How Do You Protect Vital Records?
After you have identified any Vital Records in your office, you need to provide a protection method that best suits the record format. The protection method will be based on several factors, including:
- Cost and effectiveness of protection.
- Equipment necessary to enforce the protection method.
- How vital the record is.
- Format of the record.
- Access and retrieval needs.
- Type of hazard the record faces, as determined through a risk assessment.
Vital Records should be stored in a format that will last as long as the records are needed. If a Vital Record is in a format only readable by specific equipment (i.e., microfilm reader, computers), procedures for accessing/obtaining the equipment must be arranged. For example, if a Vital Record is in electronic format, then the hardware or software used to create the record also needs to be protected or arrangements made to obtain compatible equipment.
The main protection method for Vital Records is through Duplication/Dispersal of records. This entails the physical duplication of information and the transfer/dispersal of these duplicates to an on/off site storage location.
The benefits of duplication/dispersal are:
- The minimal chance that the primary copy and all distributed copies will be destroyed.
- It is cost efficient.
- It is easy to do and usually done in the normal course of business.
The drawbacks to duplication/dispersal are:
- If records are duplicated in paper, the volume (e.g., number of pages or number of copies needed) of the record may cause this method to become burdensome over time.
- Storage of additional copies of information on paper can be problematic. It would be necessary to determine a location in another building that would have the room to store these duplicate records for you. Unfortunately the University Records Center will not accept duplicate copies of the same record for storage.
- The creation and distribution of additional copies of information on paper creates difficulties in meeting records retention compliance responsibilities. It is very difficult to oversee compliance with the retention period of records which exist in duplicate sets in different locations. If one set is not destroyed at the end of the retention period, then that set automatically becomes the copy of record and remains open to litigation, audit, and public records requests.
There are two ways of achieving duplication/dispersal:
- Natural/built in: The information is routinely distributed to other departments, offices, or individuals. This is the least expensive form of protection since it often occurs in the normal course of business, usually without offices being consciously aware of it.
- Reproduction: This represents the decision to duplicate or transfer the record onto a different format specifically for its protection. The most common forms of reproduction are microforms or magnetic media.
- Microform (film, fiche) requires a specialized reader and printer to access information. It does not matter which format is used, the process remains the same for both.
Working and security copies should be created for either type.
Working copy - The working copy is produced on Diazo film which does not scratch as easily as the Silver film. It is very durable and should be used for everyday reference purposes.
Security Film - The security copy is produced on Silver Halide film. This is a master copy and should not be used in a microfilm reader. It should only be used to generate more working copies (Diazo copy) of the film.
The best way to store the security copy is in an environmentally controlled secure storage area. If your office does not have access to such an area, the Silver film should be stored in a dust free area in its protective case. However, never store the Silver film and the Diazo copy in the same area (i.e., box, cabinet, filing drawer) because the out-gassing of the Diazo copy will degrade the Silver film, making it unreadable and useless for the production of additional copies.
Advantages of microforms:
- They are very inexpensive to duplicate.
- They are compact and easy to store/handle/move.
- They have proven to last over 100 years and have a life expectancy of approximately 500 years.
Microforms do have an inherent disadvantage:
- The initial cost of preparation of, and the actual filming of, records can be high.
Magnetic tapes/electronic media are acceptable for the protection of Vital Records having a retention period of less than 10 years. Since magnetic tapes have limited stability, special handling is needed to ensure the preservation of electronic records. Media stability refers to the period of time during which the media can be used for reliable recording or playback of the information. The useful life of magnetic tapes is estimated to be 7-9 years. Yearly review of the tapes to ensure the information is readable and to migrate the information to new systems is highly suggested.
Criteria for using magnetic tape:
- Data must be superseded or updated so frequently that it precludes the economical use of microfilm or paper. That is, if the information is updated every day and making an electronic copy is easier or more cost effective than photocopy or microfilm, using magnetic media for Vital Records storage could be a viable option.
- You must have continued access to the equipment and software needed to retrieve, read, and reproduce the information.
- You must migrate all information to new tapes every time hardware or software is upgraded. These tapes MUST be compatible with the upgraded system. The information is most easily read in electronic format.
Magnetic tapes have some inherent disadvantages when used for security records:
- They can easily be erased, or data can be lost, due to conact with magnetic fields or through improper storage conditions.
- Retrieval of information from magnetic tapes is all but impossible if you do not have the machine (computer) software to run the tapes.
- Cost of maintaining necessary equipment and software.
- Cost of continued migration of data to new tapes.
- Limited media stability.
If magnetic tape is selected as the security storage media, the programs, machine instructions, system documentation, and other items required to access the records become Vital Records and must be protected accordingly.