About the National Archives

Electronic Records Archives (NHE)

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The Federal Government is faced with solving the preservation problem for a rapidly escalating volume and complexity of electronic records. Knowing that no other Agency has the knowledge, experience, or expertise to address this challenge, NARA has once again taken the leadership role in addressing the issues. The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) is NARA's strategic response to the challenge of preserving, managing, and accessing electronic records. Designating the ERA PMO as the organization in charge of the acquisition process, NARA staff has become increasingly involved in the development of this computer based tool that will improve their ability to manage the lifecycle of all records, regardless of format.

There are two main components to the ERA system, lifecycle management for all types of records, and electronic record preservation. The first component, records lifecycle management, will handle information about all scheduled or accessioned records and where it is in its lifecycle. For example, is the record in our physical possession? Is the record exempt from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements? Does a certain researcher have the right to access it? This is the part of ERA that will handle such things as disposition agreements, requests to transfer records, and FOIA requests.

The second component, electronic record preservation, will handle the tasks involved in processing the electronic records -- for example, accessioning, storing, and providing access. When it comes to paper records, these tasks are handled in certain ways. For example, the records might come to us in boxes. Forms need to be filled out. The contents of the boxes need to be described. The records need to be processed. If they need to be preserved, they must be sent to conservation. If not, they need to be stored in an appropriate environment -- for example, in an archival box on a shelf in the stacks. When a researcher comes in to examine the records, the box needs to be retrieved.

The ERA workbenches will allow users to carry out similar tasks on electronic records. For the first step in the preservation process, accessioning, an ERA workbench will provide such functions as "read digital media," "accept online transfer," "verify transfer," "describe record," and "transform to archival format." "Transform to archival format" is a little like sending the record to conservation. For example, if the record was created using an old version of a software application, the version may need to be updated in order to assure its accessibility in the future.

ERA will accept electronic records from Federal agencies, Congress, the President, and other sources. It will deliver the accessioned electronic records to its repository for safe storage. Researchers who wish to access electronic records will use ERA's Reference Workbench, which will provide such functions as "find record" and "present record." Of course, all users will have to provide proof of identity and rights to the records before they are allowed access. Future versions of ERA will include the ability to work with sensitive records and present redacted versions to researchers.

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