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Electronic Records Information for Archivists


Identifying permanently valuable records for retention in the National Archives involves cooperation between the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the various agencies of the Federal Government. Through the process of appraisal, NARA staff identify and select the electronic records with continuing value.

Several steps make up the process of identifying electronic records of continuing value and transferring them to NARA. These steps include: Inventorying, Scheduling, Appraisal, and Transfer.

Services for Federal Agencies

Timely deposit of permanent electronic records in the National Archives and Records Administration has several benefits for the creating agency. Foremost among these is assumption by NARA of responsibility for fulfilling the requirements of 36 CFR 1236. These requirements include

  • creation and maintenance of a master and a backup copy of the records
  • adherence to prescribed environmental standards
  • annual statistical sampling to identify any loss of data, and
  • copying of the records onto technologically current media to avoid loss due to media decay or technology obsolescence

For those permanent electronic records in which the agency has an ongoing program interest, timely deposit with NARA provides no-cost backup storage of the records and the documentation. Upon request of the creating agency's records officer, we will provide an agency, free of charge, one copy of any of its electronic files that have been transferred to NARA. NARA also returns the tapes or cartridges on which agencies transferred electronic records.

To ensure future access to all electronic records transferred to its custody, NARA verifies the datafiles and other electronic records received and works with the agency to resolve any discrepancies. NARA may supplement agency-created documentation as necessary with an introduction that discusses the origin, creation, and administrative uses of the records and lists related records that are or will be available. The documentation package may specify all known cases of missing data. It may indicate any characteristics of the records that could cause problems for researchers. The package may include a record layout, a sample printout, an explanation of the process used to verify the records, and copies of all manuals, codes, and input documents or data collection forms necessary for secondary users to understand and use the records.

Maintenance of Restrictions Imposed by the Originating Agency

Some permanently valuable electronic records contain information that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exempts from public disclosure. These records contain information relating to national security, individual privacy, proprietary interests, or matters protected by specific statute. NARA protects against unwarranted invasion of individual privacy, in general, for 75 years. Statutory restrictions on electronic records transferred to NARA remain in force until the records are 30 years old, unless extended by the Archivist of the United States after consultation with the originating agency. NARA protects restricted records with appropriate physical and procedural controls. Where possible, NARA produces a disclosure-free version of an electronic records file. In other cases it provides extracts of unrestricted information from the records. When necessary, NARA withholds the entire contents of a file.

In a limited number of cases, biomedical researchers, after agreeing in writing to certain conditions and restraints, may be granted access to restricted records for the purpose of statistical or quantitative research. Such information is available only in accordance with the procedures outlined in 36 CFR 1256.

Requests for Records

For ordering or reference services information please refer to Information for Researchers.

Regulations Affecting Electronic Records

Electronic Records Management (36 CFR 1236)

Transfer of Electronic Records to the National Archives (36 CFR 1236)

Electronic Records Preservation

General Information For Records Managers

The records management and agency services programs of the National Archives and Records Administration assist Federal agencies in administering textual, electronic, cartographic, still pictures, and motion picture, sound, and video records management programs.

July 2019

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