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DigiCULT
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Info
10
The structure of the French state means
that administration can be slow, but it tends
to be very well organised. Now correct
structures and procedures are in place, and
the government is determined to speed
up electronic administration. Creation, use
and acquisition of e-documents is spread-
ing quickly in local and central agencies; in
fact, it has gained a momentum that we can
scarcely keep up with! However, we must
preserve these documents, as not retaining
contemporary records and only concen-
trating on the historical materials, as some
other countries do, is too narrow a view.
I
will now describe briefly our selec-
tion process of electronic documents.
We meet with the material's producers
and require them to make the transforma-
tion of their data into a `flat' ASCII for-
mat, as this is the best standard for the long
term in order to maintain accessibility and
ensure that migrations are possible in the
future. We don't take on software or an
operating system, only the actual data. As
95% of the data we receive are from data-
bases, they must be converted by the pro-
ducers into ASCII, and metadata provided
(technical and descriptive metadata as well
as information on the volume and con-
text) which are then checked. After delivery
to the Contemporary Archives the con-
tent is copied and checked for compatibil-
ity and to ensure that the metadata matches
the actual data. These procedures identify
a growing task for archivists: to manage a
`quality chain' from the design of the con-
cept all the way to the acquisition and stor-
age of data. Each record we keep is copied
every five years on to a new medium as the
magnetic tapes we use to store the data can
degrade.
I
t is important to remember that our
duty of care does not stop when the
data are in storage and that stock manage-
ment must be very rigorous; the integri-
ty of data must be checked at all stages, to
maintain the authenticity of the records.
As mentioned, we migrate the records on
to new media every five years; however
format migration is much more tricky. In
1995 we had to migrate 7000 files from
EBCDIC format to ASCII and we had to
take great care to ensure that steak was not
converted to mincemeat during this proc-
ess! It took eighteen months of manual
migration (for example, converting for-
mats such as scientific binary to stand-
ardised ASCII). Each record was initially
checked to determine whether transfor-
mation was necessary. Some datasets were
left because the metadata was not sufficient
to tell whether a hand-transformation was
needed. This example shows how quality
control must be very strict. One day per-
haps, all our records might be converted
to UNICODE but it is likely that this
would be automated.
E
lectronic archives are very differ-
ent from traditional record keeping
in terms of storage. A lot of space is not
needed to keep digital data but the data
are more complicated to access than sim-
ply looking in a box, so instead there is a
greater emphasis on good tools and a good
strategy! Human resources are the most val-
uable asset to a good e-archive. Expertise is
the most difficult (and expensive) resource
to obtain, and an efficient team must be
built up over several years in order to best
understand good strategies and tools. It
is also incredibly important that effective
training is provided for the archivists (and
archives) of the future. The development
of expertise can also be achieved through
international meetings and the sharing of
knowledge and experience. Projects such as
ERPAnet (http://www.erpanet.org) are of
crucial importance in this regard. Archivists
must master the problems presented by
electronic records before we can move
on to produce effective tools for manag-
ing them it is still too early for automatic
tools to be fully utilised here. For exam-
ple, electronic files can be subdivided into
different types, e.g. image, sound and text.
Each type requires a different tool and dif-
ferent procedures to ensure that the record
is stored properly and can be accessed at a
later date.
Fountain within the grounds of Fontainebleau Castle

Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004
Jean-Pierre Teil holds one of the many magnetic reels stored in the collection.

Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004
Shelves storing magnetic reels.

Daisy
Abbott,

HA
TII,

Uni
v
er
sity
of
Glasgo
w
,

2004