Glossary search

electronic record

Broader Term: 

(also digital record; automated record, largely obsolete), n. ~ Data or information that has been captured and fixed for storage and manipulation in an automated system and that requires the use of the system to render it intelligible by a person.


'Electronic records' can encompass both analog and digital information formats, although the term principally connotes information stored in digital computer systems. 'Electronic records' most often refers to records created in electronic format (born digital) but is sometimes used to describe scans of records in other formats (reborn digital or born analog). Electronic records are often analogous to paper records; email to letters, word processing files to reports and other documents. Electronic records often have more complex forms, such as databases and geographic information systems.

(Digital Preservation Testbed 2003, p. 13) Digital records are not simply the 21st century equivalent of traditional paper records. They have other properties, characteristics and applications. However, both digital and paper records must meet the same legal requirements. In practice, this requires a different approach. ¶ Digital records are not tangible objects like a book or a magazine, but a combination of hardware, software and computer files. This combination is necessary to be able to use the documents or examine them. In the context of Testbed we looked specifically at text documents, databases, email messages and spreadsheets. Multimedia documents, digital video and sound can also be digital records, but these remained outside the scope of this study. ¶ An important difference compared to paper records is the greater loss of information that can occur even while the records are being used, or afterwards when the records are being maintained. After all, hard discs and computers are replaced regularly and there are few barriers to destroying computer files. A single click on the 'delete' button and a record disappears without leaving a trace.
(Duranti 1998, p. 167) Electronic records are not always copies, because a copy is by definition a reproduction of an original, a draft or another copy (the first copy made being always a reproduction of a document in a different status of transmission); therefore, electronic records having a different status of transmission must be created for copies to exist. It is more appropriate to say that electronic records are all made as drafts and received as originals, in consideration of the fact that the records received contain elements automatically added by the system which are not included in the documents sent, and which make them complete and effective.
(Duranti and MacNeil 1996, p. 49) Diplomatic examination shows that an electronic record, just like every traditional record, is comprised of medium (the physical carrier of the message), form (the rules of representation that allow for the communication of the message), persons (the entities acting by means of the record), action (the exercise of will that originates the record as a means of creating, maintaining, changing, or extinguishing situations), context (the juridical-administrative framework in which the action takes place), archival bond (the relationship that links each record to the previous and subsequent one and to all those which participate in the same activity), and content (the message that the record is intended to convey). However, with electronic records, those components are not inextricably joined one to the other, as in traditional records : they, and their parts, exist separately, and can be managed separately, unless they are consciously tied together for the purpose of ensuring the creation of reliable records and the preservation of authentic records.
(InterPARES Authenticity, p. 7) Strictly speaking, it is not possible to preserve an electronic record. It is always necessary to retrieve from storage the binary digits that make up the record and process them through some software for delivery or presentation.
(Suderman 2001) Records in the electronic environment have unique characteristics . . . durability; lifespan; maintenance; ease of editing, copying, erasure, and reformatting (manipulability); ease of manipulation, including the difficulty of tracing manipulation; need for supporting documentation to describe the contents, arrangement, codes, and technical characteristics; need for specialized personnel for the processing and maintenance of the records, introducing a new player in the normal clique of archivist, creator, and user. [Referencing Harold Naugler.]