e-Records 2018: Future-proof Approaches for Management and Preservation of Long-Term Email Records

Getting up in front of 300+ people to talk about management and retention of government emails is nothing compared to the challenge of ensuring that every government office is retaining emails accurately and efficiently. If I had to choose between managing other people’s emails or public speaking, I’d take the latter every time!

So yes, email is tricky, even in 2018 when it seems like everything is becoming automated. Thankfully the task is getting easier as people learn that email is just a type of format. When managing email, you have to ask yourself how you would file and retain if the same information was recorded on a piece of paper. Also ask: Is it a government record? Is it my responsibility? Am I the custodian? For more on that, be sure to check out our recent post FAQ Redux: How long do I keep email?

In my collaborative presentation with Brian Thomas, Electronic Records Specialist, we covered the basics of email management, but with an emphasis on what to do with those email records – such as executive correspondence – that should be kept long-term. Using some examples from the Texas Digital Archive, Brian discussed standards, metadata, file types, and attachments, all of which are considerations that should be made when constructing a strategy for capturing long-term or permanent email records.

To give a starting list of options for long-term email preservation, Brian offered the following:

  1. Emails could be maintained within the email system, but one downside to that is reliance on a third party for records management functionality, which can conflict with pre-existing retention policies.
  2. Interfile in native format based on the record type. For example, save .MSG files from Outlook to a shared drive directory. One downside is that if Outlook suddenly became obsolete, all of those emails would need to be converted in order to be accessed.
  3. Interfile in a non-email format, such as converting the email to a PDF file, but this can be risky if any header information or other functionality is lost, which could make the records incomplete despite being accessible.
  4. Interfiling in other plain-text email formats, such as converting long-term emails to .EML. The only downside to this option would be one that exists for every electronic preservation solution: likely migration in the future as technology evolves.

Download a PDF copy of the presentation

We hope that this session provided a bit of practical advice that may help local governments and state agencies ensure long-term preservation of historically significant emails.

A Couple More Email Preservation Resources:

NARA Capstone: https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/email-management/capstone-training-and-resources.html

AIIM: What is Email Management?: https://www.aiim.org/What-is-Email-Management-EMM#

 

 

    2 thoughts on “e-Records 2018: Future-proof Approaches for Management and Preservation of Long-Term Email Records

    1. I’m surprised one of the options presented was to save emails in a non-email format such as PDF. As you note, at least some of the header information is lost if this method is used. I have always been under the impression that with that metadata lost, the email message is no longer a complete or authentic record, and its evidential value and admissability if needed in legal proceedings are more in doubt. Perhaps this is not the case with other email formats like .EML? I see your point about Outlook .MSG files being a proprietary format and the risk of that becoming unreadable in the future… if we can imagine a future without Microsoft that is!

    2. Hi Carolyn,
      Good point and good question. Every records manager’s case for email preservation has its own considerations. Conversion to a non-email format such as PDF is a possible strategy if the text content and sender/receiver name is all that is needed for the record. Given the choice between complete information loss and a format that preserves some of the information, we would always recommend the latter. We cannot comment as to admissibility within legal proceedings as that isn’t our realm of expertise. However, authenticity and evidential value in the archival sense is significantly hindered when converting to PDF or other non-email type format. Conversion of .MSG to .EML preserves all of the embedded metadata and is the strongly recommended alternative to .MSG for long-term preservation.

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