A healthy democracy relies on an active and informed citizenry, which in turn depends on transparent government and open access to information. Today, this reality is under constant threat, whether from the fragile nature of digital data or the ongoing risk that information can be easily removed from the public domain. Threats like these demand a greater awareness and accountability from both engaged citizens and the institutions that exist to serve the public good.
Endangered Data Week is an effort to bring the concerns inherent to preserving and providing ongoing access to digital information to the forefront of the public consciousness. The Utah Division of Archives and Records Service (State Archives) is mandated to preserve and provide access to the permanent records of Utah government. Endangered Data Week provides us with a unique opportunity to explore how we currently work towards these goals, as well as provide an update on where this work will take this institution in the future.
The State Archives provides records management services to state and local governmental entities across Utah. This work helps insure that records are properly scheduled, and that data is either destroyed according to its retention schedule, or preserved as a permanent record of enduring value.
A primary function of the State Archives is to preserve and provide access to permanent government records through the Research Center. The State Archives has made an institutional commitment to developing systems and programming that allow us to preserve and provide access to digitally-born government data with the same confidence and surety that we have for paper records. The State Archives Digital Preservation Framework documents the high level goals and principles that the institutional Electronic Archives Program is founded on.
Currently, the State Archives is in a unique position to not only help manage, preserve, and provide access to government information, but to also help educate citizens on their rights to access that information and help guarantee government accountability. Utah’s Government Records Management and Access Act (GRAMA) provides the statutory authority that governs the preservation and access of government information, and several members of the State Archives staff are engaged in this important work of helping promote and guarantee ongoing government transparency and accountability.
This work of preserving and promoting open government is supported by the State Archives administration of both the Open Records Portal and the Utah Public Notice Website. The Open Records Portal offers a dynamic web space that allows Utah citizens to make GRAMA requests and access government records online, while the Public Notice Website informs members of the general public of government activities by posting agendas and minutes from open public meetings online.
Helping secure open government and transparency through the preservation and access of government records is a central mission of the State Archives. Multiple institutional efforts are underway to build on the programs that help us support this important mission.
Currently, State Archives staff are engaged in building the Electronic Archives Program based on the fundamental principles outlined in the institution’s Digital Preservation Framework. This includes establishing the policies, procedures, and guidelines that govern the entirety of the program: from the moment digital government records are born to their eventual preservation in the State Archives. Another major piece of this effort is securing a digital preservation system that will allow for the ongoing preservation of electronic records, while protecting their authenticity and access. In this effort to help ensure the long-term viability of endangered data, the Electronic Archives Program is founded on a variety of international standards, including the Open Archival Information Systems (OAIS) reference model, the Trusted Digital Repositories standard, and the DCC Curation Lifecycle Model.
The continued growth and development of the Open Records Portal provides another opportunity for the State Archives to promote open government and insure that data, that might otherwise become endangered, is made open and accessible to citizens. Future development of the Open Records Portal will focus on enhancing the experience and capabilities of both portal users, as well as the assigned records officers for each governmental entity tasked with responding to GRAMA requests and making the public information from their institution openly available for online public inspection and use.
These are some of the major institutional efforts currently being undertaken at the State Archives to promote open government. By providing the tools and information for citizens to interact with their government, the State Archives is helping build a more active and engaged citizenry who will actively partner with us to achieve the goals of open government, transparency, and a prevention of the loss of endangered data.