e-Records Conference 2015: Introducing the Texas Digital Archive

This is the first post of a multi-part recap of the 2015 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2015 website.


The Beginning

The Texas Digital Archive (TDA) has been a topic of interest for years, but it wasn’t until this past year that the project picked up traction and resulted in something that piqued everyone’s interest at the conference this year.

Mark Smith, Director and Librarian of TSLAC

Mark Smith, Director and Librarian of TSLAC

In the past, the funding requests submitted to the legislature in order to establish an electronic records system were continuously denied, resulting in state agencies maintaining their electronic records with archival value. State agencies are required to do this if the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) does not have a proper repository to house them. TSLAC’s roadblock was not just establishing a place to store these electronic records, but also making government transparency a priority via the ability to search and retrieve the electronic records. In February of 2014, when Governor Perry announced he would transfer the entirety of his gubernatorial record materials from his time as Governor to TSLAC, everything changed.

Whereas before requests made to the legislature were to establish a framework and a potential pilot for a digital archive, Governor Perry’s significant amount of e-records – expected to be around 10-12 TB – changed the game, giving TSLAC an opportunity for initial funding in the form of a one-time transfer of funds from the Governor’s Office. The framework was already established via the Perry materials, so TSLAC’s argument to the legislature was based on the current standards for keeping electronic records and how much it was costing individual agencies to maintain their e-records in combination with the trials of completing Public Information Requests. Of the $900,000 requested for the project, TSLAC was awarded $706,593 and started building the Texas Digital Archive (TDA).

Building the Archive

Going in, there were several system requirements TSLAC established in conjunction with Information Resources Technologies (IRT) and Department of Information Resources (DIR) to ensure the TDA would function in the necessary way.

It needed the ability to:

  • Receive any type of electronic record, regardless of format;
  • Maintain the records and metadata over time, while also allowing for access and preservation;
  • Migrate between formats for preservation needs; and
  • Achieve more than serve as storage and a server space where records just sit and decay.

With these requirements in mind, the TDA is built to conform to standards for preservation and information systems such as the Open Archival Information System (OAIS), the de facto standard for record systems, as well as ISO 16363, which focuses on administration, policies and procedures, and infrastructure, to ensure a trustworthy digital repository that will keep authenticity and integrity over time.

Choosing a Solution

Next up was acquiring a solution that fit the bill of their requirements and the constraints of their budget, as well as considering both cloud and locally-hosted solutions. There was also a timeline; a plan and a system needed to be in place by the time Governor Perry’s term ended on January 21, 2015 when he would send his materials on to TSLAC.

The decision between locally hosted and cloud-based options was helped along by some important factors. Springing for the cloud would check off some major preservation points in terms of risk management and disaster planning, which are critical. Not only is it cheaper than a stand-alone system as well as cheaper than storage at a state data center, but there would be no on-site maintenance to bog down an already bogged down IT department as well as geographically dispersing copies of the records in case of a disaster.

Mark Myers, Electronic Records Specialist, at TSLAC

Mark Myers, Electronic Records Specialist, at TSLAC

In the end, the winner for the TDA was Preservica Cloud Edition. Texas can now count itself among twelve other states that use Preservica’s services. Preservica built a standalone system just for the TDA based upon Amazon Public Cloud Services; the system setup meets all the previously agreed upon requirements. Once it was complete, however, there was some talk about the “public” aspect of the cloud; why couldn’t the TDA exist in the government cloud considering Amazon also provides that type of cloud service? Currently a TDA cloud instance is being prepared within the Amazon Government Cloud and the contents of the archive will be moved. Ultimately this will provide more security to the archive.

When TSLAC received Governor Perry’s records at the end of his term, the records spanned the years of 2000-2015, contained about 4,000 cubic feet of paper records, and totaled 7 TB in electronic records, which was less than expected! The records already had an acceptable file arrangement due in part to the Governor’s Office and, more broadly, the state of Texas, who takes records management seriously. The arrangement made it easy to separate out the archival records versus other records.

During the presentation, Mark Myers demoed the back-end and the public-facing Preservica site for the audience. We were treated to the various feats the system is able to perform, such as:

  • Tracking of the records in the system and their metadata;
  • Combining the role of a repository with other important micro-services (virus check, characterization);
  • Reading item signatures for the file type, not just depending on the file extension or version; and
  • Keeping track of file formats and related important information (rendering programs).

Looking to the Future

Currently, Mark Myers and his team are working diligently to not only prepare and upload the Perry records into Preservica, but also additional records TSLAC has been digitizing and preserving over time. The TDA should be live and accessible within the month in conjunction with the long-awaited overhaul of the TSLAC website, www.tsl.texas.gov.

Ultimately, copying information onto CDs only succeeds in keeping the digital information stagnant and dying. Preservica, which started as a preservation tool, built public access straight into their system with a public-facing portal.

With Preservica and the Texas Digital Archive, preservation and access go hand in hand essentially keeping these important records alive.

One thought on “e-Records Conference 2015: Introducing the Texas Digital Archive

  1. Texas has always been cutting edge in electronic records. The State Library on Shoal Creek BLVD was the first State Library to build special media storage vaults to protect the state’s back up tapes and digital archive in a Class 125 Data Rated Vault. Bill Dyess, the Director at the time saw the need to protect electronic records and was the first to build Media Vaults that could protect the complete archive. Now Texas once again steps up to bring the Electronic Records into an online status. But it is the confidence of protecting the business continuity tapes for the state that makes Texas unique.

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