SAA Session 409: Working Together to Manage Digital Records: A Congressional Archives Perspective

At this session, panelists discussed the transfer and preservation of digital congressional archives, providing perspectives from a variety of records professionals who work with congressional archives in both a records management and archival capacity.

Elizabeth Butler, Deputy Archivist for the U.S. Senate Historical Office, described the basic functions of the Senate Historical Office and focused on their interest in capturing electronic records. The Senate Historical Office is working on developing guidance for Senator’s offices in order to better assist them with managing their electronic documentation. Elizabeth sees a significant need for stronger collaboration with IT Administration, particularly with the increase in born-digital records.

Katie Delacenserie from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs described her role as part of the non-partisan staff responsible for capturing, arranging, and describing committee records. She discussed the challenges of working with the large number of records creators on the committee, including the importance of meeting with all new staff members and making oneself visible and accessible. She argued that it was important to garner buy-in from management and collaborate with IT so archivists can be aware of new programs and technologies. Katie uses many tools to help manage electronic committee records, including Kernel Viewer for evaluating pst files and DROID for file identification and fixity.

Matthew Stahl from the U.S. Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation discussed the massive growth in electronic senate records. As expected, this increase was due to the use of network drives and email. This technological shift has also led to a change in the nature of the archival record. While physical copies of records had previously been considered “archival”, now the archival record is primarily electronic. Paper copies of electronic records are no longer maintained. Matthew also discussed email management in more detail, as email accounts make up the vast majority of electronic data. Because a number of committee staff members may have vital records in their email accounts, the archivists do not currently practice a Capstone approach but instead focus on capturing all email accounts.

John Caldwell from the Office of U.S. Senator Harry Reid spoke on the planned transfer of over 3.5 TB of information from Senator Reid’s office. Of the 3.5 TB, over 1.4 million records are ten years or older. As part of this project, John has 5.5 months to describe and organize these records. He is currently focused on deduplication and is using both JDisk and TreeSize to determine basic information about the records. John noted that it was important that archivists have strong collaboration with both a senator’s staff members as well as the receiving repository to ensure a successful transfer.

Adriane Hanson from University of Georgia described some of the challenges of handling long-distance donor relations with congressional offices. Adriane found that it was difficult to get everyone on the same page, as departing personnel were also looking for new jobs. Adriane found both the local district office and Senate Historical Office were excellent resources for answering questions regarding office functions and context. When collaborating with a senate office, archivists may need to be flexible in their communication strategies and work to find the right people to answer their questions.

Danielle Emerling of West Virginia University described assorted scenarios for transfer of congressional collections. The worst case scenario involved a candidate who unexpectedly lost reelection, so no electronic material was transferred, while the best case scenario involved a retiring congressman who had hired his own archivist to oversee the transfer of electronic records. When working with congressional archives, Danielle suggested that archivist identify the key personnel needed to facilitate transfer, advocate for the congressperson to hire their own archivist if possible, and be aware that the staff and the repository archivist will need to rely on each other. Danielle also discussed the growth of the Congressional Papers Roundtable Electronic Records Committee. Made up of archivists, this committee discusses how congressional records can be processed more effectively and focuses on identifying case studies and relevant modules to assist others with managing congressional records.

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