NARA issues guidance on storing mixed media records

Mixed media more complex and require extra steps for storage

Federal records managers are taking several steps to manage storage of files with a mix of electronic, paper and other media, according to new guidance from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

For example, electronic documents in some cases are printed out, paper documents scanned, or paper and electronic documents separated, as part of the management of the mixed media files, United States Archivist David Ferriero wrote in the NARA Bulletin 2011-04 released on July 18.

Under the Federal Records Act, agencies are required to manage official federal records until the records can be permanently turned over to NARA. In mixed media files, the records may stored on different forms of media, including paper, photographs, compact discs, DVDs, analog tapes, flash drives, local hard drives and servers.

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The mixed-media files are complex to handle, and agencies are managing them in several different ways that require additional responsibilities, Ferriero wrote.

“Mixed-media files have inherent records management risks,” the bulletin said.

For example, although workers who currently manage an active file generally know how it is organized, that is not always the case after the file is inactivated. “Employees may lose track of the file components and, over time, parts of the file may be lost and/or electronic media may become unreadable,” NARA said.

Other problems with mixed-media files include lack of metadata to link the different types of media within a file; improper storage leading to record degradation; inability to reconstruct the original file; lack of a comprehensive inventory of materials in the file; and poor handling of electronic media, the guidance said.

Federal records managers are using primarily three methods of organizing mixed-media files, NARA said. The three methods are:

  • Printing e-records for storage: Some agencies have a policy of printing out all electronic records to include them in a file with paper documents. However, in practice, some records are not printed or are no longer able to print.
  • Scanning paper records for storage: If a file was created electronically, any paper records received are scanned and included in the electronic file.
  • Separating electronic and paper records: In the third method, an agency separates electronic media from paper records when a file is closed. The paper records go to a storage facility and the e-records are retained by the agency until they can be transferred to NARA.

In the bulletin, NARA also recommended several strategies for improving management of mixed-media files, including trying to reduce creating such files in the first place.

For example, it said agencies should develop metadata and cross-references that link all media in the file, and should specify naming conventions that identify the various media in the file.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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