E-records Survey Forms

On September 24, 2010, in Research, by Chris Prom

We recently began a major initiative to test my “Practical E-Records Method.”  The project requires a  rapid analysis of electronic records created by a major professional association, the American Library Association.  The records in questions are managed in multiple systems and are produced or managed by multiple constituencies, including staff, committees, and member groups.  Based on an analysis of the records environment and a survey of electronic records available both on line and off line, we will be making recommendations for a Digital Archives Program and/or software or services that can be used to support such a program.

We conceptualize this as traditional records management operation: examine the records, interview records creators, understand filing systems and technologies, then make appraisal, storage, processing and access recommendations.  In the end, several options will be provided to ALA.

The archivist in me says “Let’s start with a records survey.”  As I previously noted, and as the Tufts/Yale project recommended, archivists need a way to survey records and make recommendations.  But I was disappointed to discover, when searching in Google, to find only a few survey forms that specifically target electronic records and most of them are aimed at government records:

You can find other ones if you search Google for “Electronic Records Inventory Form.” The National Archives (England/Wales) has also provided an excellent guide to appraising electronic systems/information: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/appraisal_toolkit.pdf. In general, the National Archives in UK provides a wonderfully useful set of guidance documents for the profession, since they are given this role by the UK government.  Many of these could be adapted for US or other use.

Perhaps this is simply because most organizations create and manage records in a hybrid (print and electronic environment).  Still, I believe there is scope for a few general purpose tools that can be used to complete an electronic records inventory of non-government records.  Such a tool, ideally, would be a) available via a web browser and b) generic enough to be adapted to most situations c) easily modified, duplicated etc. and d) automatically aggregated information.  It should include features like look-up lists and/or conditional fields (e.g. if the answer to question 10=yes, show question 11.)

Over the next few days, Angela Jordan and my ALA grad Assistant, Liz Schlagel will be experimenting with two commonly-available technologies to develop such a tool, based on a spreadsheet they developed to survey ALA’s e-records.  We’ll report back, and provide a copy of the tool, as results come in.  If the process works, it may set a good basis for related surveys and interview forms that would assist with data collection in other areas of appraisal.