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NARA to remove analog records as part of new digitization standards

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is moving away from analog records and requiring it in digital format. June 30 will be the deadline.

The National Archives and Records Administration will be moving away from analog records and are now requiring agencies to transfer records to them in digital format. NARA’s digitization standard is expected to begin at the end of June 2024.

“The deadline is June 30. In little more than six weeks, there’s going to be a major shift in how NARA accessions records from agencies. Arguably valuable permanent records that are part of our nation’s treasures. We got the biggest set of records covered first. Those standards are very detailed. They are almost like a checklist. And they explained to agencies and the vendors supporting agencies what needs to happen to create that digital image, that version of that permanent record that is coming to NARA. We are not accessioning the paper and the digital image, we are only going to be bringing in the digital image,” said Lisa Haralampus, the director of Federal Records Management Policy and Outreach at NARA, on Federal Insights — Records Management.

NARA recently opened a new digitization center in College Park, Maryland to evolve and provide better access to federal government records and expand its capacity.

“For the last year and a half or so, there was a renovation effort in our archives building at College Park. And we’ve renovated 18,000 square feet and established a modern state-of-the-art digitization center. A mixed use space that colocates our work processes. So archival prep, preparation of records before digitization, metadata capture and then ultimately scanning. We brought the different functions together in one location. We have a fleet of top of the line imaging equipment that ranges from overhead camera setups, flatbed scanners, microfilm and microfiche theatres. And we purchased three new imbl HP FUSiON 8300 high speed [scanners] that will exponentially make more records available online,” said Denise Henderson, director of digitization for the Office of Research Services at NARA.

NARA’s digitization is a multi-part process with different records requiring different techniques to scan and digitize. For agencies, all permanent paper records and print photos must have digital copies of its records as part of the digitization standards for NARA’s archives.

“We have format standards that we use at the National Archives; their records have been created in so many different formats over time by so many agencies depending on what they’re doing. We will take PST files, we will take EML files, we will take XML files, but we won’t see Lotus Notes on that email list. We need the email to be sent to us in a format that we can maintain. Unless your federal mission is really unique, and you are the standards authority, we try to base our standards on what’s common practice. So when we were developing the digitization standards for permanent records, we went and looked, well, what would we base them on? We at the National Archives, our job is to preserve our nation’s history,” Haralampus said.

NARA also requires digitized permanent records to meet Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) standards in order to be added in the archives. FADGI guidelines set standards for federal agencies to follow as best practices when processing digital historical, archival and cultural content. This includes maps, documents and prints.

“We are a cultural heritage institution. So we are using the Federal Agency Digitization Guidelines, because those were standards that were created to handle cultural heritage materials. The FADGI standards gives us our basis for the technical component of scanning, including things like what is the allowable error for noise. How do you test and make sure that you’ve got a calibrated workstation, so you know your image is what you produce,” Haralampus told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “When we wrote these digitization standards, we had the idea of modern textual records in mind; that’s where we started. Eventually, the FADGI standard that we produced would cover any type of record whether it was onionskin from the 1940s or maps. So our standards cover all types of records.”

Modern Textual Records (MTRs) refers to documents created by modern office paper. If the records are before 1950, or if that specific MTR has value, NARA will accept it along with the digital record.

“We created a disposition authority structure that has a check in it. An opportunity for NARA and for the agency and actually members of the public as well to weigh in and say yes, those records, we want to take the source record as well as the digitized record. So for us, modern textual records, we’re not anticipating those as having intrinsic value and coming to the National Archives,” Haralampus said.

When it comes to optical character recognition (OCR), NARA is not requiring that as a standard for agencies to perform. Haralampus said that will be standard to look at in the near future, but as of now they can’t find an OCR standard equivalent to the digitization standard.

“Most agencies are not digitizing records just to send them to the National Archives. They’re digitizing records because they need them to perform their mission. And as they’re performing their mission, the output of that is you should digitize to our permanent record standards. Don’t waste the digitization effort happening across the government,” she said.

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