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ER Methods and Practices

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Methods, Practices and Tips for Electronic Recordkeeping

This wiki has been created to provide methods, practices and tips for electronic recordkeeping. Professionals and experts from the field are encouraged to add their own thoughts, whether by modifying current content or by adding their own.


Standards are a very important part of recordkeeping and it is vital that recordkeepers apply consistent use of appropriate, pre-defined standards. Effective recordkeeping can only be achieved through the use of standards that remain constant even in todays rapidly changing world.

An electronic record must include information on how the document is structured and used. Capturing and maintaining this is as important as the actual records.

The Australian Records Management Standard (AS 4390) and the Australian and International Standard for Records Management (AS ISO 15489) provide standards that should be used throughout society.

Naming Conventions

Applying a consistent naming scheme is good practice and will help to ensure records can be quickly retrieved in the future if needed. All personal and organisational records should be given understandable and meaningful file names which reflect the contents of the document and can be linked to any previous versions.

The University of Edinburgh provides information on this topic.

The Government of Alberta's policy is a good resource to read.


Metadata should support the business and operational needs of the organisation. Metadata should provide an adequate description of the record, provide the location of the record, retain contextual information about the record and enable future interpretation of the historical record. Records managers should define at least the minimum set of metadata that can be collected for each type of record. Elements that should be included are document title, author, date of creation, date of last edit, version number, subject information, description, document type and format.

The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative is developing interoperable online metadata standards.

The National Archives of Australia use the AGLS Metadata Element Set.

In relation to metadata, are descriptions of records from e.g. podcasts, blogs or twitters being implemented into current recordkeeping environments that you know of?

Twitter does not incorporate metadata as yet, although a recent article titled 'Can Twitter survive what is about to happen to it' by Nova Spivack talks about the need for filtering of Twitter. He argues there are two ways to implement metadata into Twitter, inside and outside, and there is a need to do this sooner rather than later as Twitter becomes more popular. Healthy discussion follows this article.

Email Management

Electronic records often come in the form of emails. Because emails are often sent back and forth between several parties, it can make them difficult to manage.

Do you know of any specific email best practise standards for recordkeepers? I know at my workplace there are in-house rules and regulations that govern emails relating to acceptable content, accountability and recordkeeping, but am unsure if there are defined external standards for them. Cheers, Dianne.

For organisations, only work related emails should be kept and all personal emails should be destroyed. General announcements, reminders, calendar items, meeting requests, invitations, acknowledgements, confirmations and routine correspondence emails can be deleted as soon as they are no longer needed. No other emails should be deleted until they are first appraised.

It is important to mark the email to show its nature, such as business related or specific to an account or workgroup. This should be done upon creation or delivery to help the receiver to manage their mailbox. This will also become useful when categorising and scheduling the messages in a recordkeeping system. Subject based folders using naming convention rules could be used for storage as these would allow for quick retrieval.

Encrypting emails may be required within particular organisations and is a good security practice. However, it is important to store records in a decrypted format for retrieval purposes. Emails must be stored in their original format. This is usually best in electronic form although printed form is acceptable in some cases.

Personal emails should be deleted, I half-heartedly agree with that. My question is, how does one distinguish between a personal email that should be kept and one that shouldn't? How can one distinguish between an email worth keeping between one that is irrelevant? My interpretation is that any email relating to a business activity should be kept - Di

Yes Di I agree with your sentiments also. However, I do not think there is a clear cut ruling on how to distinguish personal emails from business related emails. There are some guidelines, such as the Information Sheet on Email Records issued by the State Records Office of Western Australia. This states that if an email contains both personal and business related information, it must be considered a record and managed appropriately.

In my workplace the employer is trying to re-educate the employees into using emails less frequently, the theory behind this is, workers spend too much time checking and answering emails which cuts into company time. Ways to minimize email usage suggested are:

1. Employees to turn off their notifications

2. Set up dedicated times to check their emails

3. Do housekeeping of the inbox at dedicated times

4. Reply to emails at dedicated times

5. Use a signature message at the end of each email to let people know of dedicated checking times

6. Use a signature message at the end of each email to ask people if urgent to contact via the telephone

As for backing up emails, at regular intervals the emails are archived automatically, therefore it is the employees' best interest to regularily cleanup their inboxes and sent items. Further to this, all emails related to the business must be saved in the EDRM system and the correct metadata attached for easy referral for all employees.

Emails have become huge. They are quick and easy therefore people use frequently and has become a very popular way of communication. But have we gone overboard with using it. I have notice myself that people will use it like a chat session. I believe that there should be more control of the information that is found in emails but the onus should be on the user to cleanup and only keep the emails relevant to the workplace. We have our own personal email services, these should be used for personal emails. (Donna)

Some do's and dont's are provided on a New Zealand Archives fact sheet.

Form 10 and Form 14 from Archives New Zealand provide further reading, as does The United Nations Guidelines on Managing Email Records

Document Management

Traditionally documents have been simple text, however electronic documents can comprise of text, images, sounds and embedded objects. Electronic documents also contain links to other documents, for example, spreadsheets can link to a number of other spreadsheets, and webpages link to dozens of other webpages, objects, etc. (Rose)

A multi-dimensional document is a document that is represented in more ways than one. Spreadsheets can be displayed on screen as a set of figures but when printed out only show the result of hidden calculations.

Multimedia documents can consist of graphics, sound and text, and the full meaning of the record is only known when all elements are present.

Documents should be clearly categorised into separate sections so they can be stored appropriately. Examples could be:

Personal documents – exclusively a resource for an individual

Workgroup documents – exclusively a resource for a team or unit

Corporate documents – a resource for the organisation

Storage and Preservation

A preservation strategy must be developed to address the preservation criteria. This can address areas such as loss of records due to media deterioration or obsolescence. The reason why the records are being preserved must be clearly stated and know by those in charge of the preservation.

Records should not be preserved for longer than is required by the organisation.

Records may need to be restricted so that only users with permissions can gain access.

Records should be transferred to a repository when the hardware or software holding those records becomes dated and newer technology is primarily being used by the organisation. A preservation master should be made from which working copies can be made. A security master copy should be made to guard against data loss. They should both be stored offline and offsite. Records should be stored in a cool, dry environment. The temperature should be kept 18°C and 22°C and humidity should be kept between 35% and 45%. They should not be stored near any magnetic fields. The environment should be regularly cleaned to minimise dust build up. Stored records should be accessed annually to check for any loss of data or degradation.

CDs and DVDs are good storage mediums as they are secure and cannot be overwritten.

One strategy is to convert records to standard formats or into software independent modes. Postscript and PDF formats are well supported applications to use for preservation. Tagged image file format (TIFF) is great for images. Comma separated variable (CSV) format can be used to store spreadsheets and databases. Standard generalised mark-up language (SGML) is an international standard for document description. Some archivists argue that this strategy is not a suitable long term solution but is a useful method while a true long term solution is being developed.

Copying records to paper or microfilm can be useful for records not required to be kept for longer periods. Paper and microfilm are easily readable and require no special hardware or software. This is not recommended for records required long into the future.

Emulation tries to preserve the record in its original state by preserving the information systems functionality. Emulation methods can be viewed here.

Migration and conversion is essentially transferring records form older hardware or software to newer hardware or software. This method is popular because it is simple and easily completed. Records preserved using this method generally do not lose any of their structure or context. All records should be re-written to new media on a regular basis to prevent any degradation.

The PADI (Preserving Access to Digital Information) approach has been adopted by the National Library of Australia.


A backup regime must be developed and adhered to. This could include different procedures according to the type or importance of the record. CDs and DVDs are a good backup method as they are cheap, fairly reliable and most computers are capable of reading them. They are unaffected by magnetic interference but easily damaged and so must be handled carefully.

External hard drives are another acceptable backup method. External hard drives are readily available and easy to use.

Technological developments are rapid and data stored today may not be able to be accessed in 5 or 10 years time due to obselescence. It is likely that the data will have to be read off the existing medium and written to a new one periodically.

Good practice is to backup everything except the most trivial of information. At least two copies should be made at the one time. One should be kept onsite in a secure location such as a locked safe. This makes it attainable in the case of an emergency such as computer malfunction or virus attack. The other copy or copies should be kept offsite so the information is safe if there is a fire or other disaster which affects the organisation.

Heavily used records may need daily backups whereas a weekly backup might suffice for less frequently accessed records, however deciding on a schedule and sticking to it is vitally important.


Appraisal involves evaluating organisational activities to determine which records need to be kept and for how long. Records are generally assessed in the following areas.

The completeness of the record is important for its overall worth.

Authenticity must be established by verifying the record was created under normal circumstances and is a genuine account of what it documents. It should be unaltered, and any modifications that have been made need to be clearly shown.

The uniqueness of the record should be established. Some records may be copied and kept in other areas and some may contain information that is recorded elsewhere. There is no value in appraising a record it the information is already being stored.

The relationship to other records is extremely important. The record may give further understanding and provide context to other records in the organisation. Even thought the content of the record may not seem significant on its own, it may be vital nonetheless.

The currency of the record with respect to its contents should be examined. Older records may contain information relevant to new documentation and therefore need to be kept.

The record must be usable to all who need access to it. This includes the format of the record and how it will be stored.

Macro appraisal assesses the value based on the functional context in which the record was created. Rather than focus on the actual content of the record, macro appraisal values the record according to why, when and where it was created.

The National Archives of Finland guide on this subject gives useful advice.


Hashing algorithms and digital signatures should be considered. Different rights should be assigned to particular groups or individuals. These could include read / retrieval access to records contents, copy rights, or rights to change retention information.

It should not be possible to edit a records contents rather a new version should be created.

Security of records are paramount to ensuring on-going privacy and accountability of record content. However, there is still the question of permitting access to a user whilst enabling security to the record from unauthorised person/s. Quite often the red-tape involved with accessing records seems insurmountable for accessing the required information. Users are often put off by this and tend to access more user-friendly sites, such as Google or Yahoo. Therefore, as recordkeepers we need to devise programs that will enable user interaction and accessibility in a more user-friendly manner. Di.


A record should be kept for the destruction of electronic records. This may simply be the metadata for the record being disposed of, included with the date it was destroyed.

If more than one copy of a record exists, they should all be destroyed at the same time.

Deleting a record from a disk drive is not complete destruction. The drive should be formatted or the physical media should be destroyed.

Further Resources

Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems (DIRKS) Manual

Electronic Recordkeeping Resources

Functional Requirements for Evidence in Recordkeeping


A gentle introduction to SGML. (1994). Sperberg-McQueen, C. M., & Burnard (Eds.). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.isgmlug.org/sgmlhelp/g-index.htm

Appraisal and disposal of electronic records. (n.d.). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.narc.fi/dlm/6.htm

Archives and records management section. (2006). Guideline on managing email records. Retrieved April, 2009, from: United Nations web site: http://archives.un.org/unarms/doc/Guideline_on_Managing_Email_Records.doc

AS ISO 15489. (n.d.). The Australian and international standard for records management. Retrieved April, 2009, from: NAA web site: http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/IM-framework/requirements/Standards/AS-ISO-15489.aspx

Aware systems. (n.d.). Imaging / TIFF / TIFF file format faq. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.awaresystems.be/imaging/tiff/faq.html

Bearman, D. (n.d.). Item level control and electronic recordkeeping. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.archimuse.com/papers/nhprc/item-lvl.html

Bradley, T. (n.d.). Why you should encrypt your email. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://netsecurity.about.com/cs/emailsecurity/a/aa051004.htm

Dublin core metadata initiative. (2009). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://dublincore.org/

Electronic recordkeeping resources. (2002). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://ils.unc.edu/callee/ermlinks/

Fact sheet are e-mail archiving solutions recordkeeping solutions?. (2007). Retrieved April, 2009, from: Archives New Zealand: http://continuum.archives.govt.nz/files/file/factsheets/f14.html

Fact sheet e-mail. (2006). Retrieved April, 2009, from Archives New Zealand web site: http://continuum.archives.govt.nz/files/file/factsheets/f10.html

Indiana university. (2009). Electronic recordkeeping at IU (university archives). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=3313

Information management. (2005). Naming conventions for electronic documents. Retrieved April, 2009, from Alberta Government web site: http://www.im.gov.ab.ca/publications/pdf/DocumentNamingConventions.pdf

International monetary fund. (2000). How to use CSV files. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.imf.org/external/help/csv.htm

Library and archives Canada. (2009). Appraisal methodology: macro-appraisal and functional analysis. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/government/disposition/007007-1041-e.html

Macro appraisal. (1997). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uczcw09/appraisl/macro.htm

National archives of Australia. (2009). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.naa.gov.au/

National archives of Australia. (2009). AGLS metadata element set. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/publications/AGLS-Element.aspx

National archives of Australia. (2009). Designing and implementing recordkeeping systems (DIRKS) manual. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/publications/DIRKS-manual.aspx

National library of Australia. (2009). PADI: Preserving access to digital information. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.nla.gov.au/padi/index.html

Overview of emulation methods. (2007). Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www2.cs.hut.fi/~t106435/emulator/index.php/Overview_of_Emulation_Methods

Records advice no. 4. (2008). What is a recordkeeping system?. Retrieved April, 2009, from: Territory records office web site: http://www.territoryrecords.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/2434/Records_Advice_No4_-_What_is_a_recordkeeping_system_13_Feb_08.pdf

Records and archives office (Curtin university of technology). (2009). Recordkeeping manual – electronic recordkeeping. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://records.curtin.edu.au/recordkeeping_manual/electronic_recordkeeping.html#managing

Records management section. (2007). Standard naming conventions for electronic records. Retrieved April, 2009, from University of Edinburgh web site: http://www.recordsmanagement.ed.ac.uk/InfoStaff/RMstaff/RMprojects/PP/FileNameRules/FileNameRules.htm

Spivack, N. (2009, March 14). Nova Spivack – my public twine: Can Twitter survive what is about to happen to it?. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.twine.com/item/123c9051b-g8/can-twitter-survive-what-is-about-to-happen-to-it

State records office of Western Australia. (2008). Information sheet – email records. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.sro.wa.gov.au/government/documents/EmailAdviceFinal.pdf

Tyson, J. (n.d.). How encryption works. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/encryption5.htm

United States department of labor. (2009). Electronic recordkeeping systems. Retrieved April, 2009, from: http://www.dol.gov/esa/ofccp/regs/compliance/faqs/dir279faqs.htm

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