National Historical Publications & Records Commission

Electronic Records Projects

Frequently Asked Questions


How do we decide if we should propose a Start-up or Collaborative project?

Make a list of what you have already done to get ready for the preservation of born-digital records. What training have staff members received? What contacts have you made with records creators and IT staff? What electronic records in your organization have you already identified? How does change happen in your organization?

If it's more likely that you will build support for an electronic records program if you have a report created with the help of outside experts, a Start-up project is probably the first step. These grants are used to fund the initial steps to develop staff and institutional capacity, as well as develop policies and procedures for electronic records. With start-up projects can and will be collaborative, but the collaboration tends to happen within the institution.

If leadership would be more impressed by a demonstration of records that you have preserved, then a Collaborative project might be more appropriate. The key to a collaborative project is to work with others on the distribution of records and to share knowledge gained as a result of the project. If moving into a new partnership or applying for a new facet of an existing project, it is beneficial to explain what applicants have learned from previous efforts, how this knowledge has been incorporated, and how the applicant and partners will move forward with this information to create a focused project. Explain what is transferable to other institutions and how the projects can be sustained over time. Be clear on where your project is in relation to other existing and ongoing efforts in the field.

Can you be more specific about when we should propose a Start-up project?

In general, propose a Start-up project:

  • If you have done no planning at your institution beyond reviewing the best practices of similar institutions;
  • If you have no staff members that are already devoting at least part of their time to planning for this issue;
  • If your current IT infrastructure/knowledge needs more development before you can implement any sort of program;
  • If you have electronic records that need to be managed but you still need to do more work connecting to the records creators;
  • If you are confident that with the help of a consultant and/or project staff, you will be able to make significant progress on developing an Electronic Records management plan that address key issues in long-term preservation of born-digital records.

Can you be more specific about when we should propose a Collaborative project?

In general, propose a Collaborative project:

  • If you have already done some planning and thinking about how to structure an electronic records program in your environment;
  • If you have the support of the highest level of leadership;
  • If you know what kind of infrastructure changes you will need to make;
  • If you can commit substantial staff time to the project;
  • If you want to engage in partnerships with records creators, information technologists, and other institutions, and/or service providers;
  • If you are confidant that at the end of the Collaborative project, you will have preserved electronic records in some digital repository that meets preservation standards.

If you are wavering and think you have the time to prepare a Collaborative application, you should do so. If the Commission feels that a Start-up grant is more appropriate, they can fund the first steps in your proposal.

We wish to submit a draft for review by NHPRC program staff. How should we do this?

Send as complete a draft as possible by e-mail to nancy.melley@nara.gov by April 2, 2012. Drafts are easier to evaluate if they contain clear descriptions of the scope of your project as well as rough figures about project costs. Program staff will reply as promptly as possible to the drafts. Drafts should not be submitted via grants.gov.

The application refers to standards and best practices. Are there particular ones that we must use?

The field of electronic records preservation is constantly updating its standards and best practices. In addition, there are a number of different approaches that may fit best with your institution's infrastructure and organizational model. For this reason, the Commission does not mandate one practice. However, applicants in all three categories should look at some of these web sites and project pages for information:

  • Trustworthy Repositories Audit & Certification (TRAC): Criteria and Checklist at http://www.crl.edu/archiving-preservation/digital-archives/metrics-assessing-and-certifying

  • CASPAR - Cultural, Artistic and Scientific knowledge for Preservation, Access and Retrieval at http://www.casparpreserves.eu/

  • The National Space Science Data Center provides links to many standards, including the Open Archival Information System model, at ISO Archiving Standards - Overview at http://nost.gsfc.nasa.gov/isoas/

  • Department of Defense has developed an Electronic Recordkeeping Framework (DoD 5015.2-STD) which sets guidelines for Records Management applications that handle electronic records. The Joint Interoperability Test Command maintains a webpage, Records Management Applications with information on the certification process, including specific software program that have met the standard at http://jitc.fhu.disa.mil/recmgt/

Are partnerships acceptable?

