State Archives Reboot: The State Electronic Records Initiative #saa13

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The educational sessions of the Joint Annual Meeting of the Council of State Archivists and the Society of American Archivists concluded at the Hilton Riverside in New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, August 17, 2013. This session took a look at the electronic records initiative for every US state and territory.

The panel consisted of:

  • James Corridan, Indiana Commission on Public Records
  • Matthew B Veatch, State Archivist, Kansas State Historical Society
  • Julia Marks Young, Director, Mississippi Department of Archives and History
  • Tanya L Marshall, State Archivist, Vermont State Archives & Records Administration

SERI Phase One

U.S. state government electronic records remain at risk. In 2011, the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) launched the State Electronic Records Initiative (SERI) to strengthen electronic records management and preservation programs in states and territories. SERI focuses on four critical areas: education and training, awareness and advocacy, governance, and best practices and tools. The session speakers discussed strategies to enhance the capacity of state and territorial archives to meet the electronic records challenge.

Two years ago, thanks to Library Services and Technology (LSTA) grants from Indiana and Kentucky, CoSA hired a consultant to perform research and data analysis on the current grade of electronic records initiatives. CoSA issued a State of State Records in June 2011: only 25 states and territories reported electronic records holdings.

In 2011.

Clearly, opportunity for self-assessment knocked. The steering committee launched Phase One. The self-assessment stages outlined in the interviews were built on the Digital Preservation Capability Maturity Model© by Charles Dollar and Lori Ashley, which in turn was based on ISO 14721, TRAC, ISO 16363 and best practices.

Essentially, the DPCMM benchmarks current capabilities, improves preservation roadmaps, and encourages state electronic records management programs to establish priorities and foster better communication with stakeholders. The stages are:

  • Stage 1: nominal digital preservation capability
  • Stage 2: minimal digital preservation capability
  • Stage 3: intermediate digital preservation capability
  • Stage 4: advanced digital preservation capability
  • Stage 5: optimal digital preservation capability

The results from a survey of 56 states and territories were surprising.

  • 15 state/territorial archives reported having an electronic records staff
  • 35 reported an underdeveloped or no electronic records program
  • 19 had not accessioned electronic records
  • Few could integrate project results into long-term strategies
  • Few had working relationships with their state IT departments
  • Few involved selection and modification of IT systems affecting archival electronic records

See the full report here

In the fall of 2011, the SERI steering committee identified four required areas to ensure long-term preservation of electronic records:

  • advocacy and awareness
  • a governance committee
  • best practices and tools
  • education and training

The steering committee appointed subcommittees for each goal. Currently, forty individuals representing 23 states and territorial archives serve on these subcommittees.

Advocacy and Awareness

Awareness expands knowledge of the electronic records issues among partnered organizations and key stakeholders. CoSA is unyielding in its pursuit of the correct message for the appropriate audience. Encourage archival colleagues to create press releases and advocacy materials; celebrate Electronic Records Day on 1010 (October 10th -- that’s #eRecsDay); and host webinars are vital.Appropriate audiences include state auditors and attorney generals as well as groups like the National Governors Association. In other words: target the message bottom up, middle out, top down, internally and externally.

Learning Opportunities


Governance activities integrate records management and archives requirements into decisions made during IT planning, procurements, and systems development and operations. CoSA seeks a flexible model for all government level settings.

The ambitious project charter addresses the following activities:

  • Inventory existing state and territorial information governance models
  • Inventory existing information governance frameworks, standards and principles from public sector and individual organizations
  • Develop governor stakeholder analysis tools and prototype their use
  • Perform structured governance review and analysis
  • Development recommendations on information governance

Best Practices and Tools

A National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant awarded for 2013 - 2015 that will create:

  • An interactive web portal
    • with standards, training, tools, policies and best practices
    • designed for government records managers and archivists
  • Training
    • webinars
    • workshops
    • self-directed modules
  • State electronic records program framework
    • based on the self-assessment framework and tied to portal resources
    • guidance on how to move toward optimal performance

The purpose, of course, is to establish a resource center for electronic records standards, tools and policies in order to develop pathways for strengthening archives and records management programs. 

Education and Training

Developing opportunities for archives staff to hone the knowledge and skills required to collect, manage and preserve e-records are paramount.

The panel was very pleased to remind the audience of the SERI-STEP program provided by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Grant Program (2012 - 2015). SERI-STEP has three major components: scholarships, institutes and a training assessment as well as action plans.

  • Scholarships: each state and territorial archives are guaranteed at least one scholarship of up to US$ 1,000 for staff to attend existing electronic records training currently available from professional associations, academic programs and/or other organizations.
  • Institutes: CoSA is building one introductory and two advanced immersive, week-long training camps. Twenty eight states/territories attended the first one held recently in Indianapolis. All 56 state/territories are expected to attend at least one advanced program, to be held April 2014 in Richmond, Virginia and October 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Training assessment and action plans: this component balances long-term training needs related specifically to electronic records in state government while also taking into account needs in all levels of government more generally. It examines available training, identifies gaps and develops an action plan with recommendations for addressing current needs and skill sets.

Impact and Next Steps

The great news: CoSA reports significant progress in electronic records program development. Grant projects evolve nicely. It plans more assistance to state archives in order to engage a broader group of stakeholders. CoSA always seeks opportunities for partnerships and it is particularly keen to reach academic archives, the National Archives (NARA) and IT organizations.

Editor's Note: See Mimi's full coverage of the conference here.

About the author

Mimi Dionne

Mimi Dionne is a records and information management project manager and Consultant/Owner of Mimi Dionne Consulting. She is a Certified Records Manager, a Certified Archivist, a Certified Document Imaging Architect, a Certified Information Professional, and a Project Management Professional.

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