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1 Introduction With the rapid increase in federal records originating in digital form (including word processing documents, e-mail messages, images, and database records), it is very clear that solutions must be found for preserving these records in order for NARA to fulfill its mandate. In fact, as NARA itself recognizes, its strategic future depends on the development of a suitable archive for electronic records. In the not-too-distant future, the total number of born-digital records—and the number of those that are permanently valuable—may well exceed the number that originate in paper form. The flow of digital records into NARA will be enormous. Compounding the challenge, the backlog of existing digital records when NARA systems for archiving them become operational will be large. NARA launched the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) initiative in the late 1990s, envisioning that it would “authentically preserve and provide access to any kind of electronic record.”1 NARA’s new ERA Program Office plans to commence the initial procurement for the ERA in 2003. As of this writing, NARA has hired a contractor to assist with the ERA program and has started a process of defining desired capabilities and requirements for the system, including the development of a vision statement and concept of operations for the ERA. Further background on NARA and the ERA program can be found in Appendixes A and B. ERA’s broad objectives for archiving digital records build on NARA’s extensive experience in archiving paper records. But digital records present new problems—and opportunities—with very little operational experience for guidance. In some ways, digital records improve on paper—they can, for example, be easily searched and delivered electronically and it is cheap to keep more than one copy in case one is destroyed. But digital records are 1 Electronic Records Program Office, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA ERA PMO). 2002. Electronic Records Archives Vision Statement. NARA ERA PMO, Washington, D.C. April 18.
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vulnerable to new forms of loss, such as tampering, storage failures, obsolescence of data types, and failure to archive all the data required to reconstitute a record. Finally, researchers—especially in the future—will use electronic records quite differently from paper records. The design and operation of the ERA must anticipate the differences between paper and electronic records but also be prepared to change as the requirements of an electronic records archive become clearer. NARA’s current systems for electronic records archiving are limited in capability and ad hoc in nature. NARA does have some useful foundations to build on. The Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model2 offers a good conceptual design, including a very-high-level modularity. But design and implementation must go well beyond the generalities of an OAIS model. NARA has also gained some experience in the application of digital archiving tools through its work with the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). NARA-sponsored work at SDSC resulted in the development of a system and set of tools that were used to conduct a series of archiving demonstrations.3 Some useful lessons can be drawn from this work (see Chapter 3). The primary design challenges facing NARA relate not to the development of fundamental technologies but to addressing a number of engineering issues surrounding the building of these systems (Chapters 4 and 5) and an evolvable system architecture and strategy for managing the ongoing evolution of the ERA (Chapter 7). Other challenges relate to the IT expertise required for the ERA’s design and operation and cultural changes associated with the growing importance of digital records in both NARA and federal agencies (see Chapter 6). The committee strongly endorses the concept of an ERA. Such a system can and should be designed and implemented. Building such a system is critical to NARA’s mission, and NARA should move forward as quickly as possible to start developing these capabilities. But, as the committee shows in the chapters that follow, many areas will need attention if the program is to be successful. 2 Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS). 2002. Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS). CCSDS 650.0-B-1 (Blue Book). CCSDS Secretariat, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, D.C. January. Available online at <http://wwwclassic.ccsds.org/documents/pdf/CCSDS-650.0-B-1.pdf>. 3 A detailed description of this work is provided in Reagan Moore, 2001, Final Report for the Research Project on Application of Distributed Object Computation Testbed Technologies to Archival Preservation and Access Requirements, San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) Technical Report TR-2001-8, SDSC, San Diego, Calif., available online at <http://www.sdsc.edu/TR/TR-2001-08.doc.pdf>. A number of additional technical reports on this work are available at the project Web site <http://www.sdsc.edu/NARA/Publications.html>. Briefer descriptions can be found in Reagan Moore et al., 2000, “Collection-Based Persistent Digital Archives - Part 1,” D-Lib Magazine 6(2), March, available online at <http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march00/moore/03moore-pt1.html> and Reagan Moore et al., 2000, “Collection-Based Persistent Digital Archives - Part 2,” D-Lib Magazine 6(4), April, available online at <http://www.dlib.org/dlib/april00/moore/04moore-pt2.html>.
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