Absolutely. You want to explain why the partnership will increase the likelihood of a sustainable electronic records program. In some cases, your collaborator might be a service provider; in other cases, it might be equivalent institutions with similar needs. Be sure to include the necessary details on who will contribute what to the project and include letters of support where appropriate.

We need to upgrade our retention schedule to include electronic records. Can this be part of a Start-up or Collaborative grant?

Absolutely. For organizations that operate records management programs, this step is often a productive first step. Remember that some of the records identified in that process must be determined to be permanent digital records.

We are a municipality and our elected officials are funding more e-government applications. Can the records from such projects be the target of an Electronic Records project?

It depends. If the e-government initiative is resulting in records that are permanent in their digital form, then yes. If the e-government initiative is providing access to records on web sites that must be preserved in hard copy by local or state regulation, then no. You must be very clear in your application about what regulations (if any) determine if an electronic record is the official version of a record.

We are an archival repository and are starting to receive donations of computer files from donors. Can we apply for a grant?

Yes, but the project would have to focus on establishing general procedures to deal with such donations, including appraisal, preservation, and access. The files you have already received could be processed as part of testing that general process, but we would want to see procedures established for future donations as well.

Can funds from this grant be used to manage non-permanent electronic records?

Yes. However, some materials included in the grant project must be permanent records. Applicants seeking funding for a project that deals with both archival and non-permanent records should describe their rationale and should emphasize the value and significance of the permanent records.

How do I get a sample proposal?

Request one from Nancy Melley at nancy.melley@nara.gov

You can also look at web sites of previously funded projects. View a list of previously funded projects.

In some grant cycles, the NHPRC has chosen not to fund any electronic records projects. Why weren't these applications successful?

Projects must not only be competitive with other applications received in the same cycle, but must meet the program goals and eligibility requirements outlined in the grant announcement. Application for an NHPRC grant does not guarantee funding. Applicants should review and understand the program requirements prior to applying.

Are there service providers with whom we can work?

There are both non-profit and for-profit companies that may also be able to help you with your project.

The Commission has funded the University of North Texas, which is running the MetaArchives Cooperative which is based on a LOCKSS framework. It welcomes inquires about collaboration.

Can we apply for funds to supplement work we are starting with our own funds?

Absolutely. A cost share of at least 50% of total costs is required for these projects. However, be sure to be clear about what you are going to accomplish with all the project funds. In the past, some proposals have discussed ambitious goals that were not represented in the work plan or the budget. Upon inquiry, it was often the case that the project narrative described a long-term project, but the budget and/or work plan only represented part of the long term project.

Can my institution use NHPRC grant funds to purchase computer hardware?

Yes. Electronic records projects rely on appropriate hardware. Moreover, the continued viability of an electronic records program will depend on this.

We are already preserving electronic records but are facing some particular problems that we assume others will also face. Can we apply?

Yes. You will want to apply in the Collaborative category. Be clear about what you have already done, what you still need to do, and why other institutions are likely to face similar challenges. It would be better to work with other institutions such project.

We want to add more digitized items to our existing web resource. Is this a good project for this grant?

No. Digitizing records is not an acceptable part of Electronic Records proposals. These projects must focus on the preservation of records that are, or will be, received by the archives in electronic formats. They can be either born-digital or digitized records that are now the official record copy because of additional metadata or manipulation or because of changes in retention schedules, laws or regulations.

We have analog audiovisual records and need to preserve them in a digital format. Is this the right grant program to apply against?

No. The Commission funds preservation reformatting in its Detailed Processing Projects category.

My state does not have an active State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB). Can my institution apply for this grant?

Yes. If your institution is part of the state government, however, the NHPRC cannot award money to your institution until your SHRAB is reinstated.

We have research data sets. Can we include them as part of our NHPRC grant project?

Maybe. If the research data is the result of grant funded research, there may be a designated archive for the data as part of the grant. Be very specific about the laws and policies that govern your records; do not assume that reviewers know your legal and institutional requirements.

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