Interview with Mark Myers on the TDA pt. 2

This is the second in a two-part series exploring the Texas Digital Archive (TDA) with Electronic Records Specialist Mark Myers of the Archives and Information Services (ARIS) division at TSLAC. Mark is responsible for ingesting electronic records into the TDA. Part one can be viewed here.

1. What happens to records once they are received by TSLAC?

MM: That depends on what the records are, whether or not they have already been appraised, and how much information about the records we get from the agency.  This is where the consultation with the agency comes into play.  Whether paper or electronic the agency needs to talk with the archivists to discuss the types of records to be transferred and if an appraisal (for “R” records) needs to be conducted.  State agency personnel can find out more about this process by looking at the FAQ’s for State Agencies on the TSLAC website.  There is similar FAQ’s for Legislators that cover records from state legislators.

Our basic workflow goes like this:

  1. TDA staff receives the media where it is accessed on workstation NOT connected to the TSLAC network and we run a virus scan. (Not that we don’t trust agencies, but viruses can come from anywhere)
  2. Then we look at what is there and make sure it matches what we are supposed to receive.
  3. We run a format validation tool to identify all of the file formats, especially if there are legacy (old) or specialty format that can’t be easily identified. This is to make sure that we have the necessary tools to access the records. If the records are in a specialized format, then the TDA staff work to normalize (or migrate) the records to a more accessible format. We also have software tools that allow us to open/view a wide range of formats beyond the standard office files.  The more specialized the format the more we need to work with the agency.
  4. Then we put the records in a location that allows the archivist responsible for that agency to access the records and do additional processing that might be needed. If there are already descriptive guides for the records (they transferred these types of records before) then they are simply added to the guide.  If this is a new transfer, then the archivist has to create a new descriptive guide for the agency or the records.  If the records have an “R” or review designation, then the archivist needs to appraise the records to see if they are the type of records that we take in to the state archives.
  5. Once the archivists have completed their processing the TDA staff push those records into our preservation system and create the necessary web pages that help facilitate access to the records.
  6. Records that are publicly accessible are made available through the TDA access portal: https://tsl.access.preservica.com/

2. How are records in the TDA organized?

MM: The TDA contains both born-digital records and records that have been digitized.  They are organized in 7 main categories.

Tight rope performance in Reconstruction Austin. [1]

We also have a sub-set of records from the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center out in Liberty, TX.  These digitized collections are cross-referenced with other manuscript and photograph collections.

3. What are some effective search strategies on the TDA?

MM: The TDA has several levels of access which makes it very powerful but can be confusing as well.

  • One way to search is by using the descriptive guides. Descriptive guides, also known as finding aids, are written by archivists to help researchers find the records they are looking for. Each descriptive guide provides information about the arrangement of, historical background of, and restrictions on the records. These sections may be a useful starting point for understanding the context of the records.  This mirrors what you would do if you came to the archives reference room and looked up records there.  The descriptive guides are also a good way to search the government agencies and governor’s records as they give you the organization and context of the offices.
  • Another way is to search using the search box. The search is incredibly powerful and searches all the metadata attached to the records, including embedded metadata that may not display, as well full-text searching of text-based records (word files, PDF, html, email, etc.).  You can also refine the search using facets and filters that display based on the search terms you input.
  • Finally, there is an “Explore Archive” function that allows you to browse collections without doing a specific search. The browse function is nice if you don’t know exactly what you want and works especially well for the photograph collections.

Under the “Need Help” button at the top of all TDA pages there is a link to the “Navigation and Search tips” page:  https://www.tsl.texas.gov/node/66428 that provides detailed explanation of all the ways to search and explore the TDA.

4. How do you identify and protect confidential records?

MM: All records are processed by the archivists here at TSLAC and they are trained to identify records that are restricted under the PIA.  The consultation when transferring records (paper or electronic) is important as this is one of the questions that we ask.  Access restrictions are also on our Electronic Records Appraisal form we give to agencies when they inquire about transfers.  Records may be completely restricted by statute, or they may contain restricted information (such as SSN or DL numbers etc.) and must be reviewed and redacted prior to being accessed.  It’s important to note that when agencies transfer records (paper or electronic) to the archives, we still follow all the PIA rules and restrictions that the agency did.  Just because a record is restricted doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be transfer to the archives if it is marked as “A” on the retention schedule.

You never know what you’ll stumble across on the TDA. Here, we have the restroom of the governor’s mansion. [2]

Once records are received by TSLAC it can go through several processes to ensure that restricted records are kept that way. As mentioned above, the first line of defense is receiving notice from an agency of restricted content. The second line of defense is identification during processing. When an archivist reviews and confirms the proper arrangement of records received by an agency, they keep an eye out for specific types of restricted content. When the situation calls for it, TDA staff may use special power tools to crawl through records and identify specific types of information, such as social security numbers.

When records are identified as restricted or might contain restricted content we give them a restricted security tag as they are loaded into the TDA.  These records are only accessible through the backend system with the proper credentials. Records are encrypted “at-rest” so only authorized users can access their contents. If there is any chance that series or record may contain restricted information, it is marked as closed.  Records are also marked as restricted in the finding aids available in the TDA with information as to why they are restricted and how to file a PIA request.

Patrons can ask for restricted records through a PIA request as covered in the next question.

5. How does TSLAC respond to Public Information Requests for records in the TDA?

MM: The PIA process is the same for electronic records as it is for paper.  Follow this link on the TSLAC website:  https://www.tsl.texas.gov/publicinformationrequest for more information.

[1] Tight-rope performance by Denier, Austin. Fred Sterzing, photographer, about 1868. 1932/005-28, Mabel H. Brooks photograph collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

[2] Governor Perry’s bathroom prefire. Texas Governor Rick Perry Governor’s Mansion records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.