Records must be preserved to ensure they remain usable and clear and reliable for the entire time they need to be kept.
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Digital records depend upon software, hardware and media that change. Technological obsolescence and poor information management practices across the lifecycle of digital information place records at risk of losing their integrity and authenticity, or simply becoming lost or inaccessible.
Detailed metadata is critical for preserving digital records, documenting preservation activities and integrity checks.
If digital records are stored off-site, check what digital preservation activities the service provider does. Some storage facilities may only manage and monitor the hardware and media, not the data.
Find out more about storing digital records off-site.
Digital continuity strategy
To make sure digital records are preserved, you should have a digital continuity strategy or plan.
The digital continuity plan should include regularly refreshing the storage media. It is not enough to keep records in their original systems or in off-line digital storage media.
Also consider the:
- different file formats your agency uses
- lifespan and vulnerabilities of storage media
- risks to records from digital rights management and encryption, particularly for long-term or permanent value records.
Options to preserve digital records
Continuing to manage the records in the original system or printing them are last resorts.
Migration is one of the most commonly used approaches for preserving digital records and is a means of refreshing storage media.
Migrating records may be necessary if you are decommissioning or replacing a business system. You may also need to consider migration when reviewing business and recordkeeping applications.
There are risks involved in migrating records. Careful planning will help reduce risks and ensure that records are authentic and accessible in the new system. Find out more about migrating digital records
Emulation involves using current technologies to recreate an operating environment and software performance so that records can be kept in their original format.
This is only possible with specialised knowledge of aging technologies.
Actively manage the records in the original business system
This is an option if you have records that only need to be kept for a short time, or if migrating the records would affect their integrity, accessibility or usability.
There are a number of risks with this option, and you will need to conduct a thorough risk assessment. Consider:
- recordkeeping obligations
- retention periods
- other options
- whether records can be migrated successfully
- knowledge of the original system
- technological obsolescence
- lack of or reduced support for the system
- system maintenance
Using the original system is not recommended for records that need to be kept medium to long-term. If no other solutions are suitable, this may be an option until you find an alternative solution.
There are 2 options for actively managing the records in the original business system:
- Virtualise the business system
Maintain the business system as a virtual machine until the records can be legally disposed of. Virtualisation can allow you to run multiple systems on a single physical server.
- Retain the system on the original software and hardware platform
Use this option if the records cannot be migrated or exported immediately or easily, or the system cannot be virtualised.
Born-digital records should be kept digital. Printing records is not recommended unless all other options have been exhausted.
If you have to print the records, make sure that:
- all records and associated metadata are printed in a meaningful form
- you capture and manage the printed records in your agency’s recordkeeping system
You will need to maintain, refresh and update digital storage media every 5 to 7 years to ensure records remain accessible. Monitor this in a media refresh (migration) plan.
It is important that you carry out regular checks for deterioration. Media may need to be refreshed sooner if there are signs of deterioration.
Find out how to migrate digital records between business systems and understand the recordkeeping requirements.
The preservation approaches used for records will depend on their format and how long you need to keep them.
To preserve your agency’s physical records, you’ll need to:
- maintain their condition and integrity
- provide appropriate storage
- use appropriate materials
- prepare for and manage disasters
- digitise where appropriate
- manage pests
- avoid mould
- manage use and handling, including during transport, periods of inactivity, use and display.
While good storage conditions will help preserve your records and reduce damage from occurring, you will need to conserve damaged records.
If the document is still in use and handling may cause damage, consider making a digital copy that you can use instead. Sometimes simply repackaging a record or document can help to give it a more stable, protected environment and reduce further damage from occurring.
Depending on the record's significance and how long you must keep it, specialist conservation treatment may be needed.
Contact Queensland State Archives Preservation Services for more advice. Find a specialist conservator to undertake treatment of your records, or look at some remedies gone wrong from the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material.
The problem with sticky tape
If a document is torn and you think it should be mended, do not apply sticky tape or attempt other repairs.
Sticky tape shouldn’t be used to repair records, especially not long-term temporary or permanent value records.
Adhesive degrades and the tape itself may peel or fall off leaving the remnants of the adhesive behind. This can leave a yellow/brown stain when the old residue becomes, dry, brittle and powdery. In addition, the degraded adhesive fails to keep the original tear together.
Instead of using sticky tape, use a polypropylene sleeve to house the torn page. It will keep the document together and stop any further damage occurring.
Sometimes the residual adhesive remains tacky so to avoid causing further damage to the record, prevent the sticky areas on the originals from contacting other materials or records. You may have to house each affected page in a polypropylene sleeve.
If sticky tape has been used to repair a record, specialist conservation treatment may be needed to remove the adhesive residue and to repair the original tear(s).
Laminating vs encapsulating
Encapsulating is recommended over laminating records. Never laminate long-term temporary or permanent records.
Encapsulation involves enclosing a document into a protective polyester sleeve that can easily be removed in the future and doesn’t harm the record.
Find a supplier of archival products.
Laminating involves sealing a document between two pieces of plastic film, then using heat and/or pressure to adhere to the paper inside.
Lamination can afford some protection to short term temporary records, providing a physical support and barrier to moisture and contaminants.
It is not a long-term preservation option and is not appropriate for permanent records. The plastics and adhesives break down and deteriorate over time, becoming yellow, brittle and hard or even soft and tacky. It is almost impossible to remove the original document completely from an old laminate.
Audio tapes can come in the form of compact cassettes, micro and mini cassettes (as used in old dictaphones or answering machines), open reels and even as part of motion picture films.
Video tape types range from VHS or Beta through to U-matics and in open reels.
You need access to the corresponding equipment to play audio-visual media. Many machines are very specific being proprietary and have become obsolete, unmaintained and broken or simply unavailable anywhere.
Audio-visual media should be converted to a more suitable format before the equipment or technology required to read the information becomes obsolete.
QSA can help you identify audio visual formats and provide advice on how best to preserve them. Take photos of the media and send it to the Preservation Team.
Find more information on preserving audio-visual formats
If an optical disc becomes dusty, dirty or has fingerprints, it may be possible to clean it before it’s permanently damaged. Take great care.
- First, blow off debris with a compressed air duster. You can then wipe clean using a soft, lint-free cloth or a non-abrasive photographic lens cleaning cloth, or a very soft brush.
- Oily dirt deposits and finger marks on the data side of the disc can be removed using alcohol-based CD/DVD-cleaning fluid.
- Cleaning solutions should be applied sparingly to the disc surface and wiped off with a lint-free cloth.
- Always brush from the centre of the disc outwards to reduce the risk of scratches. A scratch across the track (from the centre) will do less damage than along them (circular motion).
- Guidelines and Functional Requirements for Records in Business Systems (1.87 MB), International Council on Archives
- Queensland Government digital continuity strategy
- Digital Preservation Handbook, Digital Preservation Coalition
- Preserving digital records: Guidelines for organizations (1.64 MB), InterPARES Preserving Guidelines
- Digital Preservation Toolkit, Canadian Heritage Information Network
- Preservation resources and archival suppliers