Competency H

Be conversant with current information technologies and best practices relating to records preservation and security.

Interpretation

In the archival and records information management role, it becomes necessary to preserve an object, digital or physical, sometimes for a designated period of time and sometimes for permanency. In fact, proper preservation is required to guarantee the authenticity of a record. For a business organization, if a record is not in its original state its admissibility is compromised and it loses its value. This puts the organization at risk for litigation and can lead to fines, sometimes harmful enough to put them out of business. Equally important are records that pose a significant cultural value. Loss of historical records can cause an important event to fade from memory, can allow mistruths to be spoken, or can cause entire cultures to be forgotten.

Digital objects pose a unique challenge for archivists and records information managers. Unlike their tangible physical object counter parts, digital objects can be difficult to describe as they have many components beyond what might be seen on a computer screen. We see a digital object such as a Word doc as readable text, but the computer is reading code and translating code and then projecting it into a format that we can understand. They also face different challenges in preservation than a physical object. For example, a piece of paper, so long as it is stored in an environment that decreases its breakdown and is written in a language that is understood, can always be read. Unfortunately, for digital objects, technology changes at such a rapid pace that many digital formats that have been created are already obsolete – some to the point that their information may never be accessed again. This places digital records at great risk.

A few methods have been developed to ensure the proper preservation of digital objects. These methods, in order to be successful, must be able to reproduce a digital object. There are three main methods of digital preservation that are used by the RIM professional and archivist; migration, normalization, and emulation. Migration is the moving of a digital object to another format to ensure its future accessibility without compromising the authenticity. This method commonly used to preserve Word documents by moving them to a PDF/A format. Normalization is the transferring from a proprietary format to an open-source one. This ensures that the digital object will still be accessible if the proprietary company goes out of business or discontinues support. Emulation is the reconstruction of an older digital environment in order to use objects that are no longer supported with current technologies. This is often used in the video game industry to bring games from obsolete systems back to life.

One of the greatest challenges in the security of an object, digital or physical, is the balance of security and accessibility. As a records and information manager or archivist, it is our duty to provide access to records; however, increased accessibility can compromise security and compromised security can lead to information and user privacy violations. The only way to fully ensure security is to completely eliminate access. For a physical object the ultimate location would be a disaster-proof vault of which no one has the key. The physical object is safe from destruction and tampering. The same goes for a digital object – the most secure environment would be one of no access. No access equals ultimate security. Unfortunately, these options do not allow the object to fulfill its purpose as a record and does not allow the records manager or archivist to achieve their full potential in making records and information available.

On the other extreme, no security and unlimited accessibility for a digital object would mean unfettered, high-speed, high-performance access uninhibited by passwords and firewalls. For a physical object, unlimited accessibility would mean all-access, all the time, no locks or protocols. The information, digital or physical is allowed to flow freely. Security protocols can slow access to an object thereby affecting the accessibility, so eliminating it altogether and we can achieve limitless accessibility. Again, this is not possible as limitless access, lack of locks, protocols, and policies would make security impossible and the loss of data and information would be uncontrollable. Both scenarios, ultimate security and limitless access, are not possible. This is the challenge of a records and information manager or archivist – finding the balance between access and security.

Evidence

LIBR 259 Digital Object Conundrum – Amanda Stowell

As stated previously, digital objects pose unique challenges for RIM and archivists. This work submitted further demonstrates my knowledge of this fact and highlights some of the risks involved in preservation techniques.

LIBR 259 Emulation Preservation – Amanda Stowell

While there are a few industry-accepted ways handle the preservation of a digital object, this work submitted focuses on the emulation method. Emulation is particularly helpful for a digital object that must be used or viewed in its original environment in order to be fully experienced. This solution also negates the loss of data that can occur when using migration as a digital preservation method.

LIBR 259 Focus on Authenticity – Amanda Stowell

This work submitted, while it touches on the preservation of physical objects, focuses again on the preservation of digital objects. In our ever increasing digital society, increasingly these objects and their preservation are becoming the topic of conversation. This particular work details the complication of preservation and the maintaining of authenticity, which is paramount in protecting the integrity of the digital object or record. A digital record that cannot be verified as authentic might not be allowed as evidence in a court of law, can pose a significant risk to an organization, or can fail to fulfil its role as a cultural significant entity.

MARA 284 Analytical Essay 1 – Amanda Stowell

Records of all forms are susceptible to security risks and privacy breeches. It is the responsibility of the RIM professional or archivist to mitigate these risks by keeping the information safe while still providing access. This work submitted shows my understanding of the security and privacy risks involved in recordkeeping and offer solutions to minimize these risks. Additionally, the topic of Bring-Your-Own-Device policies is highlighted as the prevalence of employee owned and used electronic devices significantly increase the risk of information loss and theft.

Conclusion

I have been able to apply my MARA knowledge relating to record preservation in my current position as a museum archives assistant. I deal with objects, physical and digital, on a weekly basis, and I understand that it is my duty to protect the integrity of the objects and guarantee their long-term availability. This is performed through careful handling, cataloging, and preserving. For example, at times I have received donor scrapbooks that were quite fragile and required careful handling. I wear gloves to carefully turn pages, remove photos, and unfold creased papers. I carefully describe the original contents and add metadata to the content management fields. If necessary, the photos and pages are digitally scanned for increased accessibility. After the scrapbook has been cataloged, I carefully wrap it in acid-free paper, label it, and then place it in its permanent storage location – an archival quality box – in our temperature, humidity, and public access controlled archive room. The content is then uploaded to our public interface where it can be enjoyed or used for research without the risk of damage to the original object.

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