applications from the start, but IT professionals aren't used to thinking that way, said Miszewski. "They're trying to accomplish business goals, and sometimes it's secondary that they're considering records retention issues. Changing that culture is extremely difficult, especially in a time of budget constraints." But when they understand that efficient records management helps cut storage and retrieval costs, IT managers will rally to the cause, he said.

NARA's Initiatives

All levels of governments are starting to implement policies and launch new initiatives to meet the challenges of digital records management. At NARA, the ERA program is working to acquire a system to enable the National Archives and the presidential libraries to preserve and retrieve any kind of electronic record, Thibodeau said.

As part of the ERA program, NARA is developing new standards and mechanisms to govern the way federal agencies manage electronic records, some of which eventually will pass to the National Archives, Thibodeau said. This will ensure that NARA can obtain all the necessary records in formats that allow them to endure through the years and maintain their authenticity.

The move to electronic records requires a fundamental shift in governing records management, Thibodeau said. Traditionally records managers tried to apply standards from the paper world to electronic records. They categorized them in the same hierarchical fashion and stored them in the digital equivalent of filing cabinets, separate from the information systems in which they are created and used.

This is not necessarily the best approach, according to Thibodeau. NARA is looking at alternative ways to integrate records management functions right into business applications. "We're looking at [defining] records management services that are nuggets of software that can be implemented in the computer systems and do things like point to what's in this database that's actually a record," he said. "And maybe map it across several tables, and allow you to control that. Or maybe another service that allows you to destroy a record when it's time -- just say, 'Go into my system and destroy all the records eligible under this authority.'"

NARA is also exploring suitable data formats for records preservation. Since the most effective format for preservation often isn't the format that meets agencies' daily business needs, archivists must carefully impose standards, Thibodeau said. The solution might be to specify a "transfer format" to which agencies could convert records when it came time to move them to an archive for long-term preservation, he said.

Extensible markup language (XML) is probably the best known format in this category, and it's one archivists often mention as a standard for records preservation. "Even if all the software today were to disappear, you have to assume a computer in the future could read XML tags and XML schema the same way computers today can read plain ASCII," Thibodeau said.

Persistent Archives

Minnesota is working with Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, California, Kansas, several university archives and the San Diego Supercomputer Center to tackle the problem of storing huge records such as Mn/DOT's map files. Funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Persistent Archives Testbed (PAT) is testing the use of data grid technology to store very large electronic archives. Grid technology uses the Internet and an application called the Storage Resource Broker to distribute archival responsibility over a network, Horton said. In its pilot project, Minnesota's state archive at the Minnesota Historical Society gathers the information, describes it by attaching standardized metadata, and then using grid technology, stores it in San Diego, where the available storage capacity far surpasses what Minnesota has. With records stored this way, Minnesota won't need to worry about accessing data from DVDs or other unwieldy offline storage media, or periodically moving stored data to newer media.

In Wisconsin, an administrative rule

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer