NARA seeks user input

The National Archives and Records Administration plans to involve users in developing the solution for storing electronic records, officials said Nov. 8.

The challenge is coming up with a format for an electronic record, such as a word processing document, that can be maintained once the original technology is no longer available.

NARA officials believe part of the solution is to store information in basic templates, which provide a standardized way of describing the context and presentation of a record, said Dan Jansen, a project manager for the Electronic Records Archive (ERA) program.

Although NARA will establish the basic template, agency officials plan to ask different user communities to help refine the template for particular kinds of records, Jansen said at an ERA conference.

Industry has taken a similar approach with Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is a standard for tagging information so it can be easily transmitted between systems.

Over the past several years, various communities of interest have developed special XML schemas for particular uses, such as e-commerce transactions and legal information.

The templates are part of NARA's efforts to develop solutions to ensure that archivists, agency records management officers and the general public can have access to the billions of electronic records agencies being moved to archives now, even as more are being generated.

"Electronic government is exploding, and electronic record keeping is not keeping up," Reynolds Cahoon, assistant archivist for human resources and information services and chief information officer at NARA, said at the ERA user conference. "We need to find a way to free electronic records from the hardware and software that created them."

NARA does not plan to issue a solicitation for the ERA solution until fiscal 2004, and does not expect the final solution to be available until fiscal 2007.

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