The purpose of this policy is to establish a set of principles underpinning the New South Wales Government's approach to the preservation of digital records.

Digital State records must be properly preserved so that they survive in authentic and accessible forms over the whole of their existence - from a few years, or the lifetime of an individual or asset - or forever, in the case of digital State archives.

If digital records are not preserved, there is a risk that Government will lose essential evidence of its business, that citizens will not be able to access records documenting rights and legal obligations and that there will be a significant gap in the body of records documenting the society and communities of NSW in the State's archives.

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This policy applies to all digital records preservation activities conducted either by State Records or by New South Wales public offices, including:

  • preserving records that are identified as digital State archives, and
  • preserving digital State records that are required for long term retention but are not State archives.

Digital State records and archives may include:

  • 'born digital' records such as emails, web pages or Word documents, or
  • digitised copies of analogue records.

This policy operates in conjunction with other recordkeeping policies, standards and guidance for the NSW public sector.

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This policy has been developed in response to:

  • the challenges to maintaining accessibility and authenticity of records in digital formats
  • the requirements of the NSW public sector for the preservation of digital records, including legal requirements, business need and strategic direction, and
  • State Records' requirements, as the State's archival authority.
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Digital records:
'Born digital' records such as emails, web pages or database records, plus scanned versions of paper records that have been digitised in business processes.
ODF (Open document format):
an open, XML based document file format for office applications that create and edit documents containing text, spreadsheets, charts and graphical elements [1]
Recordkeeping metadata:
data that describes the context, content and structure of records and their management through time [2]
State archive:
a State record that the State Records Authority of New South Wales has control of under the State Records Act 1998. (State Records Act 1998 section 3(1))
State record:
any record, made and kept, or received and kept, by any person in the course of the exercise of official functions in a public office, or for any purpose of a public office, or for the use of a public office. (State Records Act 1998 section 3(1))
Temporary value records:
records with no archival value that are destroyed after approved retention periods.
Xena (XML Electronic Normalising of Archives):
this is the National Archives of Australia's software for converting digital records from their original format into preservation formats. XENA, and the plugin architecture being developed for it are available as open source software. The National Archives has also developed open source software for recording the digital preservation process (Digital Preservation Recorder or DPR) and for providing access to digital archives (Quest).
XML (eXtensible Markup Language):
a specification developed by the W3C. XML is a pared-down version of SGML, designed especially for Web documents. It allows designers to create their own customized tags, enabling the definition, transmission, validation, and interpretation of data between applications and between organisations [3]
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1. Digital State records should be migrated forward as technologies change.

  • Records should be routinely monitored in order to identify any formats that are at risk of obsolescence. Migration of records should be planned, quality controlled and documented.
  • Public offices should migrate long term value and archival records into stable long term formats so that they do not become obsolete while they are being retained beyond their period of active use. An example of a stable long term format is Open Document Format.
  • Where records are in unique or legacy formats/systems with no migration paths available, they must be supported by the responsible public office until all retention requirements are met or they are transferred as State archives. Guidance is available from State Records on selecting appropriate preservation techniques for such records.

2. The content and essential characteristics of digital State records must remain unchanged through preservation processes

  • Testing should be used to check that content and essential characteristics of digital records are not compromised by preservation processes.
  • It is the role of the public office responsible for the records to define records' essential characteristics that must not change as a result of the preservation process.

3. Digital State records must be preserved in context

  • Information needed to understand and use digital records should be linked to or otherwise associated with them throughout preservation processes.
  • The digital records preservation process itself must be recorded.

4. Digital State records must be secure and tracked throughout the preservation process

  • The preserver should implement security measures to ensure that the records being preserved are not compromised during any preservation process.
  • It must be possible to demonstrate an unbroken chain of custody throughout the preservation process.

5. Digital records preservation programs should be flexible

  • Where the decision is made to create copies of digital records in different formats for access purposes or to combat obsolesence, consideration should be given to maintaining previous versions while they are still viable, so that future migration or copying techniques can be applied.
  • The preserver should seek to base digital records preservation approaches on non-proprietary technologies to avoid loss of control over Government owned information as a result of changed commercial arrangements in the future.
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The preservation of digital State records is a shared responsibility; both State Records and public offices have a role to play in ensuring that digital records of Government remain authentic, accessible and useable over time.

The chief executive of each public office has a duty to ensure that:

  • the public office complies with the requirements of the State Records Act 1998, including the requirement for the public office to ensure that any records requiring technology to be read and understood remain readable and available for as long as they are required (section 14).

The nominated senior officer responsible for records management in a public office should ensure that:

  • the preservation of digital records is addressed in policy, planning and implementation of the public office's records management program, and
  • the essential characteristics of digital records - that must not be changed by the preservation process - are identified prior to any preservation process taking place.

State Records has a responsibility to:

  • determine arrangements for and manage the preservation, access and management of State archives in digital formats (whether in State Records' custody or under a distributed custody regime)
  • provide information and advice to public offices on selecting appropriate strategies for the preservation of digital records.
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INterPARES Preserver Guidelines Preserving Digital Records: Guidelines for organizations, 2007.

National Archives of Australia, An Approach to the Preservation of Digital Records, 2002.

NSW Department of Commerce, People First - A new direction for ICT in NSW July 2006.

OASIS ODF Adoption Technical Committee, Open by Design: The advantages of the Open Document Format (ODF) An OASIS White Paper, December 2006

State Records, Digital records preservation in the NSW public sector: A discussion paper, 2007.


[1] OASIS ODF Adoption Technical Committee, Open by Design: The advantages of the Open Document Format (ODF) An OASIS White Paper, December 2006.

[2] AS ISO 15489-2002 Records Management, Part 1 Clause 3.12

[3] Webopedia, accessed 10 May 2007

First published Dec 2007 / Revised Oct 2011

ISBN 978-0-9757845-7-0

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