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  July 10, 2000

Preservation of Electronic Records Under Review

The old metal file cabinet may not be obsolete yet, but the University is now creating, sending and storing much of its information electronically.

"As we're moving more and more toward an electronic environment, staff and faculty need to know that the electronic files they depend upon are accurate, complete and protected from corruption and, most importantly, from technological obsolescence," says Thomas Wilsted, director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

In addition, the University needs to be sure that institutional records are kept for archival purposes.

"The recent 'I Love You' virus had a lot of faculty and staff worried about a total loss of valuable research and operational data," Wilsted says. "Often it takes a major catastrophe, or near-catastrophe, to recognize the vulnerability of electronic research and operational data and the need for proper security and backup."

Staff at the University Archives in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center are now working on a federally funded project to develop a strategic plan to guide the University in ways to protect and manage electronic information, Wilsted says. The year-long project is funded with a $10,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

The plan is scheduled for completion by the end of this year, with implementation beginning in 2001.

University Archivist Betsy Pittman, Elaine David of the University Computer Center, and Wilsted are meeting with University staff to learn where and how departments are keeping their records, and what the archives staff can do to help ensure their protection. They will be assisted by consultant Thomas Ruller, manager of internal and public information systems at the New York State Education Department.

The committee will examine issues including policy documents that have permanent retention value, student records, financial data and e-mail correspondence. E-mail includes messages and attachments such as directories, distribution lists and word-processing documents.

"We ultimately need to develop a system whereby you can differentiate your e-mail,'" says Wilsted. "It might be a series of correspondences about a particular policy that should be separated from your regular e-mail."

Ensuring proper backups - if a server or a hard drive crashes - is important, so valuable information isn't lost, he adds. "We also need to look at ways to purge records because they've passed a certain time frame."

An advisory committee from a variety of departments will assist in developing the strategic plan. By September, the team and the committee will create a draft that will be circulated on campus for comment.

An example of the University's transition to integrated electronic information systems is the implementation of PeopleSoft, software that collects data from multiple offices but stores the elements in one database, says Wilsted: "There are lots of pieces that need to be considered with regard to permanency and long-term access to data."

Sherry Fisher