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You will need to take some time to understand the nature of the system or application in which the records are held. Note that some of the key contacts you have highlighted in the step above will be invaluable in answering all the many questions you will have. Gaining an understanding of the technical infrastructure in place will be invaluable when you start to consider preservation approaches but will also help with assessing risks to the content as mentioned in a later step of this process.

The questions you will need to ask include:

  1. What software and version is the record keeping system?

  2. How long has it been in use within the organization? 

  3. When was it last upgraded?

  4. Does your organization have a support contract?

  5. Is it off-the-shelf or a custom-built application?

  6. How long will it be supported for?

  7. Does it run on current operating platforms?

  8. Is the source code for the record keeping system available to the organization through open source licensing or held in an escrow account to protect against abandonment by the vendor or creator?

  9. Are user manuals and/or design documentation available?

  10. Are the records stored within the system itself or does it point to an external storage location? 

  11. Does the institution have plans to move to a different system in the near future?

  12. Who hosts it and where is it hosted (is this done by a 3rd party supplier, in the cloud or on-premise)?

  13. How is the system backed up?

  14. Has there ever been any loss of records from the system and was it possible to recover from this loss?

  15. What is the history of the system? Have the records previously been migrated from another system? Have records previously been transferred to an archival institution? In either case, is there documentation relating to this?

  16. What links are there to other systems eg: email systems or other document or records management applications?

  17. Is it possible to generate summary statistics and reports on the content of the systems - for example to identify the number of records and versions and file formats? (Find out if there are existing tools for this and whether it would it be possible to install and run a tool such as DROID)

  18. Does the system support different user roles to enable the relevant role holders to access the systems and select the records that are required for the archive?


Make sure you document the answers to these questions and keep copies of any relevant documentation and system information you gather.

You may also want to start asking questions about export options, finding out about how records (and metadata) can be extracted from the system. Some detailed questions are included below. As noted above, this is not a linear process and you may want to hold fire on some of these questions until you have a clearer idea of the risk and your preservation approach.

Ideally, the record keeping system should include a means of exporting the records and associated metadata from the system in a practical, configurable and comprehensive manner. Unfortunately, some systems have limited options and functionality for export and this important requirement is not always seen as a priority at the point of procurement. Off-the-shelf systems often provide limited export options, while custom installations may lack export functionality altogether requiring that a programmer be engaged to extract records and associated information from whatever underlying database was used. 

Questions related to export include:

  1. Is it possible to define the components included in an export or are they predefined by the vendor/solution provider?

  2. Does the export maintain relationships between records, for example an email and its attachments? 

  3. Does the export include all the metadata that is required for long term preservation and reuse of the records? Find out more about the metadata that may be required here. 

  4. Is it possible to select or preconfigure which metadata fields will be exported?

  5. Does the export retain information about the context of the records (for example arrangement or tagging of the records)? Does it retain the original file names of the digital objects?

  6. How is an export triggered? Must it be triggered manually? Can it be triggered automatically, for example through use of an API and according to an ‘archive’ or similar classification tag?

  7. Is it possible to establish an automated transfer workflow that takes selected records from the record keeping system and ingests them directly into your digital archive? What support is available to do this?

  8. Does the system export records and metadata in a format that the digital preservation system understands or will it require intensive pre-ingest work to enable the records to be ingested? Is the metadata exported in a format that the digital preservation system recognises or can work with (for example a recognised metadata schema)?

  9. Are any limits placed on the number of records that can be exported or transferred at any one time?

  10. Does the system allow for the selection of batches of records for export or transfer to the archive, for example via folders or other groupings or by searching for values in metadata fields?


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