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Gateways to the Past, Present, and Future: Practical Guidelines for Electronic Records Access Programs


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While the primary use of records in government is to support and document specific business processes, responsible records managers must also ensure that these records are available for other important uses: to support business processes in other agencies; to give the public access to needed information; to support the scientific analyses that are used to evaluate programs, inform policy-making, or plan facilities; and, finally, to serve as a legal and historical record of government decisions and operations.

Many people and organizations need government information: the researcher trying to understand trends in education, the local charity documenting the need for senior housing, an engineering firm preparing an environmental impact statement, a sixth-grader writing a term paper about the history of her town.

For example, information collected when issuing a birth or death certificate can have secondary uses for medical, genealogical, or demographic research. Data collected for police work can be useful in studying crime trends and meteorological data can be helpful in researching global climate changes. Increasingly, this information is being requested in an electronic format.

Many different kinds of organizations provide access to government information - libraries, government archives, and all kinds of public agencies at every level of government. Universities and nonprofit organizations may also be repositories of government information. They, too, are making the transition to a largely electronic way of working.

The growing demand for information to be available in electronic form and for direct access to these electronic records is changing the design and management of records access programs. Programs are shifting from staff-supported access models to direct user access models, now made possible over the Web. Making a successful transition to this increasingly electronic model requires careful assessment of the users, uses, content, operation, and cost of a desired program. This shift often requires program managers (content experts) to join traditional information access professionals in a new way of working.

The Center for Technology in Government and the New York State Archives and Records Administration will continue to expand their existing partnership with NHPRC to develop a set of practical guidelines to support and promote secondary uses of electronic records. Through a combination of best practices and project-based research, the proposed project will address recordkeeping requirements in the context of the broad spectrum of historical and other secondary uses. The project is designed to produce robust records management processes and models to ensure that the data maintained by government agencies will be available and useable for the widest variety of contemporary and future public needs.

The proposed project will address critical electronic records research issues. It will explore methods for ensuring long-term access to electronic records of outstanding social, cultural, and informational value for secondary research. It will investigate the use of innovative and emerging technologies for accomplishing this goal. The project will directly address the cost and benefits of preserving and making available electronic records of social and cultural significance.

The project will also explore the use of innovative resource-sharing approaches and emerging technologies to reduce the cost of preservation, access, and use. Most importantly, this project will conduct applied research that will yield practical tools with wide applicability across both public and private sector organizations. It will involve a critical partnership between records creators, a leading archival institution, and an award winning research institute known for applying academic knowledge to practical problems and generating implementable solutions.