Key Takeaways from the NARA Digitizing Permanent Records Webinar

Digital scanning operations, Preservation Labs, Archives 2: Jerry Thompson. National Archives Identifier 184341178

On June 7, 2023, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) conducted a webinar on digitizing permanent records to comply with the requirements in 36 CFR 1236 Subpart E, providing valuable insights into best practices and guidelines. In this blog post, we summarize the key takeaways from the webinar.

Preparing for Digitization

Agencies must first establish intellectual and physical control of the source records (the records to be digitized). A records inventory should identify the records’ completeness, any gaps in coverage or missing records, the presence of mixed-media records, the records schedule, date range, access or use restrictions, and storage location. Agencies must also identify any relationships between the source records and ensure that the relationships are also retained in the digitized versions. 

Scanning and Imaging

When scanning documents, agencies should use appropriate hardware and software to ensure high-quality images. Technical attributes, such as resolution, color depth, and file formats, must meet the technical standards in the regulation and the specific needs of the records. 

Metadata and Documentation

Accurate and comprehensive metadata is crucial for the successful management and retrieval of digitized records. Metadata should include information such as record titles, dates, descriptions, and unique identifiers. Documentation should cover records management activities, the digitization process, equipment used, file formats, quality control procedures, and any deviations from standards.

Quality Control

Establishing a robust quality control process is essential to ensure the accuracy, completeness, and integrity of digitized records. Quality control measures may include random sampling, visual inspections, error reporting, and ongoing monitoring. Agencies should implement quality control procedures at appropriate stages of the digitization process to identify and rectify any issues promptly.

Storage and Preservation

Digital preservation strategies should be in place to safeguard the long-term accessibility and integrity of digitized records until they are transferred to NARA. Proper storage infrastructure, backup systems, and regular data migration are crucial to mitigate the risks to digitized records. Consideration should be given to file formats, file-naming conventions, and adherence to preservation standards.

Validation and Disposition

Validation is a key step in the digitization process. It allows agencies to affirm the quality and completeness of their digitization work, and to move to the disposition of the source records and the digital records they have created.

Validation is different from quality management. Quality management occurs throughout the digitization process and involves the inspection of the various parameters of each image such as their file format, resolution, and metadata. Validation is a higher-level review of an agency’s digital records and the process that was used to create them. Validation occurs when digitization is complete and must be conducted by staff that were not involved in the quality control inspections conducted during the digitization process.

Once validated, the digital copies become permanent records while the source records become temporary records that can be disposed of according to GRS 4.5. The now-permanent digital records inherit the disposition of the source records and will be transferred to NARA according to the records schedule.

Collaboration and Standards

Agencies are encouraged to collaborate with NARA and other industry partners to leverage shared expertise. Following established digitization and preservation standards, such as the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), ensures interoperability and compatibility with future systems. It is important to note that the webinar transcript provides more detailed information on these topics and should be consulted for specific guidelines and recommendations.

The NARA webinar on digitizing permanent records offers valuable insights for agencies involved in the preservation and accessibility of important documents. By carefully planning digitization projects, following best practices for scanning, implementing robust quality control measures, and adhering to metadata and preservation standards, agencies can ensure the successful digitization and long-term preservation of their permanent records.

The webinar transcript, presentation slides, and recording are available on the NARA webpage for Digitization of Federal Records. By implementing the recommendations and best practices shared in the webinar, agencies can navigate the digitization process with confidence, ensuring the preservation and accessibility of their valuable records for future generations.