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Guidelines for the Management of Electronic Information

Care of Electronic Media

There is often the presumption that, without intervention, because information is stored in the computer or on tape, it is somehow automatically preserved for all time. This brief section is included to give the reader a very brief look at some basic preservation concerns.

What are the special requirements for the care and handling of electronic records?

No electronic media is considered archival. Magnetic tape is considered to have a maximum life of ten years if properly and optimally maintained and stored. Information of long-term value should not be retained on floppy disk because of the fragile nature of the media. The long term viability of optical disks is still uncertain.

There are two general categories of preservation requirements relating to electronic media: those involving the environment in which the electronic records are stored, i.e. temperature and humidity controls; and those concerning the actual media. Magnetic tape must be stored vertically in a dust-free environment at a constant temperature between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit and a constant relative humidity from 35%-45%. Frequent or extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity can accelerate the deterioration of tape.

Secondly, maintaining the media requires that the readability of tapes, disks or floppy disks be checked periodically. Tapes, for example, need to be rewound completely at a constant tension and at normal tape speed on an annual basis. The information on tapes must be recopied to new or recertified tape at least once every ten years. A regular maintenance routine including cleaning and rewinding will help guarantee the longevity of the tape, permit detection of tape deterioration before extensive damage to the data occurs, and insure the readability of information contained on the tape. It is strongly advised that information stored on any electronic media be periodically checked for readability.

Examples of maintenance and handling of electronic records can be taken from federal government requirements. Federal agencies are required to test magnetic computer tape six months or less prior to using them to store information which will be preserved permanently. Testing is done to insure that the tape is free of permanent errors and in compliance with national standards.

Standards are currently being developed which will describe media longevity in terms of "LE ratings" or life expectancy ratings. These ratings indicate the life expectancy of a particular medium when stored under specific conditions. The LE ratings reflect the growing concern for the environmental storage conditions in which media are maintained. For more information on standards refer to ANSI (American National Standards Institute).

What precautions should be taken to insure the preservation of electronic data?

At a minimum, offices using any type of information technology for the routine generation of records should be certain that adequate backup measures are part of normal office practices. If an office is processing information via a mainframe computer, backups of the contents of the computer are normally done on a daily basis. In PC/LAN situations, backups must be consciously done on a periodic basis. Backups should be stored in another building or at least sufficiently apart from the originals so they will not be subjected to the same physical hazards as the original file.

Upon the completion of an RDA, records schedule, offices can deposit their tapes, floppy disks, etc. at the State Records Center. The Center provides secure storage, including temperature and humidity controls.

State agencies should also be aware of the services of the Department of Administration-Division of Information Technology for the storage of electronic records. The Computer Utility operates as a service entity, and agencies retain responsibility for the retention and disposition of their information.

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