Selecting Appropriate Formats for Transfer

We frequently receive questions from agencies about what to do when they have records in formats not listed in our revised Transfer Guidance NARA Bulletin 2014-04. The revised guidance greatly expanded the number of formats acceptable for use when transferring permanent records to the National Archives, but there may still be situations where records are in formats that are not listed. Here are some questions to consider when this situation occurs:  

Is the record scheduled as a permanent record?

The formats detailed in Appendix A of the Transfer Guidance only apply to agency records that have been scheduled as permanent. The Bulletin assumes these permanent records are described by schedule items and will be transferred to NARA when the specified retention period is met. Agencies are not required to manage records scheduled as temporary in accordance with NARA’s revised Transfer Guidance. However, agencies should maintain an up-to-date preservation plan for permanent and long-term temporary records describing  how to maintain them and when to migrate them to new formats so the records remain accessible and usable for as long as they are needed.   

Is the record available in another format?

Occasionally agencies maintain copies of records in multiple formats to meet their needs. Therefore, it is possible a record is available in a preferred or acceptable format in addition to formats that are not acceptable. Assuming the copies are of equal quality and are supported with sufficient metadata, agency records officers are encouraged to identify the copy in an acceptable format as the record or contact NARA’s Electronic Records Accessioning and Processing Staff (RDEP) to determine the best format for the transfer of permanent records.  

Should agencies convert or migrate a permanent record from a non-conforming format to one that conforms with the Transfer Guidance?

NARA recommends agencies exercise caution when considering changing the format of a permanent record. The Transfer Guidance states:

Transformation of an electronic record from one format to another could result in changes to the record content, structure, or metadata. Agencies that maintain records in formats that do not conform to this Bulletin should contact the appropriate NARA office, as listed in Section 11, before migrating, converting, or altering the permanent records to meet the NARA format requirements.  

Potential risks include unintended alteration or loss of a record’s content and metadata including loss of persistent links to external information. Sufficient verification processes are required to guarantee that format migrations do not radically alter and impact a record’s trustworthiness. Agency records officers should contact NARA before proceeding with any format migration or conversion.

3 thoughts on “Selecting Appropriate Formats for Transfer

    1. It is important to note that NARA’s Transfer Guidance and Metadata Guidance only apply to Federal Records identified for permanent retention in an approved records schedule. Determining the appropriate format for an agency to transfer permanent Tweets or any other electronic records could be affected by what is described in the records schedule. For example, is the entire account scheduled or only individual Tweets that are part of a case file? Is only the text important or other components such as images or video files?

      Despite the 140 character limit on their content, Tweets are actually complex structured data records that, while composed primarily of text, may also include images or links to other sources of content like websites or even other social media platforms like Facebook or YouTube. NARA Bulletin 2014-04 identifies a number of options that are acceptable for use with structured data and two of them, JSON and CSV are well suited to capture Tweets. While Tweets are composed of lots of metadata beyond the 140 characters of content, additional metadata is required to insure that the content, context and structure of Tweets is adequately documented so that they can be preserved, accessed, and interpreted for as long as they are needed. Agencies should refer to NARA 2015-04 for information describing the metadata required to accompany transfers of Tweets.

      Additional information on records management for social media is available here.

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