives this Thursday, October 13th as we present recommendations on how best to store and preserve all types of family records, including electronic records.