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digitalpermanence, FAQs
digitalpermanence FAQs


What is digitalpermanence?

digitalpermanence is a McGill University Archives initiative, promoting the collaborative, strategic, long-term management and preservation of McGill University's electronic records.

There is mounting anecdotal evidence of the fragility of electronic media for long-term preservation. Among the best-publicized North American cases concerns the loss of U.S. Census data compiled in 1960, originally stored on digital tapes. Additional cases, such as the loss of NASA data stored on electronic media without attention to migration over time suggest these media may be placing valued information in jeopardy (see Jeff Rothenberg's article [PDF] on the long term fragility of e-records ).

Electronic records are software and hardware-dependent, rendering them potentially unreadable over time when the systems originally used to create and read them become obsolete. Even if electronic records are readable, the extent to which they are accepted as reliable and authentic evidence will depend on the availability of system documentation detailing the creation, maintenance and ongoing management of the records over time.

The increasing volume of electronic records also has short and mid-term resource implications. Maintaining essential corporate records solely in electronic form requires a resource commitment to the long-term strategic migration of data according to archival standards ensuring readability, authenticity, and reliability over time.

The digitalpermanence initiative is McGill University’s response to electronic record-keeping issues, providing key opportunities for cost savings University-wide through the rationalization and strategic management of software, hardware, and preservation functions.


What issues should I consider before my unit goes "paperless"?

A challenge arises from "paperless" office initiatives that replace paper records with digital versions of the documents. When devised as quick "get organized" solutions, these initiatives risk merely duplicating inadequacies in the paper systems or lead to the unauthorized destruction of essential corporate information. Careful attention must be given to what is being scanned/reformatted--and why. Otherwise, these projects may impose a long-term commitment to maintaining a "paperless" system when, in fact, storage of the original paper may be more cost effective in the longer term.

Scanning corporate information also requires document management tools that facilitate access, use and ongoing management of the "paperless" system. Without close consideration of these issues many paper-less office initiatives may create duplication of inadequate paper systems in electronic form and an accumulation of unidentified and unorganized electronic records. In sum, if an office is unable to manage their paper records it is unlikely that scanning alone will accomplish the task for them.


My unit is about to embark on an imaging project. Does the University Archives offer advice?

A policy is in development - however, interim advice is available. Please consult our Best Practices scanning Web page for more information.


What is the McGill University Records Retention Schedule (MURRS)?

The University Archives first implemented the McGill University Records Retention Schedule (MURRS) in 1987 in compliance with Quebec legislation. MURRS is a technical guide to campus records, detailing the University’s record keeping obligations for both business and historical/legacy purposes.

The continuing review of MURRS is required to ensure its currency with record keeping practices and emerging legislative requirements. It should be noted that, while the University Archives manages MURRS, changes or revisions to the schedule must be submitted for approval to the Quebec government. Consequently, any changes to record formats, such as replacing paper records with electronic records, requires a revision to MURRS.


What is a document management system?

Document management tools (DM) are software packages that allow for indexing, automatic or intuitive filing, classification and application of retention rules to electronic records created in offices (including email). Packages range from simple indexing and classification functions to applications that act as virtual file clerks. The University Archives and Network and Communications Systems (NCS) are working together on the identification of DM applications for University offices.

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Last updated November 4 , 2004 McGill University ©