Agencies to organize digital records

Archiving officials have told federal agencies to start getting their electronic records in order.

By 2007, the agency responsible for preserving federal records anticipates having an operational archive for digital materials, said Adrienne Reagins, a communications specialist with the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archives (ERA) program. Reagins spoke this week at George Washington University during the Electronic Records Management conference, sponsored by the Digital Government Institute LLC and Sprehe Information Management Associates Inc.

ERA exists to develop an archival system for preserving access to digital records, regardless of the format in which they were created. Officials don't expect the system to be fully developed until 2011, Reagins said. The finished system is expected to include features such as online access to an archivist, perhaps using live-chat technology.

Much of the time between now and 2007 will be spent getting NARA staff members ready for their new roles as digital archivists, Reagins said. Records managers must learn, for example, how to communicate effectively with information technology personnel in charge of the systems that officials use to create digital records. "We need to start coming together and speaking the same language," Reagins said.

NARA has created an ERA position, a change management officer, to address employees' fears and potential resistance and the need for training, Reagins said.

Officials hope to have an archival system accessible from researchers' home computers. Ideally, researchers using the system would be able to access nearly all of the services that they could have at hand if they were doing research in a physical library, Reagins said. "How challenging that's going to be, or when that's going to come" can't be answered yet, she added.

Reagins said NARA officials are reviewing proposals from vendors who have submitted bids for work on the design phase of the program. The agency is interested in building an electronic records archives with commercially available technology, she said, so that it could have many uses outside of NARA.

In NARA's budget for this fiscal year, $35.9 million is earmarked for the electronic records archives program. Officials believe ERA ultimately could cost several hundred million dollars to produce the full system by 2011. "I think it's well worth all the dollars that will be spent," Reagins said.

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