Parsing the State of State Records Report: Digital Preservation Programs

Mar 06, 2020

Parsing the State of State Records Report: Digital Preservation Programs

by Veronica Martzahl
Since 2011, the Council of State Archivists has been focused on digital preservation through its State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) programming. The results of the FY2018 survey highlight that progress has been made, but there is still more work to do.
Of the 56 respondents, 25 reported having a digital preservation repository or system in place with an additional five reporting that they are utilizing electronic records management systems and content management systems for some preservation activities. Of the remaining 26 programs, eight are actively exploring repository options, testing systems, or developing Requests for Information/Proposals. Despite this generally positive news, that did leave nine respondents who indicated that they are not actively engaged in digital preservation. How to best support this 16% of respondents (and others who didn’t respond but are in the same situation) continues to be a major focus of SERI activities, discussions, and planning. Unfortunately, some factors that keep states and territories from taking on digital preservation are beyond the power of CoSA to impact. All the training, mentoring and webinars in the world can’t fix gaps in funding and institutional infrastructure. Perhaps in those cases, our best course of action as professionals is to advocate broadly for the importance of digital preservation and to highlight real world examples that illustrate the perils of ignoring appropriate digital management and preservation.
An area of digital preservation programs that fascinates me is staffing. When I was in library school, instruction in digital preservation was just beginning. But even as the field of digital preservation was developing, the thought was that ultimately digital preservation would be just another skill set that all archivists would have. There wouldn’t be a distinction between “traditional” and digital archivists anymore. This has proved to be a much more complicated goal to achieve that I hoped it would be 15 years ago. Looking at a comparison of staffing numbers for digital preservation in FY2016 vs FY2018 we can see how each gain forward is counter-balanced by a step backwards. At the top of the range, the number of respondents that indicated that more than 75% of their staff have some responsibility for electronic records decreased from 14.5% to 7.7%.  The 50%-74% bracket showed a small increase and the 25%-49% bracket rose the most, going from 18.8% to 25% of respondents. However, at the lower end, the percentage of respondents who indicated that less than 10% of their staff now have some electronic record responsibilities went from 27.1% to 30.8%, while 10%-24% dropped from 31.3% to 25%.
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