[This blog post was written by Jamie Patrick-Burns, Digital Archivist for the State Archives of North Carolina]
It’s October 10 and that means Electronic Records Day! Sponsored by the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), Electronic Records Day is an opportunity to share how we manage our state’s digital resources and raise awareness about best practices for electronic recordkeeping and preservation. The State Archives of North Carolina presents the short film “Back to the Repository.”
Repository structure was fresh on our minds as we have recently restructured our digital repository. The principles below guided our planning and can apply to any file management system at home or in the office. Think about structure and file/folder names that will age well and be clear in the future. A folder or document called “Minutes” might make sense for a couple of weeks if you can remember what the meeting was about and when, but in one year or 20 years you won’t remember! A better title could be “20181010_board_minutes” to include the date and the group that had the meeting.
- Hierarchy: organize folders in a hierarchy that is natural to your organization. For the
archives, state agency records are organized by record group (office), series, item number (used to track a particular group of records, e.g. Director’s Correspondence), and accession number (number assigned when records are officially taken into archival custody). Special Collections are arranged by unit, collection number, and accession number. The hierarchy uses identifiers that are well-known to all staff in the Records Center and the Archive, rather than an individual user’s schema. Learn more about record groups, numbering, and retention schedules on our website at https://archives.ncdcr.gov/government/retention-schedules.
- File paths: the file path is the full path the computer must navigate to open a document including drive, folders, and file name, for example C:\My Documents\Budgets\2018_budget.xlsx. File names should be descriptive but concise, as some operating systems have a limit to how many characters the file path can be. Microsoft cannot open files with a path longer than 255 characters. In order to avoid long file paths, we use standardized abbreviations in the repository. For example State Records is “SR,” local/county records is “CR,” the Audiovisual Materials unit of Special Collections is “AV.” We also use a numbering system from the catalog that assigns numbers to record groups and series, so that rather than spelling out “Department of Insurance” or having a number of variations such as “Dept. of Insurance,” “Dept of Ins,” etc., the number 00009 is assigned to that department. Numbers have five digits to leave room for expansion and to sort properly in the file system, and we have an index of materials in the repository to help users navigate the abbreviations and numbers. There are also certain characters that should not be included in a file name as they can cause confusion or problems for the operating system: \ / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $ , . These characters mean something in an electronic environment – for example, the forward slash / indicates folder levels for Microsoft, and a period . denotes a file extension, so if they are in a file name the computer may not know how to interpret them. For more information, see our documentation on best practices for file naming: https://archives.ncdcr.gov/documents/best-practices-file-naming.
- Finally, good governance of a repository includes policies for appraisal and collecting.
Having clear guidelines on what will and will not be accepted (retention schedule, in-scope documentation, etc.) prevents a “let’s collect everything” attitude or spur-of-the-moment decisions, so that space is not wasted, materials can be found, and you and future users know why something is in the repository in the first place. The State Archives of North Carolina’s repository includes digitized and born-digital records from state and local government as well as special collections. From email to GIS data to PDFs and Word documents, the repository contains records of North Carolina history and activities in electronic format. We all do our best with the knowledge we have, and no one can know the future. But we do our best to have a repository with policies and practices that will stand the test of time so that in another 20 years, digital archivists will be able to find what they’re looking for and won’t have (too many) reasons to say, “What were they thinking?”
Happy Electronic Records Day!