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Memento : Issue 29
If your answer to any of these questions is no, then you may understand the challenge of preserving digital records for future generations in an era of rapid hardware and software obsolescence. How do we avoid adding to the growing sea of digital records that are in danger of becoming future artefacts or curios for ‘digital archaeologists’? For some years the Archives has been working on an approach to digital preservation that provides ongoing access to vital digital records but that does not require a working museum of the technology used to create the records. Our aim is to save important digital records in formats that will remain accessible and readable over time. Centre stage in our digital preservation approach is a software application called Xena – XML Electronic Normalising of Archives. This software converts digital records into a standardised format based on XML (eXtensible Markup Language) that does not depend on proprietary software or hardware to be read. The Archives released the first version of Xena in September 2004, and early this year released Xena 2.0. Xena 2.0 has the impressive ability to convert a range of common office file types – including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, images, PDF and email – into a standardised format. Xena has been developed as an ‘open source’ application and is available to anyone via the open-source developers’ website at www.sourceforge.net/projects/xena/. The Archives has developed two other key applications that support Xena – Digital Preservation Recorder (DPR) and Quest (Query Electronic Storage). DPR gathers audit information as the digital records progress through the three separate processing facilities – quarantine, preservation and storage. Quest retrieves digital records from storage. Xena, DPR and Quest work together to ensure that digital records maintain their integrity and authenticity while undergoing virus checking, conversion to XML and eventual storage in a safe and secure repository. As part of our digital preservation project, the Archives also investigated options for a prototype computer room able to accommodate the hardware necessary to process and store government records. It needed to be in an environmentally controlled and secure location completely isolated from other internal and external networks. By early 2005, we had built the computer facility and installed IT equipment uniquely configured for digital preservation. This specialised facility is the culmination of many years’ research and development into sustainable digital preservation. We are now testing the entire digital preservation process in our new facility. On completion of testing the Archives will be able to process transfers of digital records from Australian government agencies. The Archives’ digital preservation project is immensely important but it is only one component within the broader framework of government recordkeeping. The Archives provides a number of key recordkeeping policies and guidelines to help government agencies make and manage digital records as reliable sources of memory and evidence in support of efficient and accountable governance. Further information can be found at www.naa.gov.au/recordkeeping. Keeping it digital Does your new personal computer have a floppy disc drive? Are you able to read that old university essay you saved in WordPerfect software? Are you confident that you will still be able to view your digital photographs in 20 years? The National Archives digital repository. 8 MEMENTO News from the National Archives