Digital records - strategies and requirements

The Danish National Archives is responsible for developing strategies and methods for safeguarding the digital archival materials for the future.

A conversion strategy has been developed by the Danish National Archives for long-term preservation of IT filing systems.

Conversion means that data (not applications) are migrated at suitable intervals to ensure that they are continually compliant with current technology. The electronic archival materials which are submitted to the State Archives should therefore be stored in a way that enables data conversion to formats suitable for continuous conversions without significant data loss.

Legislation on archival matters authorising the Danish National Archives to define requirements of the authorities is prerequisite to this strategy. By and large, the situation is the same in the other Nordic countries which, in different ways, all use the conversion strategy.

Based on the conversion strategy, the authorities’ demands concentrate on the authorities’ use of the system, system storage, and a number of technical demands concerning the transfer of material.

Authorities’ requirements regarding the use of electronic file and document management systems

Clear delimitation, logical retrieval system and instructions for use are just some of the requirements. This will ensure that each authority complies with the Danish National Archives’ rules for the management of its archival materials, and that the system will be comprehensible and easy to work with once it will be made available to the intended users.

A system must be delimited in terms of organisation and subject content, and must clearly define to the authority in question – as well as to later users – which areas have been covered. Filing periods should also be clearly defined – e.g. 5 years – to ensure continuous transfers of material and to prevent technological obsolescence.

The Danish National Archives, moreover, require that the authorities will explain the retrieval system used in the electronic filing system. Each authority must specify how it has structured and possibly recorded documents for easy retrieval.

Finally, instructions are required specifying rules for using the system. These instructions should, inter alia, ensure uniform use of the system and optimum data quality.

The purpose of these requirements is to contribute towards creating a filing version of the electronic filing system, as easily and inexpensively as possible.

Requirements for filing systems used by the authorities

The only requirements regarding the electronic filing systems used by the authorities are that said authorities must describe how and when they intend to convert to the filing format used by the State Archives; the formats they are currently using; and the method by which they intend to solve any problems arising from change of word processing systems, etc. The aim is, of course, to ensure that a filing version may be reproduced in the required formats.

Technical requirements when transferring material

The technical requirements set out by the State Archives for transferring electronic filing systems aim to ensure convertibility to system-independent filing versions. Explicit requirements furthermore apply to the storage formats of electronic documents, which must comply with the criteria defined by the State Archives.

Underlying principles for selected standards for transfer formats

To obtain safe custody of all transferred electronic archival materials in a way that makes them readable and usable to future generations, the State Archives have indicated a number of well-defined and commonly-known formats which are to be used when electronic records are transferred from the authorities. Convertibility between the selected formats and future formats must be ensured.

The formats must, therefore, be standardised or, at the very least, be well-documented. They must be widely supported, platform-independent and open – the intention being that they are not subject to licensing or renewal. There must be no risk of data-loss or subsequent deterioration of data quality, and the formats must have a long life expectancy. They should be independent of systems and applications, ensuring the possibility of conversion to future formats. Finally, if appearance is important, the formats must be independent of fonts, etc.

Testing

All types of archival material are tested by the State Archives upon receipt to ensure that all requirements regarding form, content and media have been complied with. Testing tools are being developed in-house to test data upon receipt; other tools are used for continuous testing of the media quality to ensure uniform quality of the media collection housed by the State Archives.