Internet speeds have also played a significant role in the increase of digital record use. This, coupled with the introduction of new storage media and management software such as Microsoft SharePoint and Flash Drives in 2001, Microsoft OneDrive in 2007, iCloud in 2011 and Google Drive in 2012, have helped change the digital landscape.
Another issue facing us in the born-digital realm is maintaining records’ authenticity and reliability. The importance of this cannot be understated as authentic reliable records are the ‘pillars of accountability and transparency’8 in society.
Technology, however, renders records susceptible to editing, copying, deleting and reformatting which can affect both their authenticity and content, whereas paper records are much harder to manipulate without leaving traces of any alterations. The structure (appearance and arrangement) of records can also be distorted or unclear when software updates render file formats unreadable or unclear. Finally, the context of records, that is the provenance, and the metadata are not easily discernible in born-digital records. For instance, understanding who an email is from/to, dates, and content are all hidden until they can be read by a computer, whereas a letter can be opened and the information is readily available. Specific software is needed to extract this information from digital records.
Here at Hampshire Archives and Local Studies we use DROID, a file format identification tool, to extract metadata such as file formats, size, software versions and date of last modification from records. This metadata is also added to our Microsoft Access database which contains all the digital archive metadata together for reference, making it easy to search and locate different types of file format.
DROID draws on more than 1,300 different digital file formats, but with such a large number of formats available the challenge of being able to access and open them all is constant, especially considering that obsolescence of file formats is an ongoing issue. In a study on file format endangerment levels, it was found that within the next 11-20 years several file formats will become inaccessible such as PowerPoint (ppt) and Windows Media Video File (wmv).9 Archives must either begin converting and migrating records or hoarding software and equipment that can ensure records remain usable and accessible over time.
Another major issue is the archival description of born-digital records. If you look at the folders on your computer now, many of you will have files named with all sorts of different titles that make no sense to anyone but you. There will also be file names that you do not remember, either what is in them, or what they are, because they are not labelled in any meaningful way. This happens at both an individual as well as at larger commercial and business levels. Records like these are often referred to as the second generation of born-digital records, the ‘digital heap’ where ‘basic record-keeping and information management practices have not been applied’,10 making it very difficult to process records in the traditional way.
Archival description is, however, a major part of the cataloguing process, but simply changing the file names to something more representative of the contents, though an obvious choice, is not good practice as it would constitute tampering with the original record. Some examples from TNA’s catalogue are: ‘Next week (2).msg’, ‘RE 2 random thoughts.msg’, ‘ClseUp Extra swg slip[A204460].jpg’ or even ‘561,B4 OvVw Lwr Rat eaten[A206843].jpg’.11
This means that the description fields for these records must contain more detailed information that explains what lies within the record, thereby increasing the time spent on cataloguing and describing for archivists at a time when born-digital record accumulations are increasing daily.
The future preservation of and access to born-digital records, whether it be family photos, emails, novels or artwork may be uncertain, but its success lies in partnerships with IT organisations. For many outside the profession, however, archives will still be seen as dusty, dark places where seemingly little is organized and piles of manuscripts, paper, books and volumes are hoarded for an unknown use.
Kyle Thomason, HALS staff
 P. Svärd, Enterprise Content Management, Records Management and Information Culture Amidst e-Government Development, 2017 < https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Enterprise_Content_Management_Records_Ma/f_5PCwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0>.
 H. Ryan, ‘Who’s afraid of file format obsolescence? Evaluating file format endangerment levels and factors for the creation of a file format endangerment index’ (unpublished dissertation thesis, University of North Carolina, 2014) < https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjezY39qfHuAhXNUMAKHTSqCSgQFjABegQIAhAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcdr.lib.unc.edu%2Fdownloads%2F41687j38c&usg=AOvVaw0eRi9wuJAAnnTvceeiw-Yo>
 TNA, Digital Catalouging Practices, 2017 < Digital Cataloguing Practices at The National Archives>.
 J. Garmendia, ‘Digital Description and Metadata at the National Archives. Digital Strategy’ < https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02125010/document?fbclid=IwAR0e4D-fMcCcmLMqqmpdmc3FwgAUrJy3FWjKSUOz_KXZhrYrssaoru5FdHE>.
The National Archives (UK), CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_view_of_the_server_room_at_The_National_Archives.jpg>.