As with most digital preservation challenges there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the preservation of records from an EDRMS or other record keeping system. The approach that you might take to address the problem will depend on a number of different factors, including:

  • Whether the system is still in current active use

  • Whether the system is still supported

  • The level of digital preservation experience within your organisation

  • The software, tools and technological skills available to you

  • The value of the content and length of time it needs to be kept

  • Current and future users and use cases for the records

  • The preservation policies of your organization

  • The size and complexity of the challenge (and the frequency at which it arises)

  • The risks highlighted in the steps above and risk appetite of your organization

The information gathering you have carried out in the steps above will help inform any decision you make on preservation approach and next steps. A number of different courses of action could be taken

    1. Transfer records to a digital archive

    2. Emulate the system or application that holds the records

    3. Leave in current system and manage ‘in situ’

    4. Migrate records to a new record keeping system

Making the decision

Whilst the first two approaches are more clearly focused on digital preservation, the others, focusing on management outside of a digital archive may be appropriate decisions in some contexts. It should be noted that these four approaches are not mutually exclusive. In some cases more than one approach may be taken. For example:

  • You may plan to migrate records from a legacy system to a new records management system to facilitate current access and management as well as transferring them to a digital archive for long term preservation;

  • You may plan to manage the records ‘in situ’ for the time being, with a view to taking further preservation action at a later date (for example in response to increased risks to the records).

A presentation Tim Gollins gave at the DPC briefing day on Preserving Semi-Current Records (DPC Members login to view recording) may also be helpful in aiding decision making. In his talk, Tim focused on two options, continuing to manage the records in a record keeping system or moving them to a digital archive. He looked at how much functionality was required in the use of those records and for how long this was needed, and came up with a simple matrix to help inform decision making. Do watch the full presentation to view this matrix and hear these ideas explained in full. 

  'Preserving Semi-Current Records: EDRMS Task Force - Reflections'  - Tim Gollins from the National Records of Scotland,

At the end of her presentation at the DPC’s EDRMS Preservation Briefing Day, Zsuzsanna Tözsér Milam described a decision tree she has developed to support decisions about whether to transfer records to a digital archive or manage in situ (Members login to view slides and presentation)

Lorna Williams from The Bank of England has blogged about their decision making process to select a preservation approach for their EDRMS


Transfer records to a digital archive

This approach involves moving the records from the record keeping system to a digital archive. There are two variations on this approach:

  • Establishing an automated transfer process that moves the records and associated metadata from the records system to the digital archive (perhaps on a regular schedule).

  • Establishing a manual or partially automated process involving export of the records, preparation for ingest and import into the digital preservation system.

Why might you choose this approach?

There are many reasons why you may consider this to be the best approach. For example, 

  • Where the records no longer need to be maintained in a system that has records management functionality

  • Where the risks of leaving the content where it is are considered to be too high

  • Where you have an institutional policy to manage all content of long term value centrally in the digital archive.

Further examples and guidance on this approach are included in the later sections of this resource.


Emulate the system or application that holds the records

Emulation involves recreating the environment required to access legacy systems and content over time. Unlike migration approaches, the original records would not be altered over time, rather, the right environment would be maintained to enable the content to be accessed in its original format. In the context of EDRMS preservation this would involve emulating the record keeping system itself and allowing users to continue to access the records within their native environment. 

Why might you choose this approach?

There are a number of reasons why emulation may be a preferred approach, for example: 

  • Where there is considered to be value in retaining the experience of accessing digital records within the original record keeping system. 

  • Where there are features of the records themselves (for example, relationships between records, structure or metadata) that could not be adequately captured through export, or replicated in the access system associated with the digital archive. 

  • Where emulation is part of the preservation strategy of the organization. 

Though many archives may find this approach too technically complex (or not a viable option at scale), initiatives like Emulation-as-a-Service Infrastructure are reducing the barriers to emulation.

In a talk at the EDRMS Preservation Briefing Day, Euan Cochrane from Stabilize introduced emulation as an option for the preservation of record keeping systems. A case study was provided by Sally Vermaaten and Andrew Bowers of the Gates Archive who described how they were using emulation to work with a legacy record keeping system and shared lessons learned and future plans ‘New opportunities in whole-system preservation for EDRMSs’, a presentation at Unbroken records: A briefing day on Digital Preservation and EDRMS, 20th May 2021 (DPC members login to view the recording)

New opportunities in whole-system preservation for EDRMSs   - Euan Cochrane (Stabilize), Sally Vermaaten and Andrew Bowers (Gates Archive)


Manage ‘in situ’

This approach involves leaving the records where they are (for a period of time). It is not quite the same as a ‘do nothing’ approach as it involves a careful assessment of how safe the records are currently and may lead to some changes to the current environment to give greater assurance that they can be left alone for a defined period. The tools mentioned in the ‘Risk Assessment’ section above can help both with assessing the risks to the digital records in their current location, and in defining and suggesting actions that can help mitigate some of those risks. Remember that this approach may only be temporary and you may still plan to take further preservation actions at a later date. Time taken gathering information and engaging with colleagues up to this point will have been time well spent and the knowledge gained should be retained for future reference.

Why might you choose this approach?

There are many reasons you may choose this approach but it will typically be a balance of a number of factors. Some of these factors are listed below:

  • Where a risk assessment of how safe the records are currently has revealed a situation that is considered satisfactory (taking into account the risk appetite of the organization) or where actions for reducing those risks have been highlighted and can be enacted. 

  • Where the records are nearing the end of their life and are not considered to have longer term value - it may not be sensible to go through a potentially costly and time consuming transfer exercise, only to delete them from the digital archive a few years down the line. 

  • Where there is digital content elsewhere within the organization at higher risk that must take precedence over these records at this point in time.

  • Where there is no digital preservation solution in place at the organization and no immediate resource to establish one.

  • Where the organizational policy sets out a decentralised approach to digital preservation with a specific focus on managing digital content ‘in situ’ where appropriate.

In a talk at the EDRMS Preservation Briefing Day, Esther Maes from TU Delft presented a short case study on their decentralised approach to the preservation of records, focusing on conversations with system owners and a methodology for assessing risk. ‘Decentralized archiving of records at TU Delft’, a presentation at Unbroken records: A briefing day on Digital Preservation and EDRMS, 20th May 2021 (DPC members login to view the recording).

Decentralized archiving of records at TU Delft  - Esther Maes (TU Delft)


Migrate records to a new record keeping system

This approach involves migrating the records to a new record keeping system to continue their active life. Though not a preservation action as such, this work should very much be carried out with preservation in mind if assessment of the records in earlier stages of this process has demonstrated that the system holds content of long term value.

Why might you choose this approach?

You may choose this approach in the following circumstances:

  • Where the records are still in active use or still being actively updated and records management functionality is still required.

  • Where the software holding the records is coming to the end of its life or a support contract no longer exists. 

  • Where the digital archive is unable to provide the required management or access to the content. 

If the records have long term value it is important that preservation considerations are taken into account during the process of migrating to a new record keeping system. Important features of the records, including their context and metadata must be maintained so that it can be captured and preserved at a later date. Note also that documentation should be kept of the system migration as this will be helpful in informing future preservation work.

The National Archives UK provides a useful guide to Migrating Information between Records Management Systems including a section on defining digital continuity requirements. 

Though it may be colleagues who will lead this piece of work to select and implement a new system, you are in a good position to influence this work and ensure that digital preservation considerations are taken into account, both in decisions made and in the configuration of the new system. The metadata section [link to metadata work] and some of the lists of questions included within this toolkit may be helpful in highlighting some of the features, functionality and metadata requirements required to facilitate future preservation of the records. 

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