The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 9, Number 2
Apr 1985

New Way to Preserve Machine-Readable Records

NARS has an Advisory Committee on Preservation, which in turn has a Subcommittee C, whose duty it is to advise the Archivist of the United States on matters relating to the long-range planning for the accessioning and preservation of machine-readable records. NAPS needs all the help it can get with this problem, because it is far behind in scheduling and accessioning the machine-readable records generated at an increasingly rapid pace by the government. Some difficulties are built in to the format: after accession, tapes must be rewound and inspected every few years, and copied when necessary. a variety of machines must be purchased and maintained to read the records on, and as time goes by they become obsolete and hard to find parts for. The maintenance cost could get astronomical.

Subcommittee C did some innovative problem-solving and came up with a solution, which they submitted last July in a "white paper" entitled "Strategic Technology Considerations Relative to the Preservation and Storage of Human and Machine Readable Records." the summary says, in part,

... Subcommittee C, after much debate and research, has concluded that NAPS should formulate a preservation and storage strategy based on human-readable microfilm. It is the simplest, most effective, and lowest risk approach. An outline of a records management and preservation system that implements the concept comprises the essential contribution of the white paper.

The Subcommittee members, experts of the first rank on the matter of machine-readable records, were aware that their recommendation appeared on the surface to be a step backward, and took pains to justify it, lest they appear to be "technological Philistines." the document is 12 pages long, with a 31-item bibliography. It has not been published, but we can hope that somebody--NARS staff or Subcommittee members--will base a conference paper or journal article on it before too long.

Basically, the system recommended would have everything stored on microfilm that was on computer tape, discs, etc. (it can be done); the material would be indexed using database management software; the image on the film would be scanned, and displayed on a CRT terminal, or printed, or staged to disk for processing, or transmitted, as desired. The same indexing and retrieval method could be used for paper records stored on microfilm. Word processing diskettes would have to be printed out before accessioning and supplied as paper records.

Three recent references that seem to be relevant to the form of information storage and retrieval recommended by the Subcommittee are:

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