Advocating electronic records: archival and records management promotion of new approaches to long-term digital preservation

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Elves, Daniel
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For over forty years, archivists and records managers have developed and advocated numerous theories and methodologies for the preservation of authentic and reliable organizational digital records. Many different tools, standards, and guidelines have been created to enhance and safeguard the content and context of digital records across multiple migrations. In addition, several archives have been able to create and sustain full-scale digital preservation programs. However, in spite of these successes, most archives and records management programs are not yet capable of preserving digital records indefinitely. Long-term archival digital preservation advocacy is defined as efforts undertaken by archivists and records managers to convince others, inside and outside their professions, to support the concepts, methodologies, and resources necessary to implement long-term digital preservation. Advocacy as a political- and policy-focused activity to convince a targeted audience to act is distinguished from archival “public programming” that is centered around outreach, publicity, exhibitions, and reference services. Advocacy for long-term digital preservation has not been widely successful, as evidenced by the relative small number of fully supported and fully functional archival digital preservation programs. As a result, the potential for a “dark age” characterized over the long term by a dearth of surviving, readable, and contextualized digital records is very real. This thesis explores why advocacy efforts have created only limited success, as well as what might be done to improve this situation. It rethinks long-term digital preservation as an issue of advocacy and will, as well as one of technology, strategy, or theory. Chapter One opens the thesis with a brief discussion of computers and digital records, placing advocacy efforts within a historical and technological context. Chapter Two presents an intellectual history of long-term digital records preservation advocacy literature and practice, demonstrating how advocacy “messages” have been formulated, disseminated, and “sold.” It also illustrates the multitude of informational resources and technological “solutions” that are now available to assist archivists and records managers in undertaking long-term digital preservation activities. Chapter Three tests the resonance of advocacy efforts through a series of surveys which I conducted with archivists and records managers from a variety of government, corporate, educational, and other institutions, as well as follow-up interviews with Manitoba-based records professionals. Survey questions were developed based on my examination of long-term digital preservation advocacy literature in Chapter Two, while interview questions were based on the responses of survey participants. Chapter Four concludes the thesis with a series of recommendations on improving long-term digital preservation advocacy. It argues for archivists and records managers to increase their personal commitment to long-term digital preservation, which includes having the will to embrace change and get started. Records professionals must also produce more practical internal guidance to assist archivists and records managers in undertaking preservation activities. In addition, the development and delivery of external advocacy “messages” must be improved, so that advocacy arguments better resonate with those responsible for funding organizational records management and archival preservation programs for digital records.
digital preservation, digital archives, advocacy, archives, records management, electronic records, digital records, Manitoba