A Dedicated Workgroup Takes on the Challenge of Archival E-Records Identification, Description, and Preservation at the State Archives of Florida

Jan 14, 2019


The State Archives of Florida has almost 50,000 cubic feet of state and local government records, historical manuscripts and still and moving images. While processing procedures were developed primarily for traditional formats such as paper, the Archives has received records in electronic, analog and magnetic media (collectively referred to as e-records) since opening in 1969. Unfortunately, until the early 2010s, the descriptions of these records included little information about format, type, extent, condition or preservation concerns.

Realizing the critical need to identify, describe and preserve archival e-records, Archives staff established an Electronic Records Workgroup in 2017 to identify and begin implementing e-records best practices. The workgroup began by reviewing language for an archival e-records policy, identifying file formats appropriate for transfer of e-records to the Archives and initiating an e-records survey of the Archives’ collections. The workgroup consisted of State Archivist Beth Golding, Director of Collections Services Tyeler McLean, Florida Memory Coordinator Mark Nicolou, Audio Archivist Ross Brand, Collections Management Archivist Bethanie Telesz and Outreach Coordinator Elizabeth Loeffelman. The group discussed logistics and decided to develop a survey tool to help identify series and collections (collectively referred to as series) likely to contain e-records. The workgroup eventually tasked an Electronic Records Survey team to develop and conduct a collections inventory to identify information about our e-records holdings.

Development of the Survey Tool

The group developed a survey tool designed to include information necessary to identify and assess our e-records holdings, considering what information to include, how staff would use the survey and how to format the survey. The first iteration of the survey included record group, series, level of use, category, format, container, location, dates of media, age of media, file size and preservation assessment fields. The record group, series, container and location categories were used to identify the materials being surveyed. This information, along with the file size field, can be determined from the Archives catalog or from examining the records. The team included the file size field since it will impact future migration planning.

The team developed picklists for the level of use, category and format fields. The team looked at the usage information in the Archives catalog to determine the response in the level of use field. Based on this information, staff assigned a number from zero (not used at all) to three (heavily used). For category, the team allowed these options: electronic, audio recordings, audiovisual materials and other. The category field directly correlates with the format field, which includes the following selections:

Solid state diske drive DVD-R/RW 3.5" floppy
SD card Standard hard disk drive Digital audio tape
USB flash drive Zip drive Digital video tape
CD VHS audiocassette tape Phonograph record
CD-R/RW Reel-to-reel Dictabelt
DVD 5.25" floppy Punch card

The survey key identifies which category and format selections go together. The category and format fields were later updated based on early testing of the survey tool (see below).


Collection Survey Key Used for Inputting Data

Along with category and format, the dates of media and age of media fields are used to conduct the preservation assessment. Unfortunately, if the specific item is not dated, the dates of media may be a very broad date range based on the years that the format was widely used or the date range of the series. Next, staff determined the level of risk of loss of content. The level of risk of loss of content field, which will be used to triage our e-records, uses information from the category, format and age fields along with a Level of Risk chart developed by the State Archives. Though the chart does not include all the media in the survey, it provides guidance to staff surveying the records.


Level of Risk Chart

To ensure that excessive resources are not used to preserve e-records when the information is readily available elsewhere, the survey team included an information available elsewhere field. Staff determine if the information is available within the series, for example written transcripts for audio recordings; in another series; or at another repository. Later, staff will complete the preservation assessment based on all the information in the survey.

Determining a "Plan of Attack"

With the completed survey tool in hand, the workgroup compiled a list of series likely to include e-records and assigned series to staff to search for e-records and to survey when e-records were found.

The workgroup identified likely series using three approaches: the inclusion of all series created by significant agencies; searching the Archives catalog’s genre/form field; and searching the catalog’s medium field. Due to the immense historical value of the legislative and governors’ records, all series from these creators were included in the list. The workgroup also searched the Archives catalog’s genre/form field for relevant terms found in a review of the catalog’s lexicon, including:

Audio cassettes Floppy disks Radio scripts
Audio recordings Hearings Scores
Audio tapes Interviews Sound recordings
Compact disks Motion pictures Video recordings
DVDs Oral histories Videocassettes
Electronic mail Phonograph recordings  

Finally, to ensure that all potential series were identified, the workgroup also identified appropriate terms to search in the catalog’s medium field, including:

Sound Disc Electronic
Audio Beta DAT
Video tape CD Electronic mail
Cassette DVD  
Disk Reel-to-reel  

These three approaches identified 649 series that potentially contain e-records, not including the legislative series which are described differently in the Archives catalog.


Spreadsheet of Series to Review

With the survey tool completed and the series identified, the workgroup faced their greatest challenge: conducting the survey. With Wi-Fi unavailable in the stacks, staff could not remotely access the survey spreadsheets. The workgroup decided to use Google Sheets, allowing staff to work on and save the spreadsheets without Wi-Fi and upload the information once connected. They created a Google account for the project and migrated the spreadsheets to Google.

The Electronic Records Survey team began conducting the collections inventory to identify information about our e-records holdings in December 2017. Bethanie and Tyeler tested the spreadsheet by surveying legislative and Florida Folklife series due to their enormous quantities of identified e-records. Archivists Chelsea Joslin, Cheryl Spicer and Monica Toth joined the team in May 2018, and Archivist Lydia Nabors joined in September 2018. Each member commits one to two hours a week to the project. Due to the historical significance and frequent usage of governors’ records by patrons, these were the first series assigned to staff after the initial test phase, in addition to the legislative and Florida Folklife series.


Archivist Lydia Nabors reviewing series for e-records.

After a few months of surveying, Mark, Bethanie and Tyeler reviewed the effectiveness of the survey tool, resulting in several changes. They updated the category picklist, removing audio recordings and audiovisual materials, which created redundancy and confusion since they are electronic if they are on CD or DVD. Additionally, they added magnetic to the category picklist. To increase survey usability, Mark, Bethanie and Tyeler also instructed staff to update the genre/form field in the Archives catalog for each series that contains electronic or magnetic media. By updating the field with “Electronic records (digital records)” or “Machine-readable artifacts,” staff can generate reports and track series with digital media.

From May to September 2018, staff surveyed over 1,000 cubic feet of records within 169 series in over 80 hours. The survey is going well, but we continue to monitor the progress and make changes as necessary.

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