Are these Records?

Written on: November 2, 2010 | 4 Comments

Federal agencies’ Facebook posts, YouTube videos, blog posts, and tweets… are all of these Federal records?

Increasingly, Federal agencies are using web 2.0 and social media tools to quickly and effectively communicate with the public. These applications, sites, and tools encourage public participation and increase our ability to be more open and transparent.

federal-records

The informal tone of the content, however, should not be confused with insignificance. Agencies must comply with all records management laws, regulations, and policies when using web 2.0 and social media tools.

On October 20, 2010, the National Archives and Records Administration issued “Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms” also known as NARA Bulletin 2011-02.

The bulletin says that the “principles for analyzing, scheduling, and managing records are based on content and are independent of the medium; where and how an agency creates, uses, or stores information does not affect how agencies identify Federal records.” The following questions are meant to help agencies determine record status:

  • Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of the agency’s policies, business, mission, etc.?
  • Is this tool being used in relation to the agency’s work?
  • Is use of the tool authorized by the agency?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

If the answers to any of the questions are yes, then the content is likely to be a Federal record. While an agency may determine that content is non-record because it is duplicative and found elsewhere in an agency’s recordkeeping system, agencies should also consider the fact that social media platforms can offer better indexing, opportunity for public comment, and other collaboration.

Agencies cannot ignore their recordkeeping responsibilities because content appears in a system or platform that is not easily captured by their current recordkeeping practices. Recordkeeping practices must evolve faster to keep up with the changing electronic landscape.

At the first joint meeting of the CIO Council and the Federal Records Council two weeks ago, I spoke to the fact that agencies are still neglecting their recordkeeping responsibilities for email. In our 2009 Records Management Self-Assessment, we found that most Federal agencies do not manage their email records in an electronic recordkeeping system, and therefore cannot ensure that these emails are preserved in any recordkeeping system on a regular basis. Archaic “print and file” practices still exist in many agencies, resulting in the inadequate preservation of messages that meet the criteria for Federal records.

It needs to be easier for agencies to fulfill their recordkeeping requirements, but this requires ongoing collaboration between records management and information technology programs – so that systems are designed to integrate records management controls. Agencies’ records officers need to be involved in the design, development, and implementation of electronic information systems as well as web 2.0 and social media platforms. If recordkeeping is an afterthought, it might never be done.

On the east side of the National Archives Building, it says, “This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanence of our national institutions.”

With the content of our national life found more and more in the electronic realm, how do you think the National Archives and Records Administration can better assist agencies in fulfilling their recordkeeping responsibilities?

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4 Responses to “Are these Records?”

  1. Michelle said:

    Do you consider this blog a record? If so, it would be helpful if you talked about how you manage it. I think people want more examples of how to manage these types of records.


    (November 5, 2010 at 8:29 am)

  2. John Kamensky said:

    A new report for the IBM Center for the Business of Government addresses this issue, “How Federal Agencies Can Effectively Manage Records Created Using New Social Media Tools,” by Patricia Franks, a scholar at San Jose State University

    In this report, Dr. Franks provides some more granular advice than the NARA guidance on issues such as “what are the characteristics of a ‘record’?” when social media is involved. For example, she notes there are 4 characteristics of a record:
    • Authenticity
    • Reliability
    • Usability
    • Integrity

    She also notes that there are a series of governance and policy challenges facing the records management world and provides a framework for understanding records management issues in a Web 2.0 world for agency records managers, web masters, chief information officers, and social media offices. She offers recommendations, best practices, and practical advice on ways to transform the way records and records management programs and practices are conducted across the government.

    Here is a link to download a free copy of the report: bit.ly/a7cSpD


    (November 5, 2010 at 10:15 am)

  3. Arian Ravanbakhsh said:

    Thanks for pointing out the IBM report. We are having a discussion about it over at Records Express, our records management program blog.


    (November 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm)

  4. Susan Sullivan said:

    Hi Michelle, thanks for the question.

    Yes, we consider this blog a permanent NARA record. It fits into the NARA Records Control Schedule (available at http://www.archives.gov/about/records-schedule/chapter-01.html#polproc) in File #108, “Archivist and Deputy Archivist Program and Policy Records.”

    For the AOTUS blog, we capture each post and all comments made after 60 days, when the commenting period for each post has expired. We retain a copy of each blog post and comments in our agency recordkeeping system.

    We agree that examples help, and encourage agencies to share examples of how they manage these types of records in NARA’s “Toolkit for Managing Electronic Records” http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/toolkit/

    Susan J. Sullivan, CRM
    NARA Records Officer


    (November 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm)