The creation of reliable and authentic records is essential for the operation and accountability of Ohio governments. The Ohio Revised Code sets forth procedures for managing and providing access to public records. Computer technologies have revolutionized and enhanced the way that governments create, use, access, and store records. Increasingly, governments in Ohio are opting to scan their records and store those records as digital images.
Although the Ohio Historical Society, which administers the State Archives of Ohio, acknowledges the utility of maintaining digital images for access and retrieval purposes, it does not support the permanent maintenance of records solely in electronic image formats. Technological changes are rapid and constant. With no standards in existence for ensuring the long-term validity and survivability of digital images, it is nearly impossible to predict whether those imaged records will be retrievable in the future. Even well- implemented migration plans cannot assure that data will not be lost.
With this in mind, the State Archives strongly recommends maintaining an eye-readable backup of any records deemed of permanent value that have been digitally imaged for electronic storage. Eye-readable records are records that do not require the use of hardware and software to decode the information stored on them. Examples of eye-readable records include paper and microfilm. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) issues a set of standards for the creation of microfilm that, if followed, ensure the survivability of microfilm for an estimated 500 years.
Public officials are responsible by law for ensuring that their records are protected and accessible for the time period stipulated in the record retention schedule. This responsibility applies regardless of the storage media on which records are recorded and maintained. With that responsibility comes the authority to decide in which medium to maintain their records. If an agency decides to retain records in electronic format permanently or for any long-term period, it is the agency's responsibility to ensure that these records remain reliable, authentic and continually accessible throughout the stated retention period.
It is not within our authority to approve or certify imaging systems, or to deny the destruction of paper records that have been reformatted to images. Our authority is derived from the Ohio Revised Code 149.31, which states that:
The Ohio Historical Society, in addition to its other functions, shall function as the state archives administration for the state and its political subdivisions.
It shall be the function of the state archives to preserve government archives, documents, and records of historical value, which may come into its possession from public or private sources…
The archives administration shall be headed by a trained archivist designated by the Ohio Historical Society, and shall make its services available to county, city, township, and school district records commissions upon request.
Within this provision, the State Archives offers advice and assistance on how to preserve records of enduring historical value that may one day come into its possession. Due to the unstable nature of electronic records over time, archivists must take precautions to ensure the survivability of electronic records at the time of their creation, not at the end of a record's life cycle.
Destruction of original materials should always be considered with extreme caution. Since electronic records and the technology surrounding them are in a continuous state of change, any record in an electronic format cannot be considered stable and capable of remaining reliable, authentic and accessible over any long-term or permanent retention period. Therefore, it is the recommendation of the State Archives that any digitally imaged records of permanent value also be maintained in either paper or microfilm format.