Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

August 10, 2006

Electronic Records Archive

by @ 9:39 am. Filed under Technology

At the recent NACRC conference I attended a presentation by Reynolds Cahoon, the chief of the Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives. Using IBM punch cards, 8 track tape cartridges, and even 5.25 inch floppy discs, Mr. Cahoon explained how technology has radically changed the way we do our work, but it has not really changed the way we keep our records. Not only has the storage media changed as he so vividly demonstrated, but electronic formats have changed, as well. My first word processing program was made by a company called Leading Edge. While I still have a bunch of electronic documents created in that format, any computer that operated the Leading Edge program is long gone and my ability to read or use those files is likely gone along with it. When I first became register of deeds back in 1995, we found a cabinet filled with Xerox computer tapes that were once part of the index creation system. But there was no Xerox machine to read them and whatever data they possessed was lost. The Electronic Records Archive hopes to preserve electronic records for posterity. They have a two-pronged approach. First, they preserve electronic records intact in their original format. The second approach is more technical in nature and involves “deconstructing” the files into smaller components that can then be electronically packaged along with instructions on reconstituting the files and the actual operating system needed to use them. To use a simple example, think of a structure created out of Lego blocks. That’s the file and one version would be kept intact. But a copy would be made and that copy would be taken apart, block by block and all of those blocks along with instructions on how to put the original creation back together again would be stored in their own box. It sounds very complicated (that’s because it is) but it’s also very important. The National Archives is striving to make this methodology of electronic data preservation widely available so other archives and offices can use it to preserve our electronic present.

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