The Multnomah County Records Management Program has begun offering training in Electronic Records Management through the county's department of Talent and Development. We're looking forward to a full room on January 31st. As of the time of writing, a few seats are still available for our February 29th and May 30th trainings. County employees can sign up through SAP.

Though many of the techniques we will be discussing in the training will be applicable to managing electronic records at home, it is worth noting that maintaining your personal digital records will likely require more intervention than must be taken at work. One of the most notable differences is that you are responsible for backing up your own data, something typically handled at work by Information Technology.

It is undeniably easy to just save content and forget about it, or rely on others to save it for us. This hands-off approach can lead to problems. 

  • Have you ever run out of space on your hard drive?
    - Deciding what to delete to make more space can be confusing and frustrating, and something important might be deleted in haste.  
  • Do you rely on credit card companies to save electronic bills for you through an account on their websites?
    - They may not provide access to more than a year's worth of bills, but you may find your credit report lists you as having been behind in payments on your bills three years ago. 
  • Do you save electronic content online, through a service such as Google Docs or Flickr? 
    - Occasionally these services go down and are inaccessible. 

The recent government takedown of Megaupload, a file sharing site, demonstrates on of the primary risks to storing content online. This action was based on evidence that the US federal government had shown that website employees knowingly permitted copyrighted content to be illegally shared through the service. This service, however, was also used by individuals and businesses for entirely legal purposes, and now many users have lost access to the content they legally stored and shared using Megaupload with no indication that they will be able to recover their content now or at a future date.  The content we legally store and share through the cloud can become collateral damage in the battles between copyright-enforcing government agencies and copyright-opposed hackers. 

Cloud based storage providers, including file hosting websites, offer an alternative to using external hard drives or DVDs/CDs to back up our electronic records and legally share them with other people. (Think: Sending Grandma the 300 digital photos you took on vacation, or sending the tax documents for your small business to your CPA.) Unfortunately, as can be seen in the Megaupload situation, something outside of our control can result in the inability to access our data or to a total data loss. In many ways, that is not so different from a hard drive crash or an inaccessible data CD. 

Much of backups and data archiving is about taking a calculated risk. External hard drives take time and effort to use and manage, and CDs and DVDs are notorious for becoming unreadable through disc rot or scratching. What content do you want to keep around for the long term, and what do you only need briefly? You may want to keep the digital photographs of your children "forever," but how about a bank statement from five years ago? Some content may be worth saving, and other content not so much. So how do you backup and archive the digital content you do want to save long term? 

Generally, a combination of on site and off site storage is the safest solution. The Library of Congress's The Signal: Digital Preservation blog has some useful tips on annual personal archiving onto external storage devices. Keeping a backup copy of your digital files in the cloud provides you with an off-site backup of your important personal records, recoverable if a disaster such as a fire should befall your home. The risks in both methods of backup and archiving need to be considered.

Watch this blog for future posts on managing your personal electronic records